Vol. 3, No. 15 January 15, 2004
After 35 years of living with the Palestinians and facing this blatant, ugly, terrorist wave, Israel had no choice but to put up a barrier as an important element in an overall defensive system that would intercept those on their way to blow themselves up among us.
When the Palestinians speak among themselves about occupation, they speak about Israel occupying Tel Aviv and Haifa, not Judea and Samaria.
Palestinian propaganda tries to make the fence the issue, and ignores the issue of terrorism which makes the fence necessary. If not for Palestinian terrorism, we would not need the fence in the first place.
The segments of “wall” comprise about 4 percent of the barrier and were built on the “green line” next to Tulkarm and Kalkilya because, in the past, Palestinians have fired from those areas on Israeli vehicles.
Israel had to weigh the inconvenience of some Palestinians having to pass through gates to reach their fields against seeing Israeli families blown to bits if the fence is not built. Faced with these two alternatives, which is morally more compelling?
It is absolutely natural that over one million Arabs live within Israel today. For those who say Jews cannot live in Judea and Samaria, the immediate conclusion is that Arabs cannot live in Israel. I think they can, and the symmetry should be kept.
A Major Shift in Israeli Thinking
When I became Minister of Internal Security three years ago, I issued two policy directives to Israel’s police. The first was to change our approach to Jerusalem, to stop Palestinian excavations on the Temple Mount, and to change the way Israel dealt with a variety of security apparatuses of the Palestinian Authority that were active in Jerusalem.
The second directive was to prepare staff work for a separation zone between Israel and Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. This separation zone had two objectives: first, to help stop the suicide bombers and the ongoing infiltration from Judea and Samaria into the population centers of Israel; second, to stop the ongoing flow of tens of thousands of illegal Arab immigrants from Judea and Samaria into Israel. When the issue came before the government, it ended up as the security fence plan, and Israel’s police were already prepared for it.
The decision to build this barrier was the result of a major shift in Israeli thinking. I was against such a fence and against such a separation for many years. But after 35 years of living with the Palestinians and facing this blatant, ugly, terrorist wave, Israel had no choice but to put up a barrier as an important element in an overall defensive system that would intercept those on their way to blow themselves up among us. Israel has decided to build the security fence because we are in a war that the Palestinians have launched against us, and we have to minimize our casualties.
Israel is now building the fence in Samaria, and we will continue to do so between the mountains of Judea and our southern coastal plain because 130 suicide bombers crossed over from these areas. Only three suicide bombers have come from Gaza where there is already a security fence. Two of them, British citizens, crossed through the gate as tourists.
It is quite clear why the Palestinians are raising hell about the security fence. First of all, they are not interested in peace. They wish to continue and promote terrorism in order to get closer to achieving their political objectives, as they have been doing for the past decades, and in particular over the past decade since Oslo was signed. Those who want to have peace want to see the fence, because a precondition to peace is no terrorism.
We are sometimes asked: “Can’t you build the fence on the ‘green line’? Why should you go into Palestinian areas?” My answer is that we are building it in our own areas. Judea and Samaria is ours. That is our homeland. The Palestinians don’t like it. They say it is theirs. Fine, let’s sit and negotiate. There is a dispute over this? What do people throughout the world do? They sit and they negotiate.
The Palestinian Future Could Have Been Different
The negotiations between us and the Palestinians throughout our history have been just one-way. The Palestinians extracted all of the concessions, but they have not fulfilled any significant commitments.
They could have had a state after the UN partition resolution in 1947, but they rejected it and launched a war. Between 1947 and 1967 there was no claim for a Palestinian state; nobody had even a hint about the existence of a Palestinian nation, and Israel had no settlements in Judea and Samaria. But Judea and Samaria were used as bases for terrorist activities against Israel proper. The 1967 war started because there was a belief on the part of the Palestinians, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, and the Syrians that from those borders they could easily destroy Israel – borders termed by former foreign minister Abba Eban as “Auschwitz borders.” Only after 1967 did the Palestinians start to make their demand for a Palestinian state and start to speak about occupation. Yet when they speak among themselves about occupation, they speak about Israel occupying Tel Aviv and Haifa, not Judea and Samaria.
The Palestinians could have negotiated a different future for themselves in 1978 after the first Camp David accord signed between Israel, Egypt, and President Carter. After a transition period of five years they could have negotiated their future. It didn’t take place, of course, because they rejected Camp David. Then in Oslo they signed a peace agreement with Israel. Obviously this would have led them to a state of their own. Yet after grabbing all the concessions, and after Israel had turned over control of all aspects of civilian life for over 97 percent of the Palestinian population, they started a new wave of terrorism.
When former prime minister Barak met with the Palestinians in 2000 at Camp David, he offered them unprecedented concessions. But these talks were followed by an extreme wave of terrorism that Israel is still fighting today.
Last year the “Roadmap” agreement was presented, in which the Palestinians also had to fulfill a number of commitments, the first and most important of which is putting an end to terrorism. It is tragic that when the Palestinians have the opportunity to negotiate a solution in which they will have the dignity of a state, they refuse to do so unless that state is going to be built on the ruins of the State of Israel. We are not prepared to agree to this.
The terrorists have learned that terrorism pays. They can sign whatever agreements they wish and it really doesn’t matter because they will not be made to carry out their commitments, and they can simply carry on with terrorism. Building the fence is to help protect us from that. The route of the fence is determined in part by following the best route that will keep most of the Israelis on one side of the fence. If the Palestinians have any complaints about it, they can blame themselves – Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim, the PLO, and Arafat himself. The fence wasn’t there for 35 years; it is there now.
The Issue is Terrorism, Not the Fence
Palestinian propaganda tries to make the fence the issue, and ignores the issue of terrorism which makes the fence necessary. If not for Palestinian terrorism, we would not need the fence in the first place. They also speak of “walls,” even though the segments of wall comprise about 4 percent of the barrier and were built on the “green line,” the pre-1967 armistice line, next to Tulkarm and Kalkilya because, in the past, Palestinians have fired from those areas on Israeli vehicles.
There exists a huge fence and walls along long segments of the border between the United States and Mexico, a fence meant to stop people who come to find jobs in the U.S. It takes a lot of audacity to come and demand of us not to have a fence, when we have this fence to intercept those who come to commit mass murder.
We are sorry that some Palestinian families are cut off from their fields. We have tried to provide a reasonable solution for this: providing gates throughout the length of the fence. But even with these gates, there will be inconvenience for certain families. We had to weigh this inconvenience against seeing Israeli families blown to bits if the fence is not built. Faced with these two alternatives, which is morally more compelling?
How the Fence Promotes Peace
But the importance of the fence is not only that it is saving a lot of lives. It is also changing the strategic equation between Israel and terrorism.
The fence will not be any obstacle to future negotiations. If we agree that the separation line will be elsewhere, we will simply move the fence. And in the future if there will be a real peace, why do we need such a fence in the first place? It could be a simpler barrier as you might have between two neighboring countries.
The rights of Jews who live on the other side of the fence will also be negotiated. I take it they will continue to be Israeli citizens, and all of the settlements will continue to be Israeli locales. Jews living in Judea and Samaria are not a barrier to peace. It is absolutely natural that over one million Arabs live within Israel today. For those who say Jews cannot live in Judea and Samaria, the immediate conclusion is that Arabs cannot live in Israel. I think they can, and the symmetry should be kept.
Prime Minister Abu Ala has problems with the fence’s location, but the easiest way to get around these problems would be to sit with us and negotiate. The Palestinians made a commitment to dismantle terrorist organizations when they adopted the Roadmap. After signing the agreement, Israel transferred lots of money to the Palestinians, we released prisoners, we withdrew our forces from Bethlehem and from some parts of Gaza. But the Palestinians said they are not going to dismantle the terrorist organizations.
The Palestinians also agreed to entirely stop the incitement that takes place on Palestinian TV, in the media, and in the school system. Right after the Oslo agreement was signed in 1993, Israel’s minister of education changed the curriculum and declared the “Year of Peace” in Israeli schools. We taught every child, from elementary school to high school, that the Palestinians were no longer an enemy, they were neighbors. We taught our children that Arafat was no longer a terrorist, he was a partner. By contrast, the Palestinians issued textbooks which taught that Israel is the enemy of mankind, that Jews are Satan on earth, that we are poisoning their wells, and that they should be prepared to become suicide bombers. Today we see the products of that educational system, as the majority of suicide bombers are between the ages of 16 and 28.
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Uzi Landau, a Knesset Member since 1984, serves as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and previously served as Minister of Internal Security. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on the author’s presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on December 17, 2003.