Wall It Off

The Forward says that it’s time for Israel to wall themselves off from the West Bank.

Israel’s failure to fence itself off from the West Bank ought to be a scandal of the first magnitude. Over the past two years it has cost dozens, perhaps hundreds of lives, as a result of suicide bombings perpetrated by Palestinian extremists who have been able to travel unimpeded from the West Bank cities of Tulkarm and Jenin to Israeli cities like Netanya and Rishon Letzion.

In the past year, Sharon has received written recommendations to build a fence from, among others, his own national security council, the Shin Bet security service and Israeli President Moshe Katsav. The proposals cite a cost of about $1 million per kilometer or between $350 million and $750 million, depending on whether the fence follows the 1967 border or deviates to include major blocs of Jewish settlements on the Israeli side. That’s far less than the multibillion-dollar price tag bandied about by fence skeptics.

Unfortunately, Sharon has ignored the recommendations. His aides say a fence wouldn’t necessarily work, and would be perceived as a unilateral Israeli demarcation of a political border between Israel and Palestine, inflaming protests by Arabs who want the border somewhere else. Yes, there would be protests. But the real danger isn’t protests by Arabs. It’s protests from Jews who regard the West Bank as part of Israel’s biblical patrimony and oppose any compromise. They’d rather leave their fellow Israelis vulnerable to a continuing barrage of deadly bombings than permit any steps seen as conceding Israeli sovereignty over the territory. And they have the clout within Sharon’s right-wing camp to impose their will.

That’s an interesting point. Creating some kind of barrier to between the West Bank and Israel might help to prevent suicide bombings, depending how it was implemented. However, groups such as the Shas Party would almost certainly walk from Sharon’s coalition if such a a measure were implemented. That does leave Sharon in a difficult position.

Ben-Eliezer’s initial plan is a modest one. It calls for building less than 50 miles of fencing in four stretches along the northern West Bank and around Jerusalem. The total cost would be about $75 million, including all the electronic bells and whistles that make such fences maximally effective. The point of this limited plan is to create barriers between the cities where most suicide bombers originate and the nearest points inside Israel proper, making it harder for hikers to stroll over the hills and wreak havoc.

Granted, it might stop one or two, but no fence is impenetrable. Surely terrorists will find their way around these barriers and continue to strike against Israel. While a wall might be a short term solution, it’s only a limited one at best. The only real solution to this problem is to make sure that the costs of such bombings are too high for the Palestinians to bear, or hope that the pool of suicide bombers runs out. Unfortunately, it appears as though the latter option isn’t one that would work. Until then, Israel simply has to do the best it can to remove the funding, the material, and arrest the personnel feeding terrorism in the West Bank. A wall may provide some measure of comfort, but it would lead to a false sense of security that would soon be shattered.