Gov't agrees to reroute security fence

Thousands of Jews drawn in, thousands of Arabs out of fence in Ariel region.

fence with flag 298  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
fence with flag 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The cabinet decided Sunday to reroute the security fence in the Ariel Region, creating three thin settlement blocs, rather than one large bloc, and as a result drawing some 40,000 Palestinian residents outside the fence. In addition, the cabinet decided to draw the village of Beit Iksa near the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot outside of the fence; to include the Palestinian village of Geva that overlooks the Gush Etzion- Elah Valley road inside the fence; and also to include two small settlements - Eshkolit and Mezudat Yehuda - in the southern Hebron Hills area that straddle the Green Line inside the fence. The cabinet also decided to make a clear jurisdictional distinction between areas on the east and those west of the fence. Those on the western, or Israeli side of the fence, will come under the security purview of the Israel Police, while areas on the eastern side of the fence will be under IDF jurisdiction. What this means is that in Jerusalem, an area like the Shuafat refugee camp, which is part of the Jerusalem municipality but will be on the "other side of the fence," will be the responsibility of the IDF, not the Israeli police. Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert termed these changes "very important," and said, " we are committed to making a supreme effort to complete the security fence everywhere as quickly as possible. We must move forward. The decisions we make today will enable us, in the vital areas, to complete building the fence very quickly and to thus improve our counter-terrorist abilities." One senior official in the Prime Minister's Office, however, could not say when construction of the fence according to the new route would be completed. Uzi Dayan, former head of the National Security Council and chairman of the Public Council for a Security Fence, said, "five years after directives were given regarding the security fence, Israeli governments are still dealing with approving the route of the fence in Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and Alfei Menashe. Only one-third of the fence has been built until now, and the government is again avoiding setting a deadline for the project." Dayan, who led a party called Tafnit in the last elections that did not garner enough votes to make it into the Knesset, said that a law was needed to mandate that the fence be built by July 2006. Samaria Regional Council Head Benzi Lieberman said that splitting up the Ariel bloc would strangle the settlements in the region and not allow natural growth. Lieberman said the whole settlement bloc concept was a ruse meant to "throw sand in the eyes of the nation" and blind it into supporting Olmert's convergence plan, which he termed a "disaster for the entire country." Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat, meanwhile, said the plan will "just add more obstacles to peace. The walls will always be the stumbling blocs for peace in the future. I say to Mr. Olmert: 'Abandon walls and come to sit with us on permanent status negotiations. That's the only way to achieve peace.'" According to the original cabinet decision on the security fence, the Ariel bloc was to bite deep into Samaria, extending from Ofarim in the south-west to Kedumim in the north-east, and incorporating Alfei Menashe, Ariel, Barkan, Karnei Shomron and Emanuel. According to this plan, some 40,000 Palestinian would have been locked inside the fence, with their only access to Samaria being through a tunnel being constructed under Alfei Menashe. According to the plan recommended by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and approved at Sunday's cabinet meeting, all the aforementioned settlements will now be incorporated by a fence that will link up to the Green Line, but three small fingers - instead of one large one - will be created. The first "finger" is slated to run south-east from the Green Line and include Peduel, Beit Aryeh and Ofarim; the second will extend east from the Green line and include Elkana, Barkan and Ariel; and the third is to extend from the Green Line to Karnei Shomron, Emanuel and Kedumim. The Emanuel "finger" will, under the plan, be linked up with the Ariel "finger" by way of a bridge, below which traffic from the Palestinian areas between these settlement blocs - towns like Bidi and Bani Hassan - and would flow east to the West Bank. The Palestinians, as a result, would not be locked inside the fence. The cabinet also decided to leave Beit Iksa, a Palestinian town with some 1,500 residents near the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot, outside the fence. In Gush Etzion, however, it was decided to incorporate the village of Jaba, with some 900 residents, inside the fence because the village overlooks the road westward from Gush Etzion to the Elah Valley. A special crossing will be built to allow passage for residents of Jaba to the nearby Palestinian town of Tzurif. Olmert said during the meeting that the principle behind the fence's construction was to protect lives and not for economic purposes. Security was the only determining factor, he said. For this reason it was decided not to include a quarry in the Hebron Hills area, near the settlement of Eshkolit, inside the fence, although a decision was made to keep Eshkolit itself inside the fence. Yaakov Katz and Rafael D. Frankel contributed to this report