The recent Israeli government decision to begin building extensive walls around Palestinians is just one more example of how Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is unable to deal with Israeli problems save through his narrow security vision. Sharon is blind to the political dimensions of the ongoing violence and is therefore unwilling to engage in a political process. Unfortunately, serious political talks are the only way out of the current conflict, a struggle that has been terribly costly for both Palestinians and Israelis.
Indeed, Sharon seems to have forgotten the historic failure of fences and walls–there is not a single example in which divisions like these have been able to stop those bent on getting past them. Most recent, but not most insignificant is the example of the Berlin Wall, which not only fell after time, but was porous even at its mightiest.
Besides lacking vision, Sharon’s approach is terribly dangerous. It can only be seen as an integral part of a comprehensive strategy pursued by this Israeli government and one likely to be promoted by Sharon in his coming trip to the United States. That strategy is to gradually divide the West Bank and Gaza Strip into isolated population centers. This will have a dramatic effect on geography and society and the already-disintegrating Palestinian economy.
Further, while attention is focused on the dramatic events of these confrontations, the Israeli government is adding to the single greatest threat to prospects for peace: the settlements. At the same time that Palestinians are being blocked into specific areas, the settlements are sprouting up and being used by the Israeli government as a tool for further shattering the Palestinian territories into pieces. One must be careful not to misunderstand the implications of these new walls and fences. It is not simply that Israel is creating barriers along its borders, but rather that these fences are part of a policy of creating what Israelis call a “buffer zone.” These areas of heightened Israeli control in the occupied Palestinian territories cut deep wedges out of the West Bank, at places taking 10-kilometer-deep chunks out of its narrowest places, a waistline that measures no more that 50 kilometers at times. All of these new elements undertaken in the name of security actually! systematically undermine the basis for the peace process, i.e. historic territorial compromise on the basis of the 1967 borders as mentioned in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.
This effect is complemented by the gradual but methodical practices of the Israeli army to undermine the Palestinian Authority and cancel out Palestinian control over any Palestinian land, leaving the Authority with only an administrative role to fill a completely impossible mandate. The reasons for this systematic unraveling of these understandings of peace are the ideological beliefs of Sharon and his allies. Theirs is an ideology based on religion and history and power politics, where all of historic Palestine is Israel’s birthright according to religion, and where the only way to achieve this is by force (and, when force doesn’t work, more force).
Too, there is a deep racism that lies behind the strategy of walls and fences preventing movement in only one direction and confining only Palestinians, when Israeli settlers and the army are permitted to move both directions at will. The building of these barriers can only deepen the injustice of Palestinian daily life, making the most basic tasks and joys more difficult, and as a result inspiring increasing hatred and violence and counter-violence.
The sum effect of these actions will be bad news for the more than half of Israeli society that continues to support a withdrawal from territory and the settlements as part of a peaceful compromise. On the other hand, the transformation of this conflict into an existential battle with no space for a middle ground will only satisfy extremists on both sides.
Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.