2003 July 28 Monday
Bush Criticises Israel West Bank Fence

George W. Bush has offered some very general criticism of the fence that is meant to stop West Bank terrorists from attacking Israel

President Bush criticized Israel's efforts to build a fence separating Palestinians and Israelis on the West Bank yesterday, saying it is "a problem" that makes it "very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel."

He didn't say that his objection to the fence was because of the path chosen for it. However, Condi Rice has raised that objection. Ariel Sharon says the current planned path of the fence is not meant to be a political border.

GRIFFIN: Now, when National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was here recently, a major policy difference emerged between you and the Bush administration over the security fence that you are building between the West Bank and Israel. She said that that security fence looked like a political border. She also said that it was taking Palestinian land and incorporating it into this side.

Are you willing to change the route of that fence?

SHARON: I made it very clear that we don't speak about political borders, we don't speak even about security borders. We speak about another mean, to stop terror or to make it harder for terrorists to penetrate from Palestinian cities into the heart of Israel.

The vast majority of the Israeli public want the fence built.

Opinion polls in Israel show that as many as 80 percent of Israelis favor the project. Sharon "knows everyone wants a fence so he cannot speak against it. So he insists that the fence takes a controversial route to invite the wrath of the United States. Then he can turn and say that it is not his fault but he cannot build it," Tzion said.

Is Sharon shifting the fence further into the West Bank in order to protect and keep more settlements and more land? Or is he doing it in order to provoke US opposition to the construction of the fence?

The Palestinian leadership is quite unhappy with the fence.

Mr Abbas put a detailed case to Mr Bush against the 200-mile "security" fence and wall the Israelis are building the length of the West Bank, effectively annexing swaths of Palestinian land. After Mr Bush criticised the wall fol lowing his meeting with Mr Abbas, the Israelis quietly gave ground and said they would continue to construct it only where it does not intrude deep into the occupied territories.

The fence is a great idea. It is totally necessary. The only question that should be debated is where it should be built. It should be a political border too.

Update: Writing from an Israeli perspective Dore Gold reviews the history of the Israeli and US positions on defensible borders for Israel.

In his last Knesset address on October 5, 1995, one month before his assassination, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin laid out his vision of defensible borders for Israel in any future peace settlement with the Palestinians: "The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines." Rabin chose his words carefully. He was seeking Knesset ratification of the Oslo II Interim Agreement that extended Palestinian Authority control to all cities and villages in the West Bank.

In that Knesset address Rabin provided the details of his map. He insisted on retaining the Jordan Rift Valley: "The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term" (emphasis added). Rabin did not view the narrow Jordan River alone as an adequate defensive barrier, but preferred to rely on the eastern slopes of the 2-3,000 foot high West Bank mountain ridge that rise from the Jordan riverbed located 1,200 feet below sea level. By holding onto the Jordan Valley, in its broadest sense, Rabin sought to assure that Israel would maintain security control of a steep geographical incline that could provide Israeli forces with a defensive barrier having a net height differential of up to 4,200 feet.

While Israeli strategists no longer see a short to medium term threat from Iraq they still want a defensible border along the Jordan river valley to deal with long term threats. My guess is that they also want the ability to check incoming goods travelling by land from Jordan into the West Bank in order to be able to check for weapons.

Update II: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says that Israel will continue to build the security fence. President Bush has backed off his criticism of the fence.

"And therefore, I would hope in the long term, a fence would be irrelevant," he said. "But look, the fence is a sensitive issue, I understand, and the prime minister made it very clear to me that it was a sensitive issue."

Sharon says the security fence construction will continue.

"The security fence will continue to be built with every effort to minimize the infringement on the daily life of the Palestinian population," Sharon told reporters as he stood next to Bush in the White House Rose Garden.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 28 12:08 AM  MidEast Arabs Versus Israelis


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