The broad, one might say sweeping, movement for building a separation fence, “tens of meters high, so that I won’t ever see them again,” in the words of one interviewee on Israel national television, last week even co-opted the institution that by all ideological and political logic should have been the most aggressive and most vocal opponent of separation: the settlement movement. In an Israel Radio broadcast on June 6, 2002–the day Israel conquered, 35 years ago, northern Samaria where Benzi Lieberman, the Chairman of the Council of Settlers in Judea, Samaria and Gaza [known by it acronym, “Yesha Council”], lives–Lieberman announced that the Council, the premier institution of the settlers, would not oppose (any longer) the construction of a fence that will separate the State of Israel from the body of settlements to the east, including Jewish settlements.
Is this the policy of the Yesha Council? Do the settlers whom Lieberman represents really want to be separated from the rest of the Jews inside Israel? Don’t they understand that separation begins as a functional act, then becomes conscious separation, wherein the settlements of Samaria and Judea are seen as a separate entity in all senses of the word, and ultimately renders it easier to enact political separation? The Yesha Council’s acquiescence in a separation fence reflects–even more than the acquiescence of politicians who ostensibly have to satisfy public opinion–the mental state that has gripped the vast majority of Israelis for some 21 months since Chairman Yasir Arafat initiated a terror war that has succeeded in wearing them down. The Yesha Council, seeking somehow to bridge the disconnect that divides it from most of the frightened public (some of whom actually believe that vicious terrorist attacks are being carried out because of the settlements), feels oblige! d to cease swimming against the current. And “if the mighty have succumbed, how shall the weak emerge unscathed?”
The first Israelis to demand the construction of a fence for physical separation, as high and thick as possible, between Israel and the Palestinians, were paradoxically the heads of the Labor Party, men and women of peace; they who signed the Oslo agreement with Yasir Arafat, which was supposed to put an end to all the bloodshed and render any physical barrier superfluous. And after Haim Ramon, Ephraim Sneh and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, minister of defense and head of the Labor Party, came the Likud ministers too. Surprisingly, these include Minister of Internal Security Uzi Landau, an adherent of the Greater Land of Israel. Finally, as public pressure built up, they were joined by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
This is indeed astonishing: Sharon, in character, substance, military practice and even political inclination, takes the offensive. He has always sought to decide a conflict by attacking and overwhelming. Defensive trench warfare, he used to say, is costly in both human and budgetary terms. In particular, the defending side never wins. It is the initiator, who enjoys mobility, who always has the advantage. During the War of Attrition launched by Egypt in 1968 Sharon opposed construction of the Bar Lev Line of fortified emplacements along the Suez Canal. When the line eventually collapsed in 1973 Sharon took his detractors to task very pointedly. Yet here he is in the position of supreme decisionmaker, altering the concept he held his entire life. He has accepted–perhaps surrendered to–the completely pessimistic mood sweeping Israeli public opinion.
He knows what the results of the separation fence will be: the de facto determination of the border between Israel and the Palestinian state along the Green Line, without Arafat even ceasing his terrorism. And if Arafat achieves this prize of the Green Line without a ceasefire, why should he stop the violence afterwards, since the Jews have demonstrated to him that [Hizballah leader] Nasrallah’s spider web formula works, despite the achievements of Operation Defensive Shield.
The Bar Lev Line along the banks of the Suez Canal was constructed hundreds of kilometers from Israeli population centers. The “Sharon Line” is being built by Ariel Sharon within rifle and machine gun distance from Israeli cities and villages like Kfar Sava and Kochav Yair, where hundreds of thousands of Israelis live. Judging by its sweeping support for a separation fence (over 80 percent), Israel has despaired, at least for the foreseeable future, of achieving any kind of agreement with the Palestinians. Accordingly the terrorist attacks among the Jewish population of Israel and the settlements, especially the suicide attacks, will not cease. And the settlers, following Ariel Sharon, are lending their support to a step that will not bring peace and, certainly in the long term, will not bring security, and which demonstrates to the Arabs, like after our flight from Lebanon, that terrorism pays. And how it pays!
Yisrael Harel is former Chairman of the Council of Settlers of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.