Politics & Policy

Fenced In

Israel draws a red line on the Green Line.

Late last month in Israel came a grim reminder of why its antiterrorism fence is so important: Sixteen Israelis were killed and over 100 wounded in twin suicide bombings in the city of Beersheba. These victims had the misfortune to be living in a part of the country that is not yet protected by this life-saving barrier.

If the United Nations has its way, this fence will never be completed and Israeli citizens will continue dying. Instead of condemning the terrorist attacks which created the need for a barrier in the first place, the U.N.’s General Assembly and its highest court, the International Court of Justice, have condemned the fence.

For those puzzled by the logic of the U.N.’s approach and who wonder how the Palestinian Authority can send terrorists into Israel and then invoke international law against a fence established to protect innocent people from those same terrorists, the U.N.’s Court recently gave an answer: Israel’s right to self-defense is not “pertinent.”

In a ruling last month, the U.N.’s Court decided that Israel’s construction of a fence must be halted, no matter how many lives the fence saves. Following the ruling, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution calling for sanctions against Israel. The U.S. and Australia voted “no,” while twenty-eight countries and the European Union, which had objected to the court even hearing the case, eagerly jumped on the anti-fence bandwagon.

In the United States, another democracy under attack by terrorists, Democrats and Republicans led by Senator Kerry and President Bush condemned the ruling. The U.S. representative to the Court, Judge Thomas Buergenthal, strongly dissented. The ruling, he said, neglected “Israel’s legitimate right of self-defense, military necessity and security needs.”

The fence has been remarkably successful. With only a quarter of its planned length in place, attacks have dropped by 90 percent. In northern Israel, where a fence exists, no suicide attack has been successfully carried out in months.

Shortly after the U.N. handed down its ruling, terrorists from the Arafat-linked Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade killed a young girl in Tel Aviv. Arafat accused Israel of orchestrating the attacks to provoke anger against the court’s decision.

When not blaming Israel for Palestinian terrorist attacks, or calling for a million “martyrs” to invade Jerusalem, Arafat argues (and the U.N.’s Court agrees) that Israel’s fence should stick to the so-called “Green Line.” Arafat wants to force Israel to retreat behind this arbitrary armistice line drawn after the first Arab-Israeli war–a line rejected by the Arab nations that attacked Israel after its internationally approved rebirth in 1948.

In a second war of survival in 1967, Israel won some of the territory beyond the “Green Line”–from which Jordan had launched its attack against Israel. After the war, the U.N. passed a resolution, which recognized the Green Line as arbitrary and contemplated appropriate border adjustments. The resolution said that Israel should give up some of the West Bank, but that it also must have secure borders. If history has taught us any lessons, especially in the Middle East, it is the peril of such arbitrary borders.

Israel has made it clear that it will negotiate a permanent border with a Palestinian partner committed to peace. Until then, arbitrary armistice lines should not determine whether innocent civilians live or die.

Instead, the fence’s route should maximize the number of Israelis protected from terrorists while minimizing the number of Palestinians economically damaged or inconvenienced. The route must not push Israel behind indefensible borders–a result that would mark a clear victory for the terrorists and only guarantee more attacks.

The fence’s benefits to Israeli Arabs and Palestinians also should not be overlooked. The fence has protected Israeli Arabs living near the Green Line from violence and theft from West Bank Palestinians. And with increased security, the number of Israeli troops in Palestinian towns has been significantly reduced.

Israel is accommodating legitimate concerns about the fence. Before the U.N. Court decision, the Israeli supreme court affirmed Israel’s right to construct the fence but ordered its rerouting so as not to harm the economic well-being of Palestinians. Israel’s prime minister immediately complied.

Much can be done to reduce inconveniences to Palestinians. The Israeli supreme court and government are taking such steps. But nothing can be done to bring back those lives lost to suicide-bombers.

As Israelis continue dying in Palestinian terrorist attacks–deaths that could have been prevented by a completed fence–the U.N. and its court continue to send a message that the lives of these innocents are of no concern.

Mark Dubowitz is an attorney and vice-president at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute based in Washington, D.C., focusing on terrorism.

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