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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Lt. Ori Binamo, the IDF officer who on Thursday discovered a Palestinian suicide bomber at a roadblock near Tulkarm and paid for it with his life, was a hero. But this sort of heroism might not have been necessary had the building of the security fence, which the government promised to complete by the end of 2005, been finished.
We have seen that the security fence is not a panacea, because it is possible for a bomber to get through crossing points in the fence, and because it will not stop missile attacks. Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra, however, has just affirmed the IDF's well known assessment that suicide bombings are a more serious threat than Kassam rockets.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), in the meantime, has pointed out that casualties from terrorism were down 60 percent in 2005: 45 killed compared to 117 in 2004. This improvement was attributed not to the fence, which had not been lengthened significantly over the past year, nor directly to Israeli military successes, but to the "cease-fire" implemented by the terrorist groups. During this year-long self-declared "truce," which in any case expired on Sunday, the IDF reports there were 2,990 terrorist attacks.
But it is precisely because the improvement in security was attributed more to Palestinian fatigue than Israeli prowess that it is critical that our government not let its guard down. The same security officials who note with satisfaction the combined effect of military pressure, the fence and disengagement are now predicting that terror attacks will greatly increase after the Palestinian Authority elections scheduled this month.
Under these circumstances, it is worth reviewing where the construction of security fence stands. So far, about 200 km. have been built, roughly along the northern portion of the Green Line from the Jordanian border to the Petah Tikva area. Another 10 km. have been built north of Jerusalem and 10 km. more south of the capital. This leaves more than half of the barrier incomplete - about 350 km. have yet to be built.
Less than 10 percent of the unbuilt sections are currently being contested in court. The Gush Etzion Local Council has been objecting to constructing the fence around that settlement bloc, out of concern that some settlements will be left outside. But neither court procedures nor local Israeli or Palestinian objections fully explain the fact that, far from being completed, the fence barely advanced in 2005. The existing sections were mostly built from mid-2002 through 2004.
One problem here is that the public has no way of knowing why construction of the much-promised fence has not proceeded at its original pace. The Knesset should hold hearings on this after the elections. In the meantime, the most likely reason for delay is that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is reluctant to contend with the two most important critics of the fence's route, our High Court of Justice and the United States.
Regarding the court's concerns, the government should, in any case, be striving to find a means to maximize security for Israelis and minimize suffering for Palestinians when planning the barrier's route. Where the court raises objections, it needs to find solutions, and promptly. Again, though, less than 10 percent of the unbuilt barrier is being contested before our justices, and so the interventions of the court are no excuse for the wider delay.
Similarly, American concerns about fencing in the settlement blocs should not be allowed to stop the fence from being built. So long as the threat of terrorism remains clear and present, Israel has the right and responsibility to put the security of its citizens first, not the diplomatic concerns of other nations. Israel might point out to these nations that the fence, far from blocking the creation of a Palestinian state, is actually consistent with, and even likely to advance, that end.