By the end of March, the security fence will represent a "continuous obstacle" to terrorists as the segments which roughly follow the Green Line will be nearly finished, even as the total barrier remains about half completed, Col. (res.) Danny Tirza and Defense Ministry spokeswoman Rachel Naidek Ashkenazi told The Jerusalem Post
Though the portion of the fence surrounding Jerusalem on three sides will be finished by the end of the summer, long sections around Ariel and Gush Etzion will not be completed until next year, as legal and logistical challenges slow its construction, Tirza said.
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Meanwhile, the decision to scrap a supplemental fence around an area in the West Bank within 11 km. of Ben-Gurion Airport has not been changed since the Hamas's election victory and subsequent calls from right-wing politicians to reinstate it.
Despite worries that terrorists could use the high ground there to launch rockets at airplanes, the government decided that, for now, it would rely on "intelligence and other means" to protect the airport, Tirza said. That decision took into account the desire not to create an enclave of 19,000 people fenced in on all sides.
In his office at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Tirza, who is responsible for planning the route of the 740-km. fence, spoke in detail to the Post
about its status and the final route it will likely take.
Using a long pointer, Tirza went over the route of the fence segment by segment on a map which nearly spans the length of his wall, with the north to the right and the south to the left.
Court petitions, construction permits which take at least nine months each to obtain and detailed on-the-ground surveying have all served to lengthen the fence's estimated completion time, Tirza said. Work on the NIS 10 billion project began after Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 and proceeded rapidly, with more than 150 km. built in the first year before the pace slowed.
However, excluding the fence's segments which project deep into the West Bank, the main perimeter of the barrier will be finished within two months, Tirza said. And that line "will represent a continuous obstacle to terrorist infiltration into the heart of Israel," Ashkenazi added.
The only exceptions in the perimeter which roughly follows the Green Line would be small sections where the High Court has issued injunctions against building pending expected decisions on the route.
By the end of summer, construction will finish on the 85-km. segment which falls roughly along the municipal borders of Jerusalem as defined by Israel, Tirza said. However, the extended segment encompassing Ma'aleh Adumim would not be complete before the end of the year.
The route of the fence around the capital will sever the western parts of Jerusalem from areas where some 70,000 Palestinians with Jerusalem residence cards live, Tirza said. As such, the barrier (it is a wall in many parts of the city) will include 11 checkpoints to ease the flow of people into and out of the capital, he added. At least 90,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites will remain on the Israeli side.
Two of the three remaining segments of the fence, around Ariel (roughly 150 km.) and Gush Etzion (roughly 60 km.), are also the most problematic for engineering, legal and political reasons, and will not be finished until 2007. The remaining section, from Metzadot Yehuda in the southern Judean Hills to the fence's termination point around eight km. from the Dead Sea, should be done by the end of the year.
Perhaps the most geographically complex segment of the fence is the one encompassing Ariel and its neighboring settlements.
Where it was originally decided that all of the Ariel settlements would be included in three "fingers" of the fence, Tirza has recently proposed to the government that instead, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron and their satellite settlements be incorporated into a separate segment which would extend east from Alfei Menashe. Though such a routing would create a separate Israeli-controlled corridor north of the Ariel fingers, Tirza said this proposal was based on making life easier for Palestinians in the area.
"We did not want to create an enclave they would be stuck in," Tirza said of 15,000 Palestinians who would be nearly surrounded under the current route of the fence.
If his new proposal is accepted, Tirza would also build Palestinian roads through and under Israeli areas protected by the fence to complement some that are already in service. Driving from Ramallah to Kalkilya, he said, could still be accomplished using a direct route.
The area around Gush Etzion is the most complex in terms of logistics, and its completion - which would mark the total completion of the fence - is not expected until the end of 2007.
Due to the mix of 45,000 Israelis and 17,000 Palestinians living in the area, along with the hills and gullies of the region, a supplemental fence will be built to separate a main Palestinian population center of three villages from the Jewish towns. In that area, an access road leading east will be built for the Palestinians to allow movement to and from the West Bank; however, it will include an IDF checkpoint.
There will also be a stretch of a few kilometers where, due to the geography, the fence will not completely close off the West Bank. Israel "will rely on other means" of preventing terrorist infiltration in that area, Tirza said.
He dismissed speculation that the fence would serve as a de-facto border in a future unilateral disengagement from the West Bank, repeating the government line that the fence was being built for security purposes and not as a means to set political boundaries.
"Borders are not our decision," he said. "It is clear that future borders will be decided around the negotiating table."
Tirza, who was part of the negotiating team for the Wye River Accords and the 2000 Camp David summit, said he clearly understood Palestinian thinking regarding territory - at least that of a Fatah-led government.
"Yasser Arafat used to call me 'Abu Harita,'" which means "father of the maps," Tirza said.
Under the current plan some 5 percent of the barrier, mostly around urban areas, is concrete wall. If the route remains intact, 7,000 Palestinians in addition to the Jerusalemites will fall on the Israeli side of the fence. Around 4,300 of those 7,000 live in the town of Barta'a in the northwest corner of the West Bank, Tirza said.