Israel’s Government – and Its Security Fence – Off-Course

Israel’s two top officials, prime minister Ariel Sharon and finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu (a former and would-be premier himself), offered perfect examples of the buck-passing mode of government this week. Friday, September 20, the normally authoritarian Sharon dumped the hot potato of the security fence in the laps of his Likud ministers. He told them to make the choice: Sticking to the security fence route in the face of Washington’s objections carried the risk of a portion of the $9bn loan guarantees being deducted. However, giving up the controversial deviations would be detrimental to national security.
The still bossier Netanyahu told the ministers it was up to them to decide how to slash a total of $2bn from the 2004 state budget. That way, the backlash from the pensioners, jobless, single parents, handicapped, sick and poor – whom he has already victimized in the cut-to-the-bone 2003 budget – would be deflected from himself.
In the two and-a-half years of Sharon’s rule, Likud ministers have hardly been inured to an active role in decisions of state. As for the budget, they were presented with fat tomes and no time to scrutinize them.
The ministers passed the buck back. This week it will fly to Washington in the briefcases of two top officials – Dov Weisglass from the prime minister’s office and Amos Yaron, director general of the defense ministry. Their job will be to assure White House officials that the 370-mile fence and its deviations into the West Bank from the old pre-1967 Green Line border meet a prime security need. If Bush’s advisers can be convinced that they are not an artful Israeli exercises to cut holes in the future Palestinian state, they may set aside their threat to dock an estimated at $200m – the cost of the bends in the barrier – from the loan guarantees, a deduction that Israel, sunk in deep economic recession, can ill afford.
The argument over the 2-mile detour around the Jewish West Bank town of Ariel is the main talking point. However, altogether three deviations are incorporated in the project including Beit Arieh and the Palestinian university of al Quds in Jerusalem.
For the Ariel cluster, options have been developed. It will be left outside the barrier and given boosted defenses – mobile barriers, sensors and other obstructions, and a detachment of special forces from the already stretched and under-budgeted IDF. Alternatively, the main fence will have a gap opposite the town. Neither option promises the 18,000-member community proper protection.
All three controversial fence sections lead into the country’s most densely populated heartland and are designed to impede the path of terrorists from their West Bank bases.
The ministers among themselves call the Ariel enclave “the breach”. A glance at any map shows its strategic location 12 miles inside the West Bank and opposite Israel’s narrowest and most heavily populated waist line. That line measures 10 miles across, from Green Line to the Mediterranean Sea. It hits Herzliyah, a town roughly between Netanya and Tel Aviv.
Ariel commands access to the Trans-Israeli Highway that links Israel lengthwise from north to south, Kfar Saba, Petah Tikva and Rosh Ha’Ayin 15 miles away. All these names are familiar to television viewers as the scenes of mass-casualty attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers coming in unhindered from the West Bank.
Beit Arieh to the south is less that 3 miles east of the Green Line. It is the gateway to the heavily industrialized Lod region 11 miles away, Ben Gurion international airport 10 miles away and the same distance from the big US Marine base secretly under construction at Nachshonim.
Beit Arieh is just over 5 miles from the Trans-Israeli Highway, roughly the same distance as Manhattan to Long Island.
In geographic terms the two deviations from the barrier’s Green Line’s course are tiny. However they are the keys to defending from West Bank Palestinian terrorists Israel’s most strategically vital and heavily populated and industrialized center of gravity as well as its national and international transport lifelines.
Al Quds University on the southern fringe of municipal Jerusalem has the bad fortune to straddle the roundabout routes used by terrorists from Bethlehem and Hebron heading Jerusalem.
The need for obstacles at these three entry points only arose after Palestinian killers used them repeatedly to access Israel’s homeland. The fence’s route as a whole is therefore designed not merely to protect the 18,000 residents of Ariel and its satellites, but the roughly one million Israelis living in the vulnerable population centers to the west of the barrier.
Pressure from Washington to flatten the line and eliminate the three pockets into the West Bank will place the entire defensive dimension of the security barrier in question. It would leave doors conveniently open for mass killers to reach their softest targets.
The fence epitomizes another bone of contention between Washington and Jerusalem.
The Bush administration can on no account be accused of insensitivity to Israel’s security needs. However it perceives the future Palestinian state as dependent on the Israeli economy. The Palestinian confrontation and Yasser Arafat’s avowed perception of statehood have made most Israelis yearn more than anything to shut themselves away from the Palestinians behind a high, hopefully impenetrable barrier. Living in the shadow of intensive, personalized terror has turned Israeli faces away from the openness sought by Washington in favor of total seclusion.
It was up to the Israeli prime minister to level with the Bush administration and stand firm on the need for the security fence with its diversions. After three years of relentless terrorism, every responsible Israeli military expert and strategist regardless of political persuasion is of one mind on this issue. They blame Sharon for not finishing the fence long since instead of only a 90-mile stretch north of Ariel. He should have tackled it directly with the US president not left it to the bureaucrats.
Netanyahu calmly took a leaf out of Sharon’s book: follow the line set in Washington and when the going gets tough, let someone else shoulder the burden of decision-making. Instead of producing imaginative projects to induce economic growth, he is now declaring that budget expenditure must be tied to the national product – with no real plans offered for expanding that product. Education minister Limor Livnat complained that the 2004 budget does not create a single job.
Netanyahu might do well to remember that while his doctrine may be fiscally sound, its practice in the past would have condemned Israel to remaining the undeveloped wasteland it was in 1948, never attaining its sophisticated industries, national water projects, armed forces, advanced farming industry and medical services or scientific research. Had the Bush government adhered to that strict rule, he could not have demanded the $87 billion allocation from the US congress for the reconstruction of Iraq.
Without vision no leader can rise to the stature of statesman.
Not much salvation may be expected from the opposition Labor party either under its present leadership. After solemnly declaring war on the Sharon government’s hard-heartedness towards widows, orphans and the elderly, Labor leaders offered the One Party splinter headed by union leader Amir Peretz a financial handout for a parliamentary front. Since both parties are broke, it will be interesting to see who puts up the funds.
Finally, as Israelis prepare to celebrate the New Year festival with employment topping 10 percent, a stalled economy, 243 murdered in one year by Palestinian terrorists and no end in sight, the Labor leader Shimon Peres prepares to celebrate his 80th birthday next Monday, September 22, on a scale whose lavishness would not disgrace an Oriental potentate.
The guest list is studded with world leaders past and present, Nobel Prize laureates, Hollywood stars and, among the sundry celebrities, super-model Naomi Campbell.
The chief organizer is… Likud minister of trade and industry, Ehud Olmert, who seems to have plenty of time on his hands. Other members of the organizing committee are President Moshe Katzav, Ariel Sharon and former Chief Rabbi Israel Lau. No clue has been offered as to the cost of honoring Israel’s most controversial politician or how much will come out of the public purse. The foreign contingent is necessarily heavy since Peres could not expect the same sort of acclaim at home. Israelis have not forgotten that he shared a Nobel Peace prize with the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, as co-signatories of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. Many consider those accords to have been exploited to lay the conditions for Arafat to launch his current campaign of terror.
The following tailpiece illustrates the random nature of the political and moral postures adopted by the classes ruling Israel.
Friday, September 19, the UN General Assembly called on Israel to lift its threat to deport Arafat by a 133 vote in favor, to 4 against and 15 abstentions. Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Gillerman, when he rose to attack the Palestinian-backed call, declared that Arafat is a proven terrorist and recalled that he not only invented suicide terrorism, but was also the first terrorist in the world to stage the hijacking of airliners as far back as the 1970s.
One of the lesser known guests invited to the Peres-fest is called Reginald Levy. He piloted the Sabena airliner that was hijacked by Black September (under Arafat’s command) after taking off from Brussels in the year 1972.
Without these reminders, who knows? Yasser Arafat might even have been asked to join his peace partner and co-Nobel laureate at next week’s festivities.

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