Indefensible Fence
By Ha'aretz
January 07, 2004

Having hijacked the original idea of a security fence and twisted it into an invasive and provocative fence running deep into the West Bank, the government now intends to defend it before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. At the initiative of the Palestinians and with the support of the Third World countries, the issue of the fence was referred by the UN General Assembly to the international court for a legal opinion on it.

Israel will argue to the court next month that it does not have the authority to deal with the issue because it is more a political matter than a legal one.

In addition to the procedural pleas, teams of experts from various government ministries, assisted by outside lawyers, are preparing a raft of arguments based on the principle of self-defense. After all, self-defense is the natural and recognized right of any state that has been under under constant terror attacks, as Israel has been for the past three years and more. And indeed, the fence, as has been proven in those areas where its construction has been completed, can significantly reduce the number of attackers emanating from the Palestinian territories and infiltrating into Israel.

But the attempt to apply the principle of self-defense to the fence as it is currently being built, with all its deviations, its twisting route and its many de facto annexations, cannot but weaken Israel as it stands before the international court in The Hague and also before world public opinion. Defending the fence now being built could also fatally compromise the entire idea of a fence designed to defend Israel from terror attacks.

Justice Minister Yosef Lapid belatedly sensed the danger in the position evolving in official Jerusalem. On Sunday, he urged his ministerial colleagues to reconsider the route that the fence is to take. A condemnation by the court in The Hague, he warned, could be the first step toward Israel's becoming the South Africa of our era, boycotted and isolated, a pariah among the nations.

Lapid apparently feels particularly uncomfortable because his own ministry officials are among those preparing the hollow Israeli defense that will be heard at The Hague. But his call to the government to divert the path of the fence and his warning about Israel ending up like white South Africa, have more than a measure of naivete if not cynicism. After all, the route decided on by the government, in which he is a senior minister, is indeed meant to impose a South African-type reality on the Palestinian territories.

The section of fence designed to encompass greater Jerusalem from the east will in effect slice the West Bank into two. The networks of settlements to be surrounded by the fence and situated deep inside the territories were always meant to prevent the formation of a viable Palestinian state. The planned "eastern fence," which has yet to be built but whose planning will no doubt be brought up in The Hague, is meant to even further reduce the territory of the enclaves that would remain under Palestinian control in the prime minister's plan.

Minister Lapid's warning is correct. But to avert the ominous South Africa analogy, the government must change not only the route of the fence but the wrongheaded political thinking behind that route.