Writing Is On the Wall
by Leon Hadar
of the security barrier that the Israeli government has been constructing
in the West Bank and Gaza have compared it to the infamous Berlin
Wall that had separated the Soviet-occupied part (East Berlin) of
the city from the one controlled by West Germany (West Berlin),
and by extension, that had divided Europe between the Communist
bloc and the Free World.
have suggested that the barrier would enhance Israeli security by
hindering potential Palestinian terrorists and suicide bombers from
infiltrating Israel. But detractors have argued that only a viable
peace pact between the Israelis and the Palestinians would provide
Israel with real security and that the Israeli Wall, like the now
smashed Berlin Wall, would only help to perpetuate the conflict
between Arab and Jews in the Holy Land.
In fact, the
bashers of the Israeli Wall have advanced a misplaced historical
analogy. The East Germans and their Soviet backers had built the
Wall not as part of an effort to protect themselves from attacks
by the US-led alliance but in order to block their citizens from
fleeing to the West (and to some extent, the Wall made it harder
for liberty seekers to cross into West Berlin).
That the Berlin
Wall remained until 1989 reflected the willingness of both parties
in the Cold War conflict to preserve the status quo in Germany and
in Europe. To put it differently, it was NATO and the Warsaw Pact
– and not the Wall – that was responsible for helping to maintain
the peace in Berlin.
A more appropriate
historical analogy to apply to Israel's security barrier would be
the Maginot Line, that is, the line of concrete fortifications,
tank obstacles, machine gun posts and other defenses which France
constructed along its borders with Germany (and with Italy) in the
wake of World War I, which they believed would help them prevent
a German invasion by providing time for mobilization in the event
of a German attack and also compensate for French numerical weakness.
Line worked as long as the German military was weak and the German
leadership had no plans to invade France. When these two conditions
changed, the Maginot Line proved to be nothing more than – to use
a contemporary term – a virtual line. In fact, its existence only
helped create a sense of misplaced confidence among the French and
caused their defeat in 1940.
In a similar
way, the Israeli public and leadership assumed that the 465-mile
barrier that is expected to be longer and wider than the Berlin
Wall and backed by razor barbed wire, deep trenches, and electronic
fences would make it next to impossible for the Palestinians to
attacks targets inside Israel.
to build the Wall was an integral part of a wide strategy based
on the notion that the Palestinian side was either unwilling or
unable to reach a formal accord with Israel.
need to move unilaterally and withdraw Israeli troops from large
centers of Arab population in the West Bank and Gaza and to erect
the barrier along the lines that Israel regards as "defendable."
Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year, including
the dismantling of the 21 settlements there and the removal of over
8,000 Israeli settlers, was considered to be one of the first steps
in implementing this unilateral strategy. It was not supposed to
provide Israel with a formal cease-fire, but with security.
But it didn't.
On June 25, Hamas guerrillas infiltrated Israel from the Gaza Strip
through a tunnel, killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped a third
who was then dragged back into Gaza through the tunnel under the
Israel had withdrawn from Gaza, hundreds of homemade Kassam rockets
were launched from Gaza into Israel, targeting populated urban centers,
including the thriving resort town of Ashkelon. In reaction, Israeli
bombers and gunboats pounded the Gaza Strip, killing several Palestinian
guerrillas and civilians while Israeli troops and tanks moved into
the northern parts of Gaza.
insist that they would continue with their military operation in
Gaza until the Palestinians return the Israeli soldier. The Palestinians
say that they would do so only if Israel frees a number of Palestinian
prisoners. So much for Israel's "security barrier" and
It's true that
after erecting the barrier in some strategic areas in the West Bank,
there was a drop in terrorist violence inside Israel. But while
they give high grades to Israeli's counterinsurgency tactics, many
analysts also insist that the drop in terrorist attacks could be
temporary and may have to do with a political decision by the Palestinian
groups, including the ruling Islamic party Hamas, to maintain an
informal cease-fire in Israel.
From that perspective,
the recent Palestinian infiltration by guerrillas and launching
of rockets into Israel should be seen as a Palestinian response
to an earlier assassination of a Hamas official by the Israelis
and perhaps, also as a way of challenging the current status quo
under which Israel is maintaining an economic siege on the Hamas-controlled
Palestinian Authority (PA).
All these recent
developments, including the Israeli punitive measures against the
Palestinians in Gaza, suggest that the Israeli unilateral strategy
of withdrawing from parts of the occupied territories and erecting
a security fence may not even provide the Israeli with short-term
security, not to mention long-term peace.
In fact, when
it comes to some parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the
current Israeli government has stressed that even under its plans
for unilateral withdrawal it would maintain control of some of the
large blocs of Jewish settlements as well as the Arab parts of Jerusalem.
fence that Israel is building will end up dividing Arab towns and
villages in the West Bank and make it impossible to form a contiguous
and viable Palestinian entity there. Any of the choices that Israel
faces in its dealings with the Palestinians will prove to be costly.
It could continue controlling the West Bank and perhaps reoccupy
the Gaza Strip. But that would make it likely that it would end
up being transformed into a Middle-Eastern version of South Africa
under which a Jewish minority would rule the Arab majority residing
between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.
Or it could
grant these Arabs full Israeli citizenship which would mean that
Israel would cease to be a Jewish state and become a bi-national
entity. In order to avoid such scenarios, the Israelis have decided
to take steps to withdraw from the occupied Arab territories either
under a peace accord with the Palestinians or through the combination
of a security fence and unilateral disengagement policy. But such
moves seem to lead to a dead-end or, more specifically, to continuing
The only alternative
would be to negotiate with the current Palestinian leadership which
Israel and the United States (as well as the European Union) have
rejected as an option as long as Hamas refuses to abandon its platform
to call for the establishment of an Arab-Muslim state in the area
between Jordan and the Mediterranean (including Israel).
observers are speculating that Israel, with US support, would try
to destroy Hamas (which ironically came to power through elections
promoted by the United States). But it's doubtful that what would
replace Hamas would be a stable PA with the will and legitimacy
to make a deal with Israel.
a move would probably ignite even more chaos and violence in the
Palestinian territories instead of creating the conditions for the
revival of the peace process.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). Visit
© 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.