Fencing around the Issues
August 12, 2003
For anyone who did not understand that the road map "peace process" is a tragicomic charade, the twin Palestinian suicide attacks of August 12 should be a wake up call.
It is not surprising that both sides are violating both the letter and the spirit of the agreement while blithely proclaiming their commitment to peace. What is surprising is the nearly total silence of the US and EU in the face of Israeli and Palestinian violations, and the almost total silence of peace groups. Only one non-issue has preoccupied both the US government and the different peace and Palestinian advocacy groups in recent weeks: the Israel security fence.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders found out during the Oslo years that real concessions would cost them their jobs or even their lives. On the other hand, they learned that a successful "peace process" does not have to entail any real concessions at all. The photo-opportunities and speechifying and Washington visits and confidence-building gestures that were supposedly only a by-product of the Oslo process, have become the mainstay of the current roadmap process. The appearance of progress replaces progress, obviating the need for either side to carry out any painful permanent or meaningful steps toward peace.
The roadmap was supposed to have "teeth" - measurable performance indicators, and the US and quartet partners were supposed to be measuring. Israelis have not freed the captive populations of the West Bank towns and cities from closures and checkpoint harassment, and Israel is going ahead with settlement expansion plans. The US has not protested budgetary outlays for new settlement housing units, just as it is silent about the PNA's steadfast refusal to disarm terrorist groups. The US is understanding towards its friends, and both Ariel Sharon and Abu-Mazen are clearly friends. Deadly raids like the recent one in the Askar refugee camp continue whenever Israel deems it necessary for security, and the USA is also understanding about those, just as it is understanding about the PNA-backed illegal arms factories that those raids are meant to destroy.
Both sides make meaningless and reversible concessions. Perhaps 10% of the over 5,000 Palestinians held on various charges from illegally working in Israel to rock throwing to murder may be freed. However, a fresh crop of prisoners can always be arrested. There is never a shortage of potential prisoners. The Palestinians have stopped calling for martyrdom and cussing out the Zionists quite so often in their media. Incitement is down 80% we are told, but this too can be cranked up again when the time comes.
The Palestinians have supposedly ceased suicide and terror attacks. But attacks like those that occurred just now show that the Hudna or truce is just another public relations device.. On Tuesday August 12, the very day of the suicide attacks carried out by Hamas and Fatah, following the attacks, the PNA-operated Palestine Media Center Web site noted. "Hamas leader Ismael Haniah told Al Jazeera satellite TV station Tuesday his Islamic movement will honor its agreement with the PNA and the Hudna [truce] it declared on June 29." In the true spirit of 1984, suicide attacks are a way of honoring a truce agreement. The US will no doubt point to such declarations as "proof" of "progress."The PNA has repeatedly assured the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups that it will do nothing to disarm them, and it is keeping its word. Hamas is going ahead with its rearmament program as fast as it can get it funded by sources in the EU, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. New Kassam rockets are being produced. When the time comes, they will be ready. Who is paying for them? Silence. Why aren't they destroyed? Silence. What will happen after the 90 day Hudna is over? Silence.
All the mischief is done with the quiet consent of the US and the EU. Since the US does nothing to enforce the performance criteria of the roadmap, we can safely conclude that they are not interested in real peace. Reality is not a factor in assessing progress in the peace process. Only appearances count. It doesn't matter if there are new settlements, as long as Ariel Sharon says he is committed to peace. It doesn't matter if there are new suicide attacks, as long as the Hamas and PNA say they are committed to the "truce."
As they did with the Oslo "peace process, the leaders of both sides, with the cooperation of the US, are making the road map into a tool to carry on their war, and a gimmick to avoid doing the things that absolutely must be done in order to make peace: end the occupation, disarm the terror groups, reform Palestinian political life and settle the refugee problem outside Israel. Neither Israel or the Palestinians want to tackle any of these painful issues. The US and EU are not going to make the Palestinians or the Israelis tackle these issues. Consequently, instead of peace, we have media happenings and attention to bogus issues such as Palestinian incitement, prisoner release and the security fence.
The Israeli security fence (aka "wall") is a perfect issue: it is dramatic, and yet it is of no consequence whatever. Part of the fence does not exist and is not even planned, allowing free reign to imaginative detractors to trace non-existent "proposed routes" that enclose the Palestinians in ghetto-like enclaves. Israel can therefore make "concessions" by agreeing not to build planned or "proposed" parts of the fence or even parts of the fence that it never planned to build at all.
The fence is a perfect bargaining issue for Ariel Sharon. Concessions will not be painful. As far as he is concerned, it has nothing but nuisance value anyway. The idea for the fence originated as a pragmatic demand of Israelis living on this side of the green line, especially in small towns and agricultural co-ops to the north of the West Bank, where the old green line border is crossed by numerous dirt roads and paths, that were impossible to patrol or close off. By day, these roads afforded convenient informal passage for Palestinians who went to work, to visit relatives or for a day at the beach in Israel by the tens of thousands. By night, the unguarded routes supported a thriving industry in auto theft, theft of livestock and farm machinery. By 1997, auto-theft alone had doubled relative to pre-Oslo agreement levels, resulting in losses of over $700 million annually for Israeli insurance companies. This economy based on larceny is never mentioned by those who inveigh against the fence.
Israeli TV reports showed the lines of Palestinians waiting at checkpoints while other, much larger lines of traffic crossed the border unhindered through checkpoints, and featured Israeli residents begging the government to erect a security barrier. No fence would be erected though, because a fence along the green line or near the green line would constitute a de-facto Israeli recognition of the pre-1967 borders. Officially, according to the Israeli government, no green line border exists. The television reports called it the "seam line." For the Israeli government to erect any dividing barrier between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean was an admission of failure for "greater Israel" ideology.
Pressure for the barrier increased after the Palestinians openly broke the Oslo accords, initiating the violence in September 2000. The open border became a route for terrorists entering Israel. The Labor party adopted the fence as an ideal issue that would embarrass the right-wing Likud, forcing it to draw a line through "greater Israel" in order to provide security. Settlers were bitterly opposed to the fence, because it would declare a border within "greater Israel." The fence became part of Labor's "us here and them there" peace program. The successful Labor campaign was co-opted by the right with significant modifications that convert the fence into a means of furthering de-facto annexation of parts of the West Bank. The completed part of the fence encircles and cuts off the Palestinian town of Qalqilia. The fence runs through Palestinian territory and in many places cuts off Palestinian villagers from some of their land. It will prevent Palestinians from coming to work in Israel, an illegal but usually harmless practice, but advocates of ending the occupation can hardly complain about setting up an actual border. The modified fence, as planned, will bite deeply into Palestinian territory in several places, including the area around Ariel. This is the part contested by the US government. The barrier can be either a benign fence, or an evil wall, depending on your viewpoint. Physically, it is only a wall in a few places. (The fence issue cannot be well understood without knowledge of the geography. Please seewww.mideastweb.org/thefence.htm to view maps.)
Would the completed fence have prevented the attacks in Ariel and Rosh Ha'ayin? Very probably. It is hard to argue against a fence around Ariel so soon after a suicide attack there. There is no doubt that the fence would save lives, but the fence is not a substitute for a political solution. It is likely that terrorists would eventually find a different way to commit mayhem.
A determined and adaptive adversary can without doubt eventually find a way to overcome or evade any static barrier, from the Roman Limnes to the Maginot line and the security fence. The Qassam rockets being produced by Hamas with PNA consent and transferred to the West Bank with PNA cooperation are only one means of overcoming the fence. Terrorists will eventually tunnel under the fence, get through by crawling through drainage culverts, fly over it with gliders, enter Israel as tourists at airports and seaports, or cross from Arab countries. A modern society cannot be hermetically sealed off like a walled ancient or medieval city.
Nonetheless, the barrier became the focus of much diplomatic activity recently. According to president Bush, the Palestinian state was not thwarted by the trans-Samaria expressway or the sizeable town of Ariel or all the smaller settlements along the route of the expressway; however, Bush asserts, a barrier of chicken wire in the same place would be an issue of vital importance that dooms the Palestinian state.
Eventually, the Israeli government may agree not to build a section of the fence that it didn't particularly want to build in the first place. The Palestinians will continue to not carry out suicide attacks except when they get a yen for carrying out suicide attacks. The US will proclaim a great victory for peace, democracy and the American Way. By 2005, Americans will be interested in a different conflict or in some internal issue. Nobody will remember that there was supposed to be a Palestinian state, nobody will be interested in the terror attacks that will surely begin anew, and everything will remain the same, as it always does.
Peace activists ask, "Should I protest the wall, or support the security fence?" Neither. Anyone who wastes time on this fence has been led astray. It will not bring peace and it will not prevent peace. If you want to save the peace process, ignore the fence. It is a distraction created to help avoid the issues. It is a symptom, not a cause. Those interested in peace should get the sides to comply with the letter and spirit of the road map in reality, not just in press releases.
Click here for official text of the roadmap - April 30, 2003
Comments about this article may be posted here: http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000060.htm or sent to MidEastWeb or to our Web discussion forum.
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