DevMode
A sea bird was quivering on the sandy beach, a big fin sticking out of her beak. The bird could neither swallow nor spit out the fish stuck in her throat. The greedy bird, who had taken in more than she could swallow, was in her death throes. The fate of the fish was no better. He would never return to swim in the ocean's clear water. (Denmark, July 2002)

The events commemorating 40 years of occupation this past June highlighted the question that occasionally enters the public debate: whether the settlement project is still reversible. This question divides the Israeli left into two camps. On one side are those who believe in its reversibility and support the two-state solution west of Jordan, and continue to focus their efforts on the struggle against the very existence of the settlements. On the other side are those who consider the settlement project a fait accompli, and conclude that the struggle must focus on the regime which Israel has instituted in the West Bank, where there is a physical, political and legal separation between the two populations.
This question becomes even more acute as a result of the ongoing construction of thousands of homes in settlements carried out by the Israeli government, at a time when the construction of the separation barrier1 in various areas of the West Bank continues.
This article will discuss the following aspects related to the separation barrier:
1) What Israeli needs are met by the construction of the separation barrier?
2) What are the problems that this barrier causes for Israel?
3) Will the completion of the separation barrier along the route authorized by the Israeli government also mean the end of the two-state solution?
Although a large part of the 730km-long separation barrier has already been built, there are three different segments whose future is yet to be determined. In these three segments the barrier cuts deep into West Bank territory, severely curtailing Palestinian mobility: The first is the "Ma'ale Adumim bubble," which includes, in addition to the large settlement, several other surrounding settlements and outposts and large open spaces between them. This enclave cuts the West Bank in two - north and south - with Jerusalem (which is geographically of course part of the West Bank), where West Bankers are already forbidden entry, situated more or less in-between the two. The second segment is the settlement enclave of Ariel-Emannuel-Karnei Shomron, which breaks up the territorial contiguity of the northern part of the West Bank.2 The third segment is part of the planned route in the "Gush Etzion District" (a territory much larger than that of historical Gush Etzion), where the Supreme Court will have to determine the proportionality of the harm it causes the Palestinian population.
The Israeli government authorized the "Seam-Line Program" in June 2002, at the peak of one of the most relentless waves of terrorism. Supposedly, this was a legitimate defensive move by a government forced to carry out an emergency measure aimed at defending the lives of its citizens. However, as the route of the barrier became clear, it became apparent that this was not only a defensive measure, but a plan of clear political logic, whose primary goal was, and remains, to re-define Israel's eastern border, while erasing large segments of the Green Line.
Although undoubtedly the immediate motive for initiating the barrier project (without which it would probably not have come into existence in this form) was the security crisis caused by the second intifada, it is important to stress that its construction fit well into the world view coming into prominence in the Israeli political arena beginning in the 1990s. This world view is based on two different and somewhat contradictory aspirations: on the one hand, the wish to continue and strengthen Israel's grasp on different strategic points in the West Bank; on the other hand, the desire to minimize Israel's contact with the Palestinian civilian population in the West Bank, all the while insisting that Israel does not bear any responsibility for the living conditions of this population. While the first aspiration represents the wish to spread out to the east and "correct" the ceasefire lines agreed upon during the final stages of the 1948 war, the second aspiration reflects the demographic interest, well entrenched in Israeli thinking, in upholding a "Jewish majority." The barrier's construction on the route authorized by the Israeli government is therefore an attempt to have the occupation cake and eat it too, in other words: maximum land with minimum Arabs on it. On this issue it is important to clarify that the claim repeated everywhere by Israel's official spokespersons that "less than 10% of the territory of the West Bank [is] to the west of the barrier" is, while correct, manipulative and misleading in essence. This is because it ignores the fact that control over the lands west of the barrier will allow Israel to control the traffic between the major cities and provinces of the West Bank, and thus make millions of Palestinians' daily lives dependent on Israel's good will. And as is well know in the Middle East, the availability of good will is not something one can or should always depend on.
Of course, the first to suffer the implications of the separation barrier are those Palestinians residing near the route of the barrier. But the State of Israel also constantly finds itself on the defensive, due to the harsh criticism of this policy both at home and abroad. At the root of Israel's difficulty in implementing the barrier's originally planned route (which it has had to change several times over the last few years), is the contradiction between the traditional settlement policy of Israeli governments of intentionally building settlements in locations that would undermine Palestinian contiguity in the West Bank, and the official policy of recent Israeli governments (which is in complete opposition to their policy in the field) of accepting the principle of a Palestinian state in the West Bank territory. The barriers' route suffers the same contradiction, for it is supposed to maintain the contiguity of the future Palestinian state, while drawing a continuous line between the settlements which were constructed to fracture this very contiguity. To summarize, Israel's aim is for the separation barrier to solve the demographic problem, while minimizing the internal political price which Israel will have to pay in case of settlement evacuation.
However, the Green Line was not the only thing blurred by the construction of the barrier. The dreams of the "Greater Israel" advocates also consequently suffered a harsh blow. The construction of the barrier marked the first time an Israeli government was forced to carry out a measure implying admission of the failure of the attempt to annex the West Bank. The settlers were the first to understand that the barrier's route does not only reflect security concerns but a new geopolitical and, for them, dangerous understanding. For decades they have been the best interpreters of Israeli public opinion, seeing as their collective existence depends on their deciphering of the "Israeli psyche." And here, ironically, it was the eastern settlements, founded by hard-core settlers, who were left on the Palestinian side of the barrier's route. The attempts by the settler Council of Judea, Samaria (and previously Gaza) to dramatically change the barrier route to encompass the densely populated Palestinian Areas A and B and prevent some of the settlements from being left on the east side of the route failed. Thus the claim that the construction of the barrier was essentially unnecessary was left (for opposite reasons, no doubt) to the two extreme ends of Israeli politics.
One cannot address the issue of whether the construction of the barrier along its current route destroys the chances of a two-state solution without first answering two questions:
1) Will the barrier actually be built in full (meaning the the Ma'ale Adumim bloc, the Ariel-Kedumim Bloc and Gush Etzion)?
2) What is expected to happen in terms of settlement construction and population enlargement in the occupied territories to the west of the barrier route?
In answer to the first question, I tend to think, though not unequivocally, that the route will not be completed in full, due to international pressure. Therefore, the barrier's damage to a long-term solution will remain similar to that of today. At the same time, building statistics show that most of the large-scale settlement construction underway, with massive government involvement, is taking place in what the Israeli government calls "settlement blocs" - about which we are always told there is a "national consensus." All indications are that these trends in settlement construction and population growth will proceed at a similar pace in the coming years.3 Construction and development in the settlements east of the barrier are continuing as well, though not as massively.4 It is not surprising that there are those (among whom many are Palestinians, who tend to be more suspicious of Israel's intentions) who consider the barrier route as a minimum line on which Israel will aim to stabilize its borders in the future, while trying to annex more settlements to the east of the barrier.
In any case, recent Israeli governments have not demonstrated a consistent policy on the future of settlements. Two contradictory approaches coexist in these governments: 1) the traditional view that most of the West Bank settlements (east and west of the barrier) should continue to grow (although at varying rates); and 2) the view that Israel must reduce the territories which it directly controls. This second approach led to the dismantling of settlements in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005. One should not search for some hidden, enlightened logic behind the ongoing contradiction between these two simultaneous policies. This contradiction is first and foremost a result of the crisis the Israeli political system is immersed in. This state of crisis hinders the emergence of a leadership that will squarely face the difficulties arising directly from Israel's policy failures over the last four decades. In this context, it is clear that the ongoing construction in the settlements and outposts east of the barrier route postpones the battle every government will eventually have to wage against the ideological right-wing settler factions - the day any decision will be made requiring any kind of partial Israeli withdrawal and redeployment in the West Bank.
The relevance of the two-state solution has to be considered when taking into account the real options before Israel. To do this we must answer the following questions: Is it likely for Israel, today or in the foreseeable future, to formally and unilaterally annex the territories west of the barrier, even if it is built in full (despite my counter-assessment here)? The answer to this is most probably negative. Will Israel be able to endlessly postpone dealing with the contradictions arising from the settlement project in terms of its definition as a Jewish national and democratic state which exists on a land which is in fact bi-national? The answer to this question is certainly negative. In these circumstances, the most the barrier can do is postpone the confrontation with difficult and painful issues. It cannot do away with the need to tackle them. Meanwhile, the price paid by both sides, the bird and the fish, is rising daily.












1 In this article, I chose to use the relatively neutral and technical term "barrier," instead of "wall" or "fence," which are not as accurate.

2 Despite the construction of the "fingernails" (meaning Special Security Zones) around some of these settlements, the construction of the parts that are supposed to connect these "fingernails" to the barrier's major route has not yet begun.

3 As of 2001, the number of constructions begun in the settlements is about 1,500-2,000 housing units a year. The rate of growth of the settler population in these years has been about 5-6% a year, which is three times faster than the total national population growth.
4 A clear expression of this was the Maskiot settlement planned for the evacuated settlers of Gush Katif, published in the final days of 2006 and currently postponed. For further details on Maskiot, see: http://www.peacenow.org.il/site/he/peace.asp?pi=57&docid=2131&pos=87&total=148&letter=12&list=21&listpos=19&all=false


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