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October 2003

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The author, a long-time and close observer of the Middle Eastern scene, examines the effect of the construction of the barrier between Israel and the Arab Palestinian territories. He does not reach an optimistic conclusion. -- Ed.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has begun construction of a 150-mile security barrier slightly east of the "Green Line," the pre-1967 frontier between Israel and the Arab West Bank. Its ostensible purpose is to insulate Israel proper from Palestinian suicide bombers, but its implications for West Bankers' access to their residences and means of livelihood are so profound that it could be the last nail in the coffin of the moribund "peace process."

Conversely, the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian controversy will determine the ultimate fate of the barricade. Since the outbreak of Intifadah II three years ago, the alternative outcomes of the conflict have crystallized into four possibilities:

1) The Two-State Solution. Advocated by moderates ever since the passage of the Partition Resolution by the UNGA in November 1947, this formula was dealt a fatal blow by the Israeli occupation of June 1967. It seemingly was resuscitated by the unworkable peace process embodied in the Oslo Accord of 1993. Lately it was extinguished, however, by Israeli reoccupation of much of the territory assigned to the local control of the Palestine Authority, by the campaign to eliminate the Authority's president, Yasir Arafat, and by the construction of the barricade—part fence, part wall, part buffer zone off-limits to Arabs.

2) "Transfer." For Israeli hard liners, the ideal solution would be the mass expulsion of Arab West Bankers to Jordan and beyond. The global repercussions of such action would probably be unacceptable for Israel, except in the context of a Middle East conflict much more violent and protracted than the American invasion of Iraq. This contingency appears to be remote, though not out of the question as long as the administration in Washington remains dedicated to unilateral "prevention" against other recalcitrant Middle Eastern governments.

3) Binational State. Conversion of Israel and the Occupied Territories into a secular state that accords all residents equal political rights would be consistent with latter-day trends around the world. A small but persuasive minority, including the late Palestinian patriot, Edward Said, has long advocated it. It is so adamantly opposed by the Israeli leadership, both Labor and Likud, that its implementation seems out of the question until enough time has elapsed to erase current mindsets.

4) Creeping Annexation. Ever since 1967, in quiet times and violent, under Labor and Likud, Israel has relentlessly pursued a campaign of gradual integration of the West Bank into the Israeli state. The campaign has featured the unilateral annexation of an expanded East Jerusalem (now populated by some 200,000 Palestinians and an equal number of newly arrived Jews), constant expansion of Jewish settlement (current population: 230,000), extensive confiscation of land for security purposes—notably a highway system that is off limits to West Bankers. And now comes erection of the barricade. These activities will swell the number of Palestinians sufficiently embittered to risk or sacrifice their lives in futile resistance, and the consequent Israeli determination to pen the Palestinians up in reservations, Native-American style.

If eventuality (l), (2), or (3) should materialize, the barricade loses all relevance and will presumably be razed. In the meantime, Israel seems intent on completing it as soon as political circumstances permit. The only agency capable of stopping construction is the U. S. Government, which has shown no interest in doing so.


The author, a retired senior Foreign Service officer with long experience in the Middle East, is a member of the American Diplomacy Publishers board of directors and a frequent contributor to this journal.

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