Gaps in the West Bank security barrier are “ticking time bombs,” and the next terrorist will infiltrate through these unfinished portions of the fence to execute an attack, Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay said on Thursday in Gush Etzion.
Gabbay was speaking during a visit to Judea and Samaria accompanied by members of his party, just one day after the Knesset voted down a bill that would have forced the government to finish the West Bank security barrier within 18 months.
“What happens if we cannot stop the next terrorist?” Gabbay asked prior to the preliminary vote on the bill, which was opposed by 42 parliamentarians and supported by only 23.
Shaul Arieli talks about West Bank security fence, June 7, 2018 (Tovah Lazaroff)
Although there is no immediate election on the horizon, Gabbay hammered away at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has billed himself as a leader dedicated to providing security for the State of Israel.
The so-called “security government of [Education Minister Naftali] Bennett, [Defense Minister Avigdor] Liberman and Netanyahu nixed our proposed law,” he said, while standing next to a large blue map of the barrier plan displayed at a lookout point in the Neveh Daniel settlement.
As he pointed to the gaps in the map, Gabbay said: “These places are ticking time bombs. That’s where terrorists will infiltrate.”
“How do we know that? Because terrorists have already infiltrated there,” said Gabbay.
He specifically mentioned the kidnapping and killing of three teenagers in 2014 and the attack on the Sarona Market in 2016 in which four people were killed.
The issue is not lack of funds, said Gabbay, noting that the government had already spent NIS 25 billion on the project and that only another NIS 1.3 billion of budgeted funds remained.
Gabbay charged that work on the barrier had not advanced because Netanyahu was “simply afraid of settlers who don’t want to close the gaps for political considerations. These so-called political considerations damage the security of the State of Israel.”
He pledged: “We will obviously close these gaps when we will be in power.”
Yaron Rosenthal, who heads the Gush Etzion Field School, told The Jerusalem Post after watching a video of Gabbay’s short speech that he had “never heard a politician utter so many lies in so short a time.”
Rosenthal, who opposes the construction of the barrier, said Gabbay had totally misrepresented the extent of the terrorist threat or the problem posed by the gaps in the barrier.
It was the Labor Party that urged the Defense Ministry to halt work on the barrier in the area of the South Hebron Hills in 2007, Rosenthal said.
THE ZIONIST Union estimates that 16 years after work first began on the structure designed to halt suicide bombings, only 60% of the barrier’s 790-km. route has been completed. It’s a number that is also backed by the United Nations.
According to the UN, only 465 kilometers of the barrier had been completed as of December 2017.
The contentious project that began in 2002 angered Palestinians, the international community and left-wing Israelis who accused the government of using security as an excuse to grab land in Area C of the West Bank.
Settler and right-wing Israeli politicians worried it could potentially create a border for a two-state solution that abandoned many settlements outside its planned route, which have since been dubbed “isolated communities.”
The project has essentially been frozen for the last 10 years. The Defense Ministry prioritized other projects and the United States opposed construction of the barrier in the West Bank. Palestinian appeals to the High Court of Justice have also slowed the project’s progress.
The uncompleted stretches include the areas around the Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel settlements, the Gush Etzion region and a section in the South Hebron hills.
Separately, infrastructure to help provide security along sections of the constructed barrier was not maintained.
In the last few years, the Zionist Union has come out in support of the barrier, as part of its stance that the settlement blocs must remain part of Israel in any final-status agreement.
MK Tzipi Livni said the barrier was important because it also constituted a border between the State of Israel and the future state of Palestine.
“If you support the idea of two states for two people, you need to support this fence,” Livni said. “At the beginning, we need a border between us and the Palestinians and then maybe in 50 years, when we live happily ever after, we can dismantle it. For now, this is the concept: security for Israelis but also dividing the land into two states for two peoples.”
MK Omar Bar Lev, who authored the legislation, said he could not help but note that the Joint List, a party made up mostly of Arab politicians who don’t want Israel to be a Zionist country, joined forces with the right-wing parties to oppose completion of the barrier.
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Neeman urged the Zionist Union not to add the security barrier “onto the sins of the 1993 Oslo Accord.”
Even the Arab residents of Gush Etzion don’t want to see the barrier constructed, Neeman said.
The best way to ensure security is for Judea and Samaria to be part of sovereign Israel, Neeman said.