Israel: Lets build a wall : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Israelis Debate Drawing Own Borders

Wednesday August 22, 2001 10:30 pm

JERUSALEM (AP) - With the Mideast conflict still burning after 11 months, Israelis have launched a vigorous debate over whether it's better to simply draw their own borders, building high walls and disentangling themselves from the Palestinians, rather than try to revive peace talks.

While the notion is opposed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, among others, a growing number of Israeli politicians say it is time to reconsider the separation approach.

Among them is former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who had largely vanished from public view after being soundly defeated by Sharon in February, but resurfaced this week as the most prominent proponent of unilateral separation.

``If we do not separate from the Palestinians, this country cannot continue to exist as a Jewish, Zionist, democratic state,'' Barak said.

The idea of separation has been raised before, and opponents have called it impractical, unfair and dangerous.

First, the two peoples' economies are tightly interwoven, with Israel relying heavily on Palestinian labor and the Palestinians dependent on Israeli products and services. Such a fence would also cost millions and would not solve the problem of Jewish settlers living outside the fence.

Palestinian leaders have said unilateral separation would fall far short of the minimum requirements for a Palestinian state. Drawing its own border would lead Israel to keep parts of the West Bank to include settlements and provide a defensible frontier. Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi calls that ``collective punishment.''

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and Gaza for a state and demand that all Jewish settlements be removed.

The separation idea has generated support among a broad cross-section of Israelis looking for a way out of the morass.

``We are facing many years, even generations, of hostile relations between Israelis and Palestinians,'' said Dan Schueftan, a Haifa University professor and author of ``Disengagement,'' a book that offers a blueprint for a full Israeli-Palestinian divorce.

The Mideast violence, punctuated by Palestinian suicide bombings, has injected urgency into the Israeli discussion of how to physically separate the sides.

But Schueftan said demographics, not violence, is the most compelling reason for Israel to wall itself off from the Palestinians. Israeli Jews now account for 5 million of the 9 million people in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But within 20 years, the higher Palestinian birthrate means that they will outnumber the Jews.

Israel, he argues, should start erecting walls along a self-defined border in the West Bank and place sharp restrictions on the number of Palestinians entering Israel. The door would be left open for negotiations, but without deadline pressure.

Separation should be carried out in a ``carefully staged manner over about four years,'' said Barak, with Israel building a border fence stretching for hundreds of miles through the hills and valleys of the West Bank.

At present, the Gaza Strip is fenced off. Though West Bank roads have Israeli military checkpoints, thousands of Palestinians bypass them, crossing into Israel each day on foot to work.

On the highly emotional issue of Jerusalem, where Palestinians are seeking a capital in the traditionally Arab eastern sector, Barak said the entire city should be kept under Israeli control for now.

However, ``even Jerusalem clearly has to be fenced,'' he said.

Israeli opposition to unilateral separation comes from some on the right, but also from former Barak associates who favor giving up most of the West Bank, but only in the framework of a peace treaty.

Shlomo Ben-Ami, Barak's foreign minister, told Israel TV on Wednesday that unilateral separation ``would create a permanent situation of war between us and a hostile Palestinian state that would arise, and between us and the Muslim world.''

The idea of separation was first proposed by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and in 1996 officials projected that a separation zone between Israel and the West Bank could cost some $300 million.

Sharon says a final peace deal with the Palestinians is not presently possible, though he has opposed calls for separation.

No matter how creative the mapmaker, dozens of Israel's nearly 150 Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would remain isolated in Palestinian areas and would have to be evacuated under any separation plan.

Sharon was the leading advocate of building settlements for decades and doesn't want to abandon them, particularly now, when a pullout could be interpreted as a retreat under Palestinian fire.

Still, several current and former Cabinet members, a group that includes members of Sharon's right-wing Likud and the moderate Labor party, are talking about forming a movement to push for separation.

Right-wingers like the prospect of Israel's marking its borders without negotiating with Arafat, whom they blame for the violence.

Some Israeli moderates and liberals support the separation idea because Israel's military would pull back from parts of the Palestinian territories, reducing the grating checkpoint encounters that Palestinians so resent.

``This is a collective punishment against all the Palestinians,'' said a frustrated Amjed Mousa, who waited with his children at the Kalandia checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, while Israeli soldiers checked IDs. ``These inhuman measures will never end this crisis.'',3561,1123659,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, August 22, 2001


the value of a wall built between the opposing sides would be worth every penny of the cost, if it saved even one life.

-- jimmie the weed (, August 22, 2001.

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