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SLUG: 7-37690 Israeli Security Fence

DATE=July 25, 2003


TITLE=Israeli Security Fence


BYLINE=Judith Latham



EDITOR=Carol Castiel

CONTENT=VO 10:04; MO 12:18


HOST: On Friday/Today Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met [NOTE: scheduled to begin at 1125 EDT/1525 UTC] with President Bush at the White House to discuss the "road map" for Middle East peace. One of the major points of dispute is the "fence" or "wall" that Israel is building to separate Palestinian areas on the West Bank from Israel and its settlements. Today's Dateline explores the controversy over the so-called "wall of separation." Here's Judith Latham.

JL: Some people call it a "fence." Others call it a "wall." It depends partly on your politics and your perspective on the structure now being built to separate the state of Israel from the Palestinian Territories.

Michael Tarazi [tah-RAH-zee], legal advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization, is a member of the Palestinian delegation in Washington. A Harvard-trained lawyer who grew up in the United States, Mr. Tarazi says that foremost among the issues President Bush and Prime Minister Abbas are addressing are on-going settlement construction and what he calls the "security wall that Israel is building inside the occupied Palestinian Territories." I asked Mr. Tarazi how far advanced the project is at this point.


MT: "The Israelis are moving very quickly in building the so-called 'security wall' inside the occupied Palestinian territories. To date, in the northern part of the West Bank, they have built approximately 128 kilometers. That's 'Phase One' of the wall. And the wall is being built in such a way as to divide Palestinian population centers from their adjacent agricultural and water resources. So, this is really in effect a land grab for the Israelis. It has nothing to do with security at all."

JL: "When is it likely to be completed, if the current rate of construction continues?"

MT: "It's difficult to predict because we don't know the exact contours of the wall, but we anticipate that it will take a few years to finalize. But what we are predicting is that the wall in its entirety will be twice the length of the 'Green Line,' the border between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories."

JL: "It does not really conform to the 'Green Line?'"

MT: "Not at all. That's the whole purpose of the wall to recreate Israel's borders by building the wall well within Palestinian territory. The Israelis are in effect grabbing more land because what they're doing to build the wall in such a way as to keep the Palestinian population on one side of the fence while taking all of the land on the other side of the fence. And that land will be used to further expand Israeli settlements."

JL: "I think most people are very well acquainted with the Berlin Wall. Physically what is this security wall like?"

MT: "It takes different forms in different areas. There are areas of the wall that are a huge concrete monster 8 meters high. It has watchtowers every few hundred meters, very similar to the Berlin Wall. On either side of the wall they have what they call 'buffer zones' so property is destroyed if it's too close to the wall. They also have trenches. They have a series of military roads with barbed wire on either side of the wall. In other areas the wall is more like a fence. In its most egregious form, it is a very imposing 8-meter-high slab of concrete."

JL: "What are the long-term political ramifications of the fence?"

MT: "What Israel is doing, as it has always done with the entire settlement enterprise, is to 'create facts on the ground' that they will in effect push on the Palestinians during final status negotiations. In effect, to annex this land and when you sit down with the Palestinians, you say, 'Well, it's too late. We've already built the wall. We'll keep it where it is, and you Palestinians will have to compromise.' This is what they do with settlements. There are 400,000 settlers living in the occupied Palestinian territories. This is upping the ante in a way. This is creating facts on the ground to prejudice final status negotiations."

JL: That simply is not true, says Middle East expert Robert Lieber, a professor of government at Georgetown University.


"The structure is a physical barrier that is meant to be a decisive measure to deal with the problem of terrorism, especially terrorism inside the 'Green Line' that is, inside the borders of Israel in 1967. Because a number of Israelis live in the West Bank, the line that the fence takes in some places is right along the Green Line, and in other cases extends well beyond it incorporating Arab villages and even communities in ways that raise some difficult questions. I think the broader view to take is that it is a means of addressing Israel's security needs if there is not cooperation from the Palestinian leadership itself. If Prime Minister Abbas is successful in working with his own people and negotiating with Prime Minister Sharon of Israel, then there will be no need for this security fence, which in any case has only gone a modest length so far. And if he is unable to do so, the Israelis are making clear they will do so themselves by creating this fence."

JL: "There has been criticism on the Palestinian side, saying the Israelis are drawing a new border beyond the Green Line."

RL: Well, it remains to be seen. Presumably, all of this is negotiable. An ultimate two-state solution is almost certainly going to involve some border rectification and possibly territorial swaps with Israel incorporating contiguous settlements, which are relatively close to the Green Line. And perhaps relinquishing territory in the heavily Palestinian areas, in parts of the north, or in areas further south adjacent to Gaza. But, I think it's a mistake to focus on the wall itself. The real issue is the willingness and the ability of the current Palestinian leadership to make peace."

JL: "Is there a justification for separating population from farmland and water?"

RL: "What this is driven by is security. Since late September 2000, more than 700 Israelis have been killed most of them civilians, most of them inside Israel proper. And about 2000 Palestinians have died many of them terrorists, but certainly some innocent civilians who were victims of the conflict. These have been harsh actions. The only way of ending it is a viable peace agreement in which the issues are resolved between the parties and the terrorists, or 'rejectionist' groups, are dissolved."

JL: Former Undersecretary of State for the Middle East, Joseph Sisco, agrees with Professor Lieber that Israel is primarily concerned with security, but he thinks the fence could be a complicating factor in future negotiations.


JS: "The great concern of the Palestinians and to some degree the United States shares that concern is that this fence would become a permanent border. I don't believe there is any such sign on the Israeli side. My own judgment is that, if and when we reach the stage of borders, the fence will certainly be part of the negotiation. But I think it's quite negotiable."

JL: "There are those who say the Israelis are creating 'facts on the ground.' Do you see it that way?"

JS: "I don't see that the Israelis are building the fence in order to create an added obstacle to that negotiation. I think it is short term in terms of giving Israel some added protection from terrorism. I think that is the prime consideration and not the fact that they are saying, 'This is the border that we want at the end of the line.'"

JL: "In the short term, it does separate Palestinians from agricultural land and from water. Do you see that as problematic?"

JS: Ultimately, those two elements have to be addressed. It's a problem. That can't be the permanent answer at the end of the process. I think a solution can be found. Water is of key importance in the entire area."

JL: But Palestinian legal advisor Michael Tarazi says Americans in general and some policymakers in particular don't really appreciate the gravity of the situation that Palestinians now face.


"A presentation on the wall was given to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice when she was in the region not too long ago. She was quite alarmed by the destruction the wall was wreaking on the Palestinian population, but also how this wall is being used to further Israel's political interests during negotiations. She registered a protest with the Israeli government, but the Israeli government simply rebuffed the United States yet again. The problem is that we don't really have much leverage. The international community doesn't really apply a whole lot of pressure on Israel to stop measures like the wall and settlement construction. And therefore it plays into the hands of Palestinian extremists who say, 'The law is on our side, but the rest of the world is doing nothing to protect us. So, therefore, we're going to have to protect ourselves any way we can.' If Israel is concerned about its security, then let the Israelis build the wall on the border between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. They shouldn't be building it inside the occupied Palestinian territories. We're trying to explain to people that, if Israel is seriously concerned about its security, there is a way of addressing its security needs without taking more Palestinian land. And in fact the taking of more Palestinian land only makes Israel less secure."

JL: On Wednesday, Robert Satloff, director of policy at the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in the Baltimore Sun that "more than the road map . the fence stands a good chance of transforming the political landscape between Israelis and Palestinians." Mr. Satloff says that the fence is "not, as some have characterized it, a Middle East version of the Berlin Wall." The Berlin Wall separated "one people Germans from Germans, denying freedom to half. Israel's security fence will separate two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, offering the prospect of security to both." But most important, Mr. Satloff says, the fence has the prospect of producing what he calls a "rare political hat trick." Namely, reducing terrorism against Israel, raising the Palestinians' "incentive to fight terror themselves," and fueling an "internal Israeli debate" about settlements.

JL: In the press conference following the meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Abbas, the President said he thinks the "wall is a problem," and he has discussed the matter with Prime Minister Sharon.


"It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank. And I will continue to discuss this issue very clearly with the Prime Minister. As I said in my statement today, he has issued a statement saying that he is willing to come and discuss that with us."

JL: Whether or not the White House will be successful in effecting a change, remains to be seen.

TAPE: CUT #6, MUSIC: Dona nobis pacem from Mozart's CORONATION MASS.

JL: For Dateline, I'm Judith Latham

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