As President Bush’s diplomacy with Israeli and Palestinian leaders continues, so does Israel’s construction of the so-called separation wall in the West Bank. The Israeli public views the wall as necessary protection from attacks on civilians by Palestinian militant groups. But is this wall really about security? And what impact will it have on the US-backed “road map” aiming toward resolution of the conflict and a Palestinian state?
Israel began building the wall, which enjoys support across the Israeli political spectrum, in summer 2002. The first section of the wall, currently underway, will be an estimated 225 miles long upon completion. Israel has also proposed constructing a second wall in the east, near the Jordan valley. Consisting of some barbed wire sections, in places the wall is solid concrete, towering 25 feet above the ground.
Once finished, the western portion of the wall alone will be three times as long and twice as high as the Berlin wall. If completed as proposed, the wall will encircle the majority of the Palestinian population in two large blocs, covering around 45 percent of the West Bank’s territory. Israel will control entry and exit points.
Despite Israel’s security justification, the wall is not being built on, or in most cases, even near, Israel’s border with the West Bank. Because the wall is located inside the West Bank, will incorporate most of the Israeli settlement population and leave large areas of the West Bank under Israeli control, many critics believe that the wall has more to do with Israel’s territorial ambitions.
Confiscating Palestinian land and building Israeli-only settlements has not brought Israel security. Nor will this wall. It is, however, increasing frustration and hopelessness among Palestinians, who are being separated from one another and cut off from their main sources of livelihood: agricultural lands and water resources.
The wall curves like a snake through the West Bank, including fertile Palestinian agricultural land and water wells on one side of the wall, while leaving Palestinian farmers on the other side, with no access to their fields. As of April, over 3,500 acres of Palestinian land had been razed for the path of the wall and 100,000 agricultural trees uprooted. Around 35 groundwater wells are located on land to be confiscated for the first phase of construction, with another 14 threatened for demolition.
In urban areas, the wall will prevent future development with 1.56 million Palestinians trapped inside an area approximately 1,000 square acres in size. Several towns in the northern West Bank are already being slowly strangled by the noose of a wall that encloses them on three sides.
Palestinians are not the only ones concerned. On June 29, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that the enormous concrete barrier is “problematic.” Rice expressed concern that Israel is building the de facto border of the future Palestinian state, in advance of border negotiations slated for the final phase of the road map process.
And in a July 17 meeting with the UN Security Council, UN envoy to the Middle East Terje Roed-Larsen called on Israel to stop construction of the wall and dismantle portions completed so far. Larsen noted that the wall’s construction “is a unilateral act not in keeping with the road map because it makes more difficult the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian State.”
During the 1990s Oslo process, Israel launched a massive settlement expansion though settlements were to be negotiated during the process’s final phase. Because the expansion went unchecked by the US administration, Israel successfully doubled the settlement population between 1994 and 2000. The US administration must not repeat the same mistake twice.
Allowing Israel to create new ’facts on the ground’ in the midst of a negotiation process is fanning the flames of this conflict by creating further instability and despair. If President Bush’s vision, as embodied in the road map, is going to bring about a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the creation of a Palestinian state, this wall must come down.