ISRAEL-PALESTINE: The “Wall”: A Barrier to Peace

The “Wall”: A barrier to peace.
Opinion piece, Jewish Chronicle (UK), 16 July 2004

By Tony Klug  

It doesn’t seem so long ago when an explosion of joy consumed Israel and the wider Jewish world as the barricades that had divided Jerusalem for 19 suffocating years were triumphantly dismantled in the wake of Israel’s military victory in the 1967 war. Now the barbed wire, fences and concrete barriers - eight metres high in some places - are back, courtesy of Israeli politicians and engineers, not only in the capital city but all over the
captured territories.

As a researcher, I used to move about virtually unhindered through the West Bank in the 1970s as, mostly, did its Palestinian inhabitants. There were few Jewish settlements, few roadblocks and few terror attacks. Even travel across the old Green Line border was barely monitored. The official Israeli approach was to let the Palestinians see the Jewish state for what it was - not as “mendacious Arab propaganda” had projected it for two decades.

Once Palestinian attitudes had changed, the argument ran, the territories would be returned. Indeed, Palestinian attitudes and policy did go through a steady, profound transformation. The Israeli strategy was not unsuccessful. Peace was on the horizon - until the settlements policy started in earnest.

With it came the waning of Palestinian hope for eventual independence and the onset of despair and fear for the future.

The fine sentiments of the Oslo Accords restored hope for a while. But the concomitant division of the West Bank into three security areas, giving rise to a major expansion in the number of Israeli checkpoints (currently estimated at nearly 500), severely curtailed the Palestinians’ freedom of movement between their own towns and villages. Humiliating searches by young Israeli recruits became commonplace.

The enforced requisition of Palestinian land and other resources to accommodate the burgeoning Jewish settlement programme continued apace. Palestinian resistance grew in tandem, at times involving murderous attacks on Israeli civilians.

And now, in apparent response, we have the monstrous “wall”. Were its route to trail the markedly shorter “Green Line”, as envisaged by its original architects, this would at least lend credence to the security argument (and keep it within international legality). Instead, it has been weaving its way around settlement blocs deep into the West Bank, effectively annexing huge chunks of Palestinian land and separating Palestinians from their fields, workplaces, schools, universities, hospitals, places of worship, and their families and friends.

This is the other side of Sharon’s “Gaza withdrawal” scheme.

An entire population is being brutalized and alienated beyond endurance, and the future welfare of the Israeli people and state is being put at risk, to satisfy a dangerous ideological urge and reward a militant settler constituency.

It will be argued, fairly, that attacks on civilians have dropped significantly since the erection of the wall. Even if we accept a direct, causal connection in the short term, where does this leave us in the longer term?

If the Palestinians fail to gain their place in the sun, the Israelis will never be left in peace to enjoy theirs. Each holds the key to the other’s destiny. The answer to Israel’s security problems is not to tighten the screw and further inflame the passions. This will invite perpetual conflict.

The erection of the wall is tantamount to giving up on peace - probably still attainable on well-rehearsed terms - and to an acceptance by Israel of a permanent international pariah status. This is not inevitable and is in no one’s interests. We should not blindly be supporting it.

Imagine that we switched on our radios one morning to learn that the Israeli government had stopped all work on building the new (very un-Zionistic) ghetto and declared instead its willingness in principle to terminate in full its 37-year occupation of Palestinian lands, subject to mutually agreed equitable land swaps and assurances on security. 

The local and global repercussions of an Israeli invitation to its neighbours to agree the modalities of such a withdrawal in the context of a full peace arrangement would be swift and profound. It would almost certainly trigger a new momentum. Why, then, do we not hear it?

Dr Tony Klug is an international relations specialist and co-vice chair of the Arab-Jewish Forum.