This week began with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon succumbing to US pressure and tabling a security cabinet debate on the route of the security fence. After preventing his ministers from discussing the issue, Sharon sent his bureau chief Dov Weissglass to Washington. There, he pleaded with US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice not to sanction Israel for building the fence on land beyond the 1949 armistice lines.
The dagger dangling above the prime minister's head was the Bush administration's threat to deduct the hundreds of millions of dollars Israel wishes to spend on the fence from the $9 billion in loan guarantees. In exchange for a promise by Weissglass to change the route of the fence, Rice apparently agreed grudgingly not to deduct the construction outlays from the loan guarantees.
This would be fine news if the fence advanced Israel's national interests. It doesn't.
Here are three falsehoods told about the fence. First, we are told it will keep us safe. Second, we are told that it is not a harbinger of the abandonment of over 200,000 Israelis who live on its eastern side. Third, we are told that the fence is not a border.
But not one of these statements is true. Military commanders admit openly that the only thing that prevents suicide bombers from entering our cities isn't the fence, but the presence of the IDF in Palestinian cities. Even Major General (res.) Uzi Dayan, an advocate of the fence, said in an interview with Israel Radio this past March that the fence "is not a wonder solution." Israel's security, he says, requires military activity "in the entire territory, [i.e., all of Judea and Samaria and Gaza] with freedom of action in the entire territory."
Yet not only is the fence of little defensive value, building it will provide another excuse -- both for this country's Left as well as the international community -- to demand the withdrawal of the IDF from Palestinian cities and villages. So, a fence that will not stop infiltrations will also prevent us from doing the one thing that works in stopping terrorism.
But the fence is more than an obstacle for operations. It will furnish our enemies with static targets. Today they murder construction workers building the fence more or less at will. When completed, they will target the soldiers patrolling it.
Yet even if this were not the case, even if at least some suicide bombers were deterred by the need to go around or cross over or under the fence, what about the Israelis on the other side?
Our leaders promise that there will be no reduction in their security. Surely this is not true. Placing a fence in a particular spot involves stating a preference. Placing Alon Shvut and Beit El outside the fence sends the message: The Israelis who live in these towns merit somewhat less protection than those who live within the Green Line.
And so we come to the question of the border. What the Defense Ministry has begun to build is not a simple fence. It is a total defensive package with a width of fifty meters. First comes the concertina wire. After the wire is a 1.8-2.4 meter ditch. After the ditch is the three-meter-high electronic fence with sensors. Directly beyond the fence is a patrol path followed by a 1.8 meter high pyramid of barbed wire and finally, dotting the length of "fence" are mounted security cameras.
Perhaps drug lords in Colombian jungles have security systems like this, but aside from them, the only place such defensive obstacles exist is along international borders.
And so we see that in building the fence which supposedly is not a border, the government is building Israel's border. And 200,000 Israelis live on the other side of the border.
And so we come to understand what the dispute with Washington is really about. In the absence of a Palestinian partner to whom we may surrender our land, the government is engaging in border negotiations with Condoleezza Rice. And it turns out that by insisting that Israel build only along the 1949 lines, Rice drives as hard a bargain as Arafat himself.
After meeting with Weissglass, Rice told reporters her view of the border."It is extremely important," she said, "if it is going to be built, that as much as possible it not intrude on the lives of Palestinians and most importantly, that it not look as if it is trying to prejudge the outcome of the peace agreement."
That is, the dispute between the government and the Bush administration is over whether the Palestinians, after waging their terror war for three years will, for their labors, receive 90 percent of Judea and Samaria as Barak offered them, or whether they will receive all of of it. Sharon's fence route will provide them with more or less what Barak offered. To judge from remarks by Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell, it becomes manifest that the Bush administration wants to give them still more.
For the Palestinians, the true beauty of the fence is that they object to it. While the fence furnishes them with a state, by objecting to its construction they are ensuring that the border only works in one direction. While Israel, in building it is renouncing its claims to everything on its eastern side, the Palestinians, in objecting to it, renounce none of their claims to land on its western side. By maintaining that it is bound to a negotiated settlement, Israel is laying the groundwork for future claims by the Palestinians.
This is disturbing. As Arafat has often said, the Palestinians under his leadership can fight forever. He can do this because he does not care about his own people. As long as he and the other godfathers of global terrorism are alive and in power, they will send their people out to murder Israelis in the hope that Israel will act precisely as it is acting. And as they teach their subjects to murder, Israel makes one concession after another, just as Arafat and his friends Hassan Nasrallah and Ahmed Yassin said we would.
As the war enters its fourth year this week, and as we reflect on the year just passed, let's recall the mood here three years ago. Then, the day before Yom Kippur, Ehud Barak laid down the gauntlet. Banging his fist on the table, he gave Arafat a 48-hour ultimatum to stop his onslaught. 48 hours and three years later, Arafat is still at it. Meanwhile, we mourn another 850 Israeli victims and base our policies on the imperative of losing the war.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.