18 June 2002



Construction of security fence criticized as setting political border
Israel Insider By Ellis Shuman June 17, 2002

"Every day that passes in which this fence is not being built is likely to cost us more victims"
- Ben-Eliezer

Israel began construction yesterday of a 115-kilometer-long (71-mile) security fence, aimed at preventing Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating into Israel. The electrified chain-link fence, which will be accompanied by motion detectors and adjacent patrol lines, will run roughly along the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank. Right-wing politicians charged the fence was being built as Israel's eastern border.

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer defended the fence's construction, saying, "The terror attacks which have been haunting Israel, and particularly, the suicide bombings," obligated Israel "to build a continuous obstacle, in order to stop the infiltration of the terrorists" into the country.

"The continuous obstacle is not only a fence, but rather a security concept, that includes fences, electronic detectors, and obstacles to prevent the passage of vehicles etc., and IDF and Border Police forces, on both sides," Ben-Eliezer said.

Ben-Eliezer insisted that the fence being built was "not a border," nor should it serve as "an obstacle to peace... On the contrary, preventing suicide attacks may encourage a political solution. Israel needs a real partner for peace. Then we will strive towards the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, that will live neighborly and peacefully beside us."

The first stage of the fence will run from the Salem checkpoint, between Jenin and the Megiddo junction, to Kfar Kassam, just east of Rosh Ha'ayin. Additional sections of the fence are being built in the Jerusalem area. The cost of the fence's construction will be around $1 million per kilometer. The project is being coordinated by Col. Netzach Meshiach, under the supervision of Defense Ministry Director-General Amos Yaron.

The fence will mostly follow the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank, but at certain points it will swerve to the east of Jewish settlements in Samaria. At one point, the fence will be built to the west of Israel's 1967 border. Yaron denied there was any linkage to the Green Line, saying the fence would be part of a "seam area" straddling the frontier. "It will provide a defensive answer to the...infiltration of terrorists from Judea and Samaria into communities in Israel," he told Israel Radio.

Palestinians, right-wing criticize fence's construction
Objections to the fence's construction came from both the Palestinians and right-wing Israeli politicians. Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the fence effectively canceled previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. He accused Israel of seeking to divide Palestinian areas into cantons and "start a new apartheid system worse than what happened in South Africa."

"The construction of the fence is a huge victory for terror, and will symbolize Israel's defeat in its war against terror," charged Minister without portfolio and National Religious Party chairman, Effi Eitam. "This is not a security fence, but rather a line of withdrawal signifying the borders of a terrorist state."

Minister without portfolio Yitzhak Levy (National Religious Party) said the barrier was a "political fence" and could serve as a de facto border. Eitam and Levy said that they would meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then decide whether their party would remain in the government.

At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Sharon said that the security cabinet would meet on Wednesday to discuss the construction of the security fence.

The Yesha Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip announced that it was launching a campaign against the fence's construction. "The construction of the fence takes Israel back to the 1967 borders," a Yesha spokesman said, adding that those borders were labeled by former Labor Party diplomat Abba Eban as "Auschwitz borders."

MK Michael Kleiner (Herut) charged that the fence "is a waste of money that can be readily bypassed either via a tunnel underneath it, or a ladder or rocket over it."

MK Yuval Shteinitz (Likud) called the fence a "catastrophe from a diplomatic point of view, with minimal security benefits." Shteinitz said the fence was a victory for the Palestinians, who would use it as a starting point in future diplomatic negotiations.

Members of the Left also criticized the fence's construction. MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz) called the barrier "the defense minister's fence against Haim Ramon," in reference to Ramon's call for an Israeli unilateral withdrawal to areas behind a security fence, but with the evacuation of isolated settlements on the other side. Sarid said that any fence that did not follow the 1967 lines and include the evacuation of settlements would only endanger Israel.