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Security Fence / Security Barrier / Separation Barrier

The "fence" is a grim looking structure that is part barbed wire, part electrified metal, and part high concrete wall with a watch tower and sniper positions. It is designed to keep Palestinian militants out. Israel's frontier with the West Bank is 365-kilometers long. The Government has decided to fence the whole line. About $1.5 billion was allocated for the first two stages of the project.

Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog declared in March 2016 the need for a "disengagement" between Israelis and the Palestinians, "not by withdrawing from the territories, but by separating us physically". In January 2016, Herzog had announced a new plan "to separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as fast as possible", describing the two-state solution as impossible under current conditions. The opposition leader's proposal: to complete the separation wall around so-called "settlement blocs" in the West Bank, and to cut off major Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem from the rest of the city. The Labor Party has officially approved the plan.

It takes different forms in different areas. There are areas of the wall that are a huge concrete wall 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 and a series of military roads with barbed wire on either side of the wall.

The Israeli Defense Ministry also wants to build a second fence on the eastern side of the West Bank, in order to sever Palestinian areas from the Jordan River Valley. During a tour in March 2003 to inspect the construction of the fence, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke of the importance of an eastern security barrier, although it still has not been fully planned or funded.

In interim peace accords, both sides decided that the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state would be determined by negotiations. As the peace process eroded during the past several years and suicide attacks increased, talk of a security fence became more frequent. Finally, the government agreed, and construction on the first phase began in June 2001, but there had been little progress in the following six months. Officials envision that the fence will eventually run close to 200 kilometers and will cost about one-million-dollars per-kilometer to build.

By early 2002, after more than two years of a Palestinian uprising, many Israelis felt that building a high wall between the two communities may be the only way to enhance their security. According to opinion polls, more than 70-percent of Israelis favored the idea of a security barrier to control Palestinian access to Israel.

In June 2002 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved construction of a fence between Israel and the West Bank to help stop Palestinian militants from crossing into the Jewish state. Israeli officials say the fence will run about 110-kilometers from a point northeast of Tel Aviv to south of the port city of Haifa, running roughly parallel to the Mediterranean Sea. For most of the distance the fence will run along the currently unmarked frontier, known as the Green Line, that separates Israel from the West Bank. At some points along Israel's narrow coastal strip the country is only about 15-kilometers wide. The fence is meant to separate the Palestinian-ruled towns of Jenin, Tulkarm and Qalqilya from nearby Israeli cities. Before Israel captured the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East war, there was a fence along the entire area, which was then ruled by Jordan. The new barrier will follow the old line, but at some points will veer into the West Bank, meaning the appropriation of at least 77-square kilometers of occupied land. At least 11 Palestinian villages will end up on the Israeli side of the barrier. The fence reportedly will take about one-year to build and will cost about one-million dollars per kilometer.

Sharon reportedly was reluctant to approve construction of the fence because many of his supporters, including Jewish settlers in the West Bank, see it as a first step in giving up parts of the Palestinian territories, which they claim for security and religious reasons. Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who drafted the barrier plan, says he opposes any unilateral decision about borders. He supports building a fence along the entire frontier and maintaining an Israeli military presence in parts of the West Bank until both sides negotiate a permanent peace agreement.

In March 2003 Israel prepared to extend the controversial security fence in the West Bank farther eastward, in order for it to encompass more Israeli settlements. Palestinian officials have condemned the move, saying it amounts to Israel effectively seizing more territory. The Israeli Defense Ministry confirmed that it planned to move a security barrier around the West Bank to the east. The move will mean about 40-thousand additional settlers will be on the Israeli side of the fence. Among the settlements to be included in the new course of the fence is Ariel, one of the largest in the West Bank, with about 20,000 residents. Ariel is close to the Palestinian city of Nablus, which is regarded by the Israeli army as a stronghold of militant Palestinian groups. About 3,000 Palestinians will be also be affected by the re-alignment, which will separate them from the majority of Palestinians living on the other side of the barrier.

As part of the "Jerusalem Defense Plan" approved in March 2003, building also has begun around three parts of the capital city, which has been the most frequent target of suicide bombers.

Supporters of the security barrier cite Gaza as an example. Barbed wire fences have been strung along the line between the Gaza Strip and Israel, effectively cutting off infiltration by militants. The Israeli barrier, only partially completed, loosely follows the 1967 "Green Line" that separated Israel from the West Bank, but it veers deeply into occupied territory at several points to protect Jewish settlements and leaves several Palestinian villages cut off from the rest of the West Bank. Israel contends the barrier is for security only and not meant to delineate a border for a future Palestinian state, which is to be negotiated under the final stage of the "road map." Proponents say the fence is a means of addressing Israel's security needs if there is not cooperation from the Palestinian leadership itself.

Robert Satloff, director of policy at the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in the July 24, 2003 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.

There is also opposition to the fence. Some Israelis fear that it will become a de-facto border and will leave a number of settlements on the "wrong" side, well inside Palestinian territory.

In February 2004 Israel decided to shorten its controversial West Bank security barrier in the hope of easing hardships on Palestinians. Observers said that the move was intended to win world support as the project comes before the International Court of Justice. Israel cut the length of its security barrier by moving it westward and reducing the number of Palestinian areas encircled by the project. The changes meant the final route of the barrier will be 600 kilometers, about 100 less than under the plan originally approved by the Israeli cabinet.

American Perspective

In a 30 July 2003 interview with Reuters, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed concerns over Israel's efforts to build a fence that could impact Palestinian efforts to establish a state. President Bush, Powell said, has "concerns" about the fence. "He has a problem with the fence, as he said to the Prime Minister [Ariel Sharon], if the fence is constructed in a way or continues to be constructed in a way that takes additional Palestinian land and sort of prejudges what might be left for a Palestinian state, or if it complicates our discussions going forward," Powell said.

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."

In August 2003 the Bush administration was reported to be looking for ways to press Israel to halt construction of the fence, and that one option was reducing the nine billion dollar loan package approved by Congress for Israel earlier this year to help it cope with the economic effects of the Iraq war. At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker reiterated US concern about the fence project and said administration officials are pleased that Israeli officials have said they are taking US concerns into account. As to the loan package, he noted that the relevant legislation already provides for deductions for Israeli settlement activity and acknowledged that linking US loans to the fence project was under discussion. Secretary of State Colin Powell said a nation is within its rights to build a border fence. But he said when a fence "crosses over onto the land of others," and is built in a way which makes it more difficult to move forward on the "road map" to Middle East peace, this as he put it, "causes us a problem."

Palestinian Perspective

At its most basic level, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a dispute about land. Accordingly, the issue of territory is a central focus of permanent status negotiations between the PLO and Israel, implicating almost all of the other issues on the agenda. The Palestinian position regarding the issue of borders is simple: the international borders between the states of Palestine and Israel shall be the armistice cease-fire lines in effect on June 4, 1967. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 emphasizes the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and calls for the withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 war.

Palestinians describe the fence as another Berlin Wall that turns Palestinian areas into giant prison camps. Palestinians say proof that the fence is just an Israeli land grab is clear in its proposed location, which is not exactly along the Green Line. Israel is swinging the fence around some West Bank settlements and other areas the Israeli army wants to patrol. Israel says both sides will have to yield some territory for the barrier. But Palestinians look at the proposed location and see too many areas where they are ceding large tracts of land. Some Palestinian farmers say the fence will block them from moving between the villages where they live and the fields they work. Palestinians say the wall is being built in such a way as to divide Palestinian population centers from their adjacent agricultural and water resources.

Phase one of the Roadmap calls for the Government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity including natural growth. The Palestinians say that both settlements and the wall must be stopped if a Palestinian sovereign state is to be realized. The settlements are the picture and the wall serves to frame the picture. Even if the Israeli PM were to freeze settlement growth, the PNA argues that he would still be able to continue de facto territorial annexation by building the frame with continued construction, i.e. building a frame around the pictures, that Sharon can later fill in through resumed settlement expansion at a later date. Similarly, if Sharon stops the wall but continues settlement expansion, he would continue to expand settlements, i.e., create the picture, and would subsequently frame it later by resuming construction of the wall.

Phase two of the Roadmap calls for enhancing Palestinian maximum territorial contiguity. The wall and settlements will prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with territorial contiguity. The wall and settlements are creating cantons and enclaves. Ariel Sharon says that he is meeting the Roadmap requirements of providing Palestinians territorial contiguity because he will construct roads or tunnels that would link the cantons. This is not contiguity, and it is not acceptable to the Palestinians. Take one example of the effect on the economy. The towns of Bidya and Salfit are 10 kilometer distant without the wall and settlements. With the wall and settlements, and the road used to establish contiguity, the journey becomes 80 kilometers.

Sharon has indicated he would make concessions and evacuate some settlements. Recently, a list of 17 settlements to be evacuated was published in Israeli press. These settlements are smaller, isolated ones. While their removal will in essence makes things a bit less crowded, it will not address the lack of territorial contiguity created by the wall and settlements.

Qalqiliya [Kalkiliya], with a population of approximately 40,000 has been enclosed on three sides by the wall; the only exit is a gate controlled by the Israeli army to the immediate east of Kalkiliya, the bottle shaped area. The effect of enclosing Kalkiya by the wall and the gate has been devastating. Unemployment in Kalkiliya is approximately 80%; approximately 1/3 of its businesses/shops have closed (600 out of 1800); and approximately 8000 people have left. Moreover, as a result of the Israeli roadblocks and closures of villages and the wall, Israel has severed access by the surrounding villages to Kalkiliya, creating instead islands cantons, as shown on the map by areas such as Habla, Ras Atiya, Izbat, Azzun Atma,). As a result, Palestinians from the villages are denied access to necessary health, education, and other social services. The settler by-pass roads are also causing the same effect of cantonization and isolation.

International Court of Justice Ruling

On July 9, 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the judicial branch of the United Nations, issued its Advisory Opinion on the case addressing the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. By a vote fourteen to one, the ICJ found that the wall under construction by Israel in occupied Palestinian territory is contrary to international law. Moreover, the ICJ stated that Israel is "under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall" and "make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory".

The Advisory Opinion was requested by the United Nation's General Assembly who wanted advice on the legality of the situation. The Advisory Opinion is based on the principles outlined in the UN Charter which prohibit "the threat or use of force and the illegality of any territorial acquisition by such means, as reflected in customary international law" and uphold the right of self-determination.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan fowarded the ICJ's opinion to the General Assembly. The General Assembly along with the Security Council will take the necessary steps "to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall."

Israeli Reaction

Israel rejected the July 9th Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated that the international court had no authority over the matter and that the dispute should be handle bilaterally. As a result, he stated, Israel will not act on the ruling of the ICJ.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also confirmed that wall construction would continue. He stated that, "the decision sends a destructive message to encourage terrorism, and denounces countries that are defending themselves against it."

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Page last modified: 20-03-2016 15:22:11 ZULU