Israeli Court Knocks over Main Prop of Sharon’s Disengagement Plan

Three Israeli high court judges led by chief justice Aharon Barak handed down a landmark ruling Wednesday, June 30, which said explicitly that the welfare of ten West Bank Palestinian villages is more important than the security of Israeli citizens. The court accepted a Palestinian petition claiming the defense barrier separated villagers from their land, schools and jobs, and ordered the Israeli defense ministry to reroute 30 kilometers out of 40 kilometers of the fence designed to keep Palestinian suicide killers out of the capital. This stretch runs northwest of Jerusalem from Givat Zeev to Nataf. The IDF proposal to cut four gates in the fence was not accepted.
The court affirmed in principle that the barrier’s purpose was to save lives rather than a political land grab and was not therefore illegal. No demands were made of the Palestinians with regard to renouncing support for terror. The director of the defense ministry barrier project said the court had handed down “a very bad judgment for Israel and made a mockery of the victims of the Palestinian Authority and terrorist organizations.”
Next week, the international court at The Hague is due to publish its decision on the fence. Israel denies the court’s jurisdiction in this matter and will ignore its judgment – unlike the high court ruling from Jerusalem which the government is bound to obey.
The route must now be shifted even though it forces a six-month delay on the Jerusalem fence project and leaves the city wide open to Palestinian suicide attacks.
Prime minister Ariel Sharon has called a special consultation for Thursday, July 1, to consider how next to proceed. One proposal is for emergency legislation to circumvent the high court ruling and save the fence project, all of which is now up in the air.
For Wednesday’s high court decision offers a precedent for some 20 Palestinian petitions pending against additional sections of the 425-kilometer barrier – Ariel in the north, Modi’in in the center and Gush Etzion in the south, as well two sections of the Jerusalem perimeter fence at A-Ram north of city and Wallajeh to the south.
Because of these and other delays, including violent protests, only one-quarter of the project has been completed. Even that small section has proved its deterrent worth in the last six months. Its existence, together with round-the-clock preventive missions by Israeli troops, has reduced Palestinian suicide attacks against central Israel by seventy-five percent. Faced with this obstacle, the terrorists are more easily hunted down.
Most Israelis are dismayed by the high court ruling and the judges’ admission that it was delivered at the expense of national security. The separation fence is one of the few national projects that enjoy multi-partisan support. First advocated by a Labor government as a defensive measure for shutting out Palestinian terrorists, it was taken up by Likud prime minister Ariel Sharon as the first building block of his separation, or disengagement, strategy that later evolved into a plan for evacuating the Gaza Strip and removing four Jewish settlements in the northern West Bank.
The security barrier was seen as a marker for Israel’s separation from the Palestinians behind a defensible physical wall. The concept of disengagement has been increasingly popular since Yasser Arafat launched his terror war in 2000. Sharon’s disengagement scheme grew out of the West Bank fence.
Finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu was persuaded to vote for the prime minister’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and evacuation of settlements, only after the prime minister promised not to go ahead until the full length of the defense barrier was up.
Nonetheless, neither he nor security experts deluded themselves that the West Bank barrier offered a long-term panacea for Palestinian violence. As long as the Palestinians were led by terrorists they would find ways to attack Israelis. It was more a politician’s stopgap shift to force a partial lull on the Palestinians and win time to work up diplomatic momentum. The offer to evacuate settlements was meant to put Israel on high moral ground in Washington in readiness for the international contests still to come.
The futility of even this short-term hope was demonstrated this week when a dozen improved Qassam surface missiles flew over the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip into the neighboring Israeli town of Sderot. One, which landed near a kindergarten on Monday, June 28, killed two residents on the spot, an adult and a three-year old boy, and left his mother critically wounded. The missile attack was launched the morning after the Hamas and Fatah-Al Aqsa Brigades dug a tunnel under an Israeli position, packed it with explosives and blew it up, killing one soldier and injuring five.
Stunned by the first fatalities after more than 300 Qsssam had mostly fallen wide of the mark, Sderot residents saw nothing but doom after the evacuation of the Gaza Strip scheduled for the end of next year: “We’re the next front line, the next Gush Katif!” said one. “Who’ll stop the Hamas firing missiles against Ashkelon?” said another.
Gaza Strip Palestinian terrorists have developed the over-and-under tactic of missiles plus tunnels to beat the security fence system Israel is building. At the moment it is more laborious and chancy than the classical suicide terrorist, but harder to eradicate. Israeli troops have spent day after day in the Beit Hanoun-Jebalya areas of the northern Gaza Strip. Even after tearing up roads and orchards, digging ditches and throwing up earthworks, they are finding it hard to catch the missile launchers flitting from site to site.
These new Palestinian tactics place a large question mark over Sharon’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli high court ruling places in doubt the keystone of his entire disengagement strategy, the West Bank defense barrier.

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