by Gershon Baskin
For many years, the peace camp in Israel has been divided over the concept of “separation”. There are those who have spoken about separation as a concept to describe the process of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and in this context the meaning of “separation” was political. Political separation refers to the end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and Palestinian Jerusalem and the creation of an independent sovereign Palestinian state. There are others, even from the “peace camp” in Israel, who have referred to “separation” not only in political terms, but also in demographic and economic terms: separation for them means the removal of Palestinians from Israel by creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel and constructing a “hard” boundary that would end Palestinian physical presence within the State of Israel.
According to Dan Scheuftan in his book on Separation1, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak are the primary proponents of the concept of “hard separation” (minimizing Palestinian presence in Israel to the lowest possible levels) while Shimon Peres would be considered the primary proponent of the first viewpoint - political separation with wide ranging cooperation, particularly in economic relations and economic development. Ehud Barak’s 1999 campaign slogan summarized the point of view of the line of hard separation: “We are here and they are there”.
Ehud Barak’s Vision
Before the elections of 1999, I spoke with Barak about his vision of peace. He told me the following. With the establishment of a Palestinian state, over a period of up to three years, all Palestinian labor presently employed in Israel would be employed within the Palestinian state. Barak’s view was not based solely on the security concerns that have become the primary impetus for the establishment of the dividing wall today, rather it was based on his overall view of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, deeply rooted in classical Labor Zionist ideology. Through their advocacy of “normalizing” the Jewish people by transforming them into workers of the land, second aliyah (second immigration wave) ideologues preached the philosophy of “Jewish Labor Only” and fought against the land owners of the first aliyah (first immigration wave) who relied heavily on local Arab labor in their farms. This slogan became an inherent part of the Zionist ethos and has been echoed throughout the history of Israel and Zionism. Most of those who advocate this position or have internalized this ideology, do so without assuming that it contains any elements of racism or racist ideology.
Necessity of Disengagement
Dan Scheuftan contends that Israel cannot allow itself to be part of the Middle East because the region is one of the most corrupt, anti-democratic and backward parts of the world. Scheuftan strongly links the deep religious Islamic ties of Arab and Muslim countries in the region to the lack of democracy and western liberalism. He speaks about the economic failures of this region due to corruption and lack of democracy, about the backward attitudes of these societies towards women and maintains that in most of these countries there is little productive work. Scheuftan contends that the Palestinians and the state they will establish, will most probably be just like all the others in the region.
Scheuftan also bases his arguments on what he terms the irridentist tendencies of the Palestinians and their demand for the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. He says that as long as the demand for the return of the refugees exists, there will always be an existential threat to Israel from the Palestinians. He adds that as long as there is an open border that allows Palestinians to enter Israel, the demand for the right of return will exist. The appeal of Israel, both for Palestinian nationalistic reasons, as well as the economic realities and the greater freedom there, will always serve as a magnet for demands for return and an impetus for those who seek to implement that right. Scheuftan speaks about the “creeping” implementation of the right of return through family reunifications and marriages between Israeli Arab women and Palestinian men from the West Bank, Gaza and the Palestinian Diaspora. He claims that the Israeli Ministry of Interior has records of more than 100,000 Palestinians who have “implemented” the right of return since 1994 as a result of the open borders facilitated by the Oslo agreements.
Scheuftan employs economic data and theory to justify the necessity of full and permanent separation. Economic life and quality of life, he states, will always be much higher on the Israeli side of the wall. Israel does not need the burden of having to worry about the needs of the Palestinians. He adds that the relative strength of the Israeli economy makes it a desirable country to immigrate to from the neighboring countries. Thus, in his view, if Palestinians are allowed to enter Israel, they will always be planning where they would like to reside, and will make operative plans to bring about their own “return”.
He states that even with open borders, the Palestinians will never catch up with Israel in terms of economic growth. Linking the Palestinian economy to Israel will have a negative impact on the Israeli economy. The continued failure of the Palestinian economy, according to Scheuftan, is endemic and mirrors other economies of the Arab world. The lack of an open, modern western economy in Palestine is a reflection of the lack of democracy there. In this context, according to the holders of this viewpoint, the gaps between Israel and Palestine will continue to grow and embroil the two parties in a pattern of constant conflict.
He concludes that Israel has nothing to gain and everything to lose by trying to integrate into the region. Therefore, Israel should completely close off its borders to the Palestinians (and to the region as a whole). There should be no Palestinian trans-boundary labor, movement of people or even of goods. Only when the Palestinians can prove that they are worthy of joining the community of nations, should Israel open its borders to the East, but only for the purpose of trade - not for labor importation.
Total, Unilateral Separation
Professor Shlomo Avineri, a former director general of the Foreign Ministry, argues that Israel should withdraw from 95 percent of the West Bank, giving the Palestinians contiguous territory. Israel would need to dismantle 20-30 isolated settlements, keeping the clusters of settlements near the Green Line, he says, but Jerusalem would remain in Israeli hands. The untenable settlements in Gaza would also be dismantled. The new Israel-Palestine border would become like the one with Syria, an internationally unrecognized line, where no one is killed. This should be done unilaterally because, “there is no point in negotiation,” says Avineri.
Avineri believes that the border would be relatively quiet because the two peoples would not interact. Identifying the checkpoints, where the two peoples continually interact in a confrontational manner, as the main contributor to violence, Avineri argues that eliminating them, and thus the daily mistreatment of the Palestinians, would decrease the hate and violence. “You have to disengage the populations,” he says. To preserve the separation of the two peoples, Avineri argues against a crossing between Gaza and the West Bank.
The new separation, he maintains, should not include any kind of economic cooperation. Making the Palestinians economically independent would, in his view, accomplish two things. First, it would remove the need for border checkpoints. Second, it would remove reliance on Israel and give the Palestinians responsibility. “I want to force Arafat to be President of Palestine. When someone is given authority over people, they usually behave more responsibly.”
Oslo and the Politics of Separation
The Oslo peace process was based on the concept of cooperation and economic integration. Proponents of this view believed that through cooperation, mainly economic cooperation, prosperity would bring about the decline of the extremists and the spoilers of peace. The advocates of Oslo hoped that Israel’s technological know-how and its access to global markets would enable the Palestinians to exploit Israel’s relative advantages, to achieve rapid economic growth and prosperity for their people. This, of course, did not happen. (Scheuftan believes that it could not happen, as mentioned above.)
Between 1993 and 1996, there were a total of 342 days of closure in the Gaza Strip and 291 days in the West Bank. In 1996 alone, closures increased by 57 percent in the West Bank and 35 percent in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Center for Economic Research, MAS, points out that the 1996 closures differed from those in preceding years as they were in effect during most of the year - in actuality, a policy of full separation. This had a significant effect on production, marketing and income generation, and exacerbated the confusion and distortion that affected Palestinian economic activities in general.
* From 1992-1996 per capita GDP declined by about 24 percent, while per capita GNP declined by about 39 percent.
* Unemployment, which before 1993 hovered at 5 percent, soared to over 28.4 percent in the Occupied Territories in May, 1996.
* Estimated total cost of closures between 1993-1996 is $2.8 billion. This represents 70 percent of a year’s GDP and double the amount of aid disbursed in the area over that period.
In this respect, the policy of economic integration was never given a fair chance. Most analysts would argue that the policy of closures had little to do with the need to provide Israel with security, but was aimed instead at allowing politicians to provide an appearance of security. In fact, the systematic undermining of the Palestinian economy through closures greatly contributed to the circumstances that led to the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Closure meant not only that Palestinian labor in Israel was phased out in favor of non-Palestinian foreign workers, but it also prevented normal trade between Israel and the Palestinians. The movement of goods became as difficult as the movement of people. Foreign investment, even by Palestinians abroad, was diverted from Palestine because of, among other things, the inability to receive guarantees from Israel that importing raw materials and exportating finished goods could take place on a normal basis. Special transportation zones, such as the Karni Transport Zone between Gaza and Israel, were established but never fully provided free movement of goods. Certain limited numbers of Palestinian businessmen were given permits for freer movement, but as a whole, the Palestinian economy was severely crippled as a result of the closure/forced separation policies.
As such, the spirit of Oslo was never really implemented and therefore, it is not possible to rule that economic integration cannot produce the desired results. Additional limiting factors on Palestinian economic development were a lack of democracy and the economic corruption that developed within the PA. Additionally, Israel never really seemed to show a keen interest in Palestinian democracy or in an open and free Palestinian economy. From the narrow vision of Israeli leaders, (at least as perceived from the results on the ground), a non-democratic PA that is easily corruptible seemed to be the correct mix necessary for the PA to serve the policing functions that Israel was mainly interested in. One can only wonder what circumstances would have developed and how much Palestinian support for real peace would have emerged if Palestinians had enjoyed the fruits of peace.
Current Israeli Government Policy - Fences and Walls
After 24 months of violence and terrorism and out of a great sense of frustration, the Israeli government has now voted in favor of a fence and has allocated financial resources for its construction. The main incentive for building a fence is to prevent suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. The Israeli government is under considerable public pressure to present a workable solution. The Israeli security forces could not frustrate all the suicide attacks, and operation “Defensive Shield” and the subsequent so called “pinpoint operations” in Palestinian cities managed only temporarily to reduce the intensity of attacks. Another solution had to be found2.
It should be stressed that “fence” is a generic term for a physical barrier that will assume different forms in different locations. In places where Jewish and Palestinian population centers are close to each other, it might be a high concrete wall that will not only prevent terrorists infiltration but also give protection against light arms fire. In other places, it will be an electronic fence3. The wall or fence is supposed to be part of a separation system, aimed at preventing any infiltration into Israel from beyond the so-called Green Line. This system might cover an area to a depth of up to five kilometers (in unpopulated areas). It will include physical obstacles, monitoring systems and military and police forces kept on high alert, with the aim of preventing any unauthorized attempt to cross into Israel. Passage into Israel is supposed to be possible only through supervised entry points4.
Most of the fences will be built with wire. But in a couple of locations there will be a wall, like the one on the highway at Qalqilya. The effective range of the Kalashnikov rifles that many Palestinian gunmen carry is 500 meters. Where there are Israeli homes close to Palestinian houses or farmland, concrete walls will block lines of fire, or the fences will be constructed deeper inside the West Bank. One such spot is in Kochav Yair, an Israeli town just next to the Green Line where IDF planners shifted the line 500 meters. That will force Palestinians from neighboring Falamah to cross a checkpoint in the fence to reach their fields.
Demarcating a line in Jerusalem is even more complicated. The very idea is extremely sensitive politically, given successive governments’ commitment to an undivided Jerusalem as the “eternal capital of Israel”. There are practical problems too. For one thing, the common notion of East Jerusalem as being all Arab isn’t correct. About 35 percent of the land in East Jerusalem has been turned into Israeli neighborhoods since Israel conquered the area in the 1967 war. It’s impossible to draw a line through the city without leaving lots of people on the wrong side. For that reason, the Israeli government has not yet determined exactly where they will erect the Jerusalem wall, though work has begun in the south of the city, separating Gilo from Bethlehem. As a result, parts of Bethlehem, from the checkpoint to Rachel’s Tomb will be physically annexed to the Jerusalem Municipality. The wall is likely to be built through the eastern outskirts of the city and probably won’t pass near the heavily disputed Old City, with its Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites.
Many Palestinians and some Israelis argue that cordoning off East Jerusalem from the rest of the Jerusalem will only radicalize its residents, who so far have not participated much in the violence of the uprising. Today, Palestinian Jerusalemites can come and go as they like in Jerusalem, taking advantage of educational, medical, recreational and work opportunities in the city. But if they are closed off in the less developed, eastern part of town, some Palestinians say they might start importing violence to the city.
Devastating Impact on the Palestinian Economy
There are three industries in Israel that are dependent, in one way or another, on non-Israeli labor. Two of them - agriculture and construction - are gliding down the road of separation. Agriculture has almost completely separated, and construction has partly done so. The third industry in trouble is tourism. Beyond that, the Israeli labor market develops regardless of the solution that evolves regarding the Palestinians.
As for the Palestinian economy, taking the recorded figures from 1992, prior to the Oslo process; then from 1995-1996, the middle of the separation process; and then the recovery in 1999, and after that the effects of separation of the economies of the past two years, the Palestinian economy is now in deep recession again. In 1992, the Palestinians exported a quarter of a billion dollars worth of intermediary and finished goods to Israel, and in 1996 the figure remained the same. Remuneration of Palestinian labor was $920 million in 1992, but dropped to $405 million by 1996. Between 1997 and 1999 it recovered to about $1 billion. In 1999, Israel also paid over $1 billion to Romania, China, Thailand and other economies for imported labor. This is the net transfer - over and above their cost in Israel itself. Today, the labor market in Israel is inclined to exclude the Palestinians for reasons of convenience and prejudice.
The figures from 1992 to 1996 and from 2000 until the present show that if there is a higher degree of separation, there is a direct loss of 50 percent of the entire slate of Palestinian exports. Palestinian economists often speculate about how Palestinians could penetrate markets outside Israel and how long it would take. But the answer is, it will take a years - if it ever happens at all. Exporting is not only a matter of having ports, planes and ships. It is a matter of creating markets. Palestinians do not have an established mechanism for creating these markets, neither for goods and nor labor services. In the short run, exportating labor is utterly impossible. Exporting other goods and services is possible, but it will be very slow. When you consider the current account of the balance of payments of the Palestinian economy, there will be trouble in the coming years, and the degree of separation will determine the depths of this trouble.
If the Palestinian economy had free access (not through Israel), to Egypt or Jordan, it would help significantly. However, the important future markets for the Palestinian economy are the larger and wealthier markets - Israel, Europe and the US - not the Arab world. Firstly, the Arab markets are too small. Secondly, most of them are in competion. Jordan, for example, wants very limited Palestinian imports. The Gulf States can buy anywhere in the world and although they also buy from the Palestinians, neither they nor Israel produce the luxury goods in high demand there. There is potential in the Gulf for some Palestinian products, but it will not solve all the problems of the Palestinian economy.
Differences of Opinion in Israel
There are many arguments amongst the supporters of Israeli-Palestinian peace on the question of unilateral separation. On June 18, 2002, Ha’aretz, generally a supporter of the peace process, published an editorial in support of the walls and fences. It stated the following:
“It is not difficult to list all the flaws of the separation fence, which after some hesitation, began going up this week in the northern part of the West Bank ... the fence’s advantages outweigh its disadvantages. First of all, hopefully, it will reduce the intolerable price in blood that has been paid with the lives of peaceful Israelis practically every day... The only efficient alternative to a fence, say senior security experts, is a perpetual war of occupation deep inside Palestinian territory.
But beyond the immediate security benefits resulting from the establishment of a protected seam area, a new, tangible reality of separation between two national, geographic entities will ensue. This reality will gradually become part of the consciousness of both peoples. That is no small matter, especially not for the many young people for whom separation is only a vague memory or an imaginary abstraction. The change could be revolutionary: a physical change that leads to a psychological change, with which it may be possible to rehabilitate the much longed-for political change5.
There is an unsubstantiated assumption in the position taken by Ha’aretz which is prevalent primarily amongst Labor Party supporters of the separation plans. In his article in the Al Ahram Weekly on July 11-17, 2002, Dr Ilan Pappe of Haifa University, reminds us that Binyamin Ben Eliezer and Haim Ramon, two Labor Party leaders, have each called their separation plan a “Peace Plan”. Pappe writes: “The Labor Party has always sought a peace which would be based on a dividing line. Indeed, this was their main slogan in the 1992 general elections: ‘We are here and they are there’. For Labor, the Zionist dream can only be fulfilled through total separation between Palestinians and Jews. The question of what exactly may happen on the other (Palestinian) side of the fence never seems to bother these peace visionaries. They are not interested in the economic viability of life on the other side, or in how it will manage its natural and water resources ... what its sovereignty will amount to ... even how it will achieve security...”6.
The questions raised by Pappe and the Ha’aretz editorial point to some of the main issues that need to be discussed by those who support real Israeli-Palestinian peace with regards to the likely effects of the construction of the walls and fences.
* Will the benefits to future peace outweigh the hindrances?
* Will the fence create a new political border between Israel and Palestine?
* Will that border become indelible in the minds and psyches of Israelis and Palestinians?
* Will the existence of the fence and walls further the process of de-legitimizing the settlements amongst Israeli citizens?
* If, as is planned now, the settlements remain on the other side of the line - on the Palestinian side, will they become the main targets of Palestinian violence against the occupation?
* If the settlements do become the primary targets, will this serve the development of public opinion amongst Israelis against the settlements or will it strengthen support and solidarity of the Israeli public with the settlers?
* Will the fences and walls improve the basic security situation for Israeli citizens or will suicide bombers still be able to get through?
Opinions of Security Officials
Israel’s security experts are confident that the wall will answer the question of security positively. “With this fence, we’ll be able to stop 100 percent of terrorist infiltrations,” asserts Brigadier General Israel Yitzchak, head of the Border Police unit responsible for patrolling the seam line between Israel and the West Bank. A fence constructed around the entire Gaza Strip in 1994 has proved invaluable. According to Avi Dichter, head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, not one suicide bomber has entered Israel from the Gaza Strip since the current uprising began.
The new barrier, at least initially, won’t completely fence off the West Bank. But it will make it much harder for Palestinians to cross between the north of the West Bank and Israel’s populous coastal region. Terrorists can’t easily go around the barrier, because travel in the West Bank is monitored by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints7. It has been reported that aides to former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said he preferred to build the fence right along the Green Line. But attempts to preserve the Likud-Labor coalition government pushed Israeli planners to set the line of the planned fences inside the West Bank at several points. The entire barrier network - which includes a ditch, several roadways, concertina wire and surveillance cameras, as well as a 3 meter high electric fence - will, at sensitive points, be about 40-50 meters wide. That means there would not be enough room to lay the network along the many parts of the Green Line where it divides up Arab towns. As a result, the people of Barta’a and Baka al-Sharqiyeh, for example, will find themselves on the Israeli side of the fence, while most Israeli settlements in the West Bank will wind up on the other side of the barrier network. Israeli officials say they expect to accommodate some of the settlements very close to the Green Line, like Salit, by maneuvering the fence around them.
Geoffrey Aronson8, a Washington-based expert on Israeli settlement policy, criticizes the policy of unilateral separation:
“Israel is building this fence, not in order to leave these territories but in order to stay in these territories. Sharon wants to pacify the security concerns of Israelis while retaining control over security and continuing settlements. That’s a basic feature of all these many plans that are out there. Now, over time, who knows? There are many people in the center and the left of the Israel political sector who say “Ah, they’re building a fence, a fence is a border, what they’re doing is acknowledging the failure of the settlement movement over three decades to actually physically transform the border in a way which reflects upon the de facto annexation of large amounts of Palestinian areas. If you want to see it in those terms, if you want to look on the bright side, depending on your point of view, you’re welcome to. But Gaza has had a fence around it for quite some time, and this has not prevented the growth of Israeli settlements in Gaza. So a fence and a security border are not necessarily inconsistent with settlement expansion, nor is it inconsistent with Israeli security operations on the other side of the fence. We’re really at the beginning of this process, and will have to see what happens.
Shlomo Gazit, a former head of military intelligence, made the point in The Jerusalem Post of August 21, that Israel would be better served if it negotiates the withdrawal of its settlements within the context of an overall agreement, rather than by unilaterally evacuating some settlements. He says that moving settlers requires careful preparation which cannot be carried out if there is to be an early “unilateral separation”. In the view of Gazit, separation is nothing but an illusion - the sooner we separate ourselves from it, the better. Yoel Marcus, writing in Ha’aretz on the same day, calls the concept unilateral foolishness:
“In our present situation, there is no unilateral solution. We are among them, they are among us. And nothing will be solved without rapprochement, agreements and understandings between two neighbors who are destined to live side-by-side.”
Not a Recipe for Quiet
The notion of “separation” appears initially to be an innocent security measure. It involves the construction of a massive “buffer zone” extending along the Green Line some 10-20 kilometers into Palestinian territory, where Israel is currently erecting a formidable maze of concrete walls and barricades, trenches, canals, electrified and barbed-wire fences, bunkers, guard towers, surveillance cameras, security crossings and platforms. While it has its security side, the policy of separation is intended to delineate the areas of the West Bank that Israel wishes to claim. It eliminates forever the possibility that the thick corridor between the Ariel settlement bloc and Greater Jerusalem will be relinquished to the Palestinians, as Clinton’s plan envisioned. It places the large settlements in the western part of the West Bank squarely (and irreversibly) within the de facto border created by the security installations including East Jerusalem, which is today being isolated from the wider West Bank. Separation is, in the end, a mechanism for annexing about 15 percent of the West Bank under the guise of “security,” effectively removing it as a subject of negotiation. The militarized “buffer zone” is only one component of a wider system of incorporation that includes the construction of the Trans-Israel Highway and the by-pass roads that link it to the settlements.
There is absolutely no reason to believe that Israel should expect Palestinian acceptance of unilateral measures, or that Palestinians will surrender their struggle against the Israeli occupation as a result of the separation. Quite the opposite. The fences and the walls will increase Palestinian suffering. Poverty will grow and unemployment will deepen. The sense that the occupation is permanent will be enhanced by the continued presence of settlements and the Israeli army and intelligence forces in order to protect the settlements and settlers. Palestinian militants, frustrated by the new difficulties in entering Israel to attack civilian populations, will gain wide Palestinian public support and perhaps increased international public support when they turn their wrath against the Israeli settlements. I fear that the Israeli public, which today has little sympathy for the settlers, will develop a strong sense of solidarity with them once they become the main target of Palestinian attacks and international political attacks against Israel in every international arena.
If Israel were to construct the fences and walls and at the same time withdraw from all settlements, even leaving a few blocs along the Green Line in about 2-4 percent of the territories, then we could perhaps have a basis for the eventual emergence of peace. But this is not the plan. Israel will continue the occupation and will continue to construct more settlements. The Palestinians might have a greater degree of freedom within cordoned-off Palestinian areas, but these will be little more than sovereign cages. Palestinian movement between those areas will continue to be limited, while movement outside of Palestine remain under full Israeli control.
There is no recipe for quiet here and it is amazing that so many so-called security experts can be hostages to their conceptions (or misconceptions). I am sure that some $300 million down the road (the estimated cost of building the walls and fences) and after many more casualties on both sides, the sides will come back to the only real viable solution to the conflict - real political separation together with economic cooperation and integration.
1 Dan Schueftan, Korah Hahafrada - Disengagement, Israel and the Palestinian Entity, Zmora-Bitan, 1999
2 Erecting a Separation Fence. Shlomo Brom & Yiftah S. Shapir. Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, June 27, 2002
3 Erecting a Separation Fence. Shlomo Brom & Yiftah S. Shapir. Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, June 27, 2002
4 Erecting a Separation Fence. Shlomo Brom & Yiftah S. Shapir. Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, June 27, 2002
5 Ha’aretz editorial, June 18, 2002, English Edition (www.haaretzdaily.com)
6 Ilan Pappe, Al Ahram Weekly, July 11-17, 2002, Issue Number 594
7 Time magazine, “Fencing Off Terrorists”, Matt Reyes, September 3, 2002,
8 Foundation for Middle East Peace, Geofrey Aronson, June 19, 2002, http://www.fmep.org/analysis/aronson_sharons_new_map.html