security fence 224.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
According to recent disclosures, the Defense Ministry plans to cut its security fence construction budget by a whopping NIS 500 million for 2008. The 2007 fence allocation has been reportedly entirely used up. Construction on many of the fence's stretches has been halted and new building contracts aren't being signed. Work is proceeding only where old contracts are still in force, like around Gush Etzion, as distinct from some unfenced areas of western Samaria, Modi'in and the Arava.
According to ministry officials, there is no expectation that construction will be resumed soon where it has effectively stopped. It is therefore now clear that great gaps will remain in the fence and that it won't afford continuous protection from terrorist incursions for the foreseeable future. Breaches in what was blueprinted as an uninterrupted line of defense will enable suicide bombers and others to infiltrate, and, once through, potentially continue to wherever they wish within Israel.
Considering the enormous financial and political investment - from almost all across Israel's political spectrum - in promoting the fence and the concomitant separation from Palestinians which it embodies, it is bizarre in the extreme that a government which includes the most outspoken of fence advocates (like Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Vice Premier Haim Ramon) cannot come up with the funds to efficiently complete the project.
The erection of this defensive barrier was touted in the political center and left as a key component in planned West Bank disengagement and assorted territorial concessions, according to the oft-repeated slogan: "They (Arabs) will be there and we will be here." But even the fence's most adamant critics - particularly on the right of the political divide - had to concede that it massively slowed the terrorists down, remaking Israel's daily reality as it extended north and south.
The drastic decline in terrorist attacks in recent years is not the exclusive consequence of the barrier's presence; unremitting efforts by Israel's intelligence services and the IDF inseparably accompany its benefits. But those forces are unequivocal in their testimony that even the incomplete security fence has aided them substantially in preventing attacks, complicating the logistics of terrorism, requiring more complex preparations, more people and thus more opportunities for interception.
Why, then, discontinue so valuable a project? Surely the government can come up with the required supplementary cash. It has sufficient budgetary reserves and the economy keeps on booming.
Perhaps the answer lies elsewhere.
The fence has earned Israel unwarranted worldwide censure, fanned by the Arab states and attendant campaigning by Israel's own extreme Left. The fence has been equated with apartheid practices, in striking disregard for the murderous atrocities which mandated its creation. These outcries have been amplified recently, especially from Arab quarters, on the eve of the Annapolis conference.
By failing to complete the fence, the government adds weight to the attacks of the opponents, implying by its own foot-dragging that the fence is a marginal security component rather than a central one, that Palestinians have been needlessly and massively inconvenienced, and that Israel has needlessly incurred international wrath and wasted resources.
The simple statistics leave little room for doubt. The number of innocent lives lost through terrorists crossing from the West Bank into Israel has fallen staggeringly since an open route was interrupted by the protection of the barrier. Completion of the fence, though not an absolute panacea, can only further lower the incidence of terrorism.
Money must forthwith be found to pick up from where the contractors have left off. Construction, far from halting, must be speeded up.
International supporters of peace efforts should have long since recognized that substantive progress is assisted when terrorists are frustrated, marginalized and thwarted. The barrier helps achieve this. A peace process is ultimately designed to render such defenses unnecessary. But for now, those who truly seek peace should be backing the fence, not seeking its demise.