Israel claims that the decision to build the wall is an internal security measure, taken after all other methods to defend itself have failed. The fact that the decision was taken unilaterally shows that this process is based only on Israeli interests without taking the other party into consideration. The Palestinians were not consulted about the wall or where it would be built, despite the fact that it will create a new reality within the Palestinian-Israeli arena, one imposed by a tremendous show of force. The wall will become the dividing line that will delineate Palestinian lands, imposing a new reality, without referrence to the negotiating process. Negotiations, when they resume, will be constrained by the new situation on the ground imposed by the construction of the wall.
The idea of separation emerged on the Israeli political stage after the integration called for by the Oslo accords was swept away by a new wave of violence and retribution. Palestinian resistance operations inside Israel uncovered weaknesses in Israeli security. This led to an unprecedented degree of fear among civilians. The separation plan began to appeal to the Israeli public after it gained support from Israeli politicians in the opposition, especially within the Labour Party. The political agenda behind Haim Ramon's first call for separation, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer's interpretation of the idea within the security context and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's addition of a political dimension, have transformed the idea of separation into a complex process with both contradictory and complementary objectives. But all these efforts essentially flow towards the primary Israeli objective, completely ignoring the other party concerned.

The Palestinian Response

Unfortunately, the Palestinian stand has once again fallen short of providing a strong response to this dangerous and important issue. We are talking about an idea that has gone beyond the discussion stage at the Israeli decision-making level and is already being implemented. The lack of an official Palestinian response is no surprise to the Palestinians. The Palestinian political machine is unable to function, and even if it could, it would work slowly and then fail to meet even the lowest expectations. The Palestinians know this, as does the Israeli military, politicians, the settlers and the rest of the world.
The wall is an empirical demonstration of the multi-tracked idea of unilateral separation. One track is political, the other is concerned with security. Those advocating a political separation want an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State. According to Dan Scheuftan's book on separation, Yitzak Rabin and Ehud Barak were the first people to call for "hard separation". (They also wanted to leave the minimum number of Palestinians within the State of Israel.) Scheuftan argues that the security factor and the political capital to be made from the wall are the determining factors which led the Israeli government to pursue this decision, adding that the standard of living on the Israeli side of the wall will rise as it won't have to deal with economic repercussions on the Palestinian side.

The Physicality of the Wall

In locations where there is a large Palestinian population near Israeli settlements, the wall will be made up of high cement blocks, while in isolated areas it will be an electric barbed wire fence. The wall system will be around 5km wide in unpopulated areas and will incorporate physical barriers, surveillance systems and police or military forces. According to a study edited by General Shlomo Brom and Yiftah Shapir from the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, the wall itself will be 30-35m wide and will include a 5m wide tarmac road followed by a 3m wide ground wall of barbed wire, a 5m wide road for patrol vehicles, and a dirt track for discovering foot prints, also 5m wide. This will be followed by a trench 2m deep by 3m wide, then another 3m of barbed wire. The wall is currently being built inside West Bank territory, slicing away large areas of it which will be annexed to Israel. These areas could reach from 500m to 5km in width. Discussions are being held with settlers to locate the wall 25 km deep in some areas to allow settlement blocs to be included on the Israeli side of the wall1.
The Reality of the Situation
1. The wall is a unilateral Israeli development, opposed by the Palestinians.
2. Israel has declared it will build a wall to the east of its borders, within the occupied Palestinian territories. This means a de facto annexation of more Palestinian land.
3. Israel will not build the wall in order to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories, but in order to remain within them. Sharon's desire is to lessen Israeli security fears. According to the head of the Israeli Border Patrol Forces, it is expected to cut infiltration by 100 percent. At the same time, Sharon wants to continue Israeli control of the West Bank through security measures, settlement building and continuous annexation of Palestinian land.
4. The wall will constitute a tool for ethnic separation that will discriminate between Jewish settlers who will be free to move back and forth through the wall as they wish and Palestinians, whether they are residents of the West Bank or of Israel.
5. Even though the Israelis claim that it is necessary to distinguish between building the wall for security reasons and between establishing borders, the Palestinians and the international community are afraid it will be transformed into a de facto border when the time comes for final status negotiations. It would be illogical for Israel to spend over a billion dollars on a boundary wall that will not play a role in future border negotiations.
6. Building the wall will create a complicated geographic and demographic situation in Palestine, as more than 70 Palestinian villages, such as Barta'a and Baqa Al-Sharqiyya, will find themselves west of the divide. These villages have a combined population of over 200,000. Israel wants to annex large tracts of Palestinian land - but without its current residents. There are fears that Israel will force people to leave their villages and move to Palestinian territory east of the wall, creating a new wave of refugees. In other cases, land will be forcibly taken from its rightful owners if the wall is built across a village, leaving villagers' homes on one side and their fields on the other2.
7. The wall will not encourage any return to political negotiations. On the contrary, it will increase internal Israeli discussions opposing a withdrawal from settlements, due to feelings of solidarity that will surface in favour of isolated settlers who will need to be protected by the Israeli army against "Palestinian terrorists" who will not be able to penetrate the wall. This new solidarity will be consolidated by the feeling that the settlers were abandoned because the wall was built to their west. This will create an additional obstacle for reaching a political agreement.
8. The separating wall will reduce friction between the two sides to the lowest level possible, thus reducing the number of casualties on both sides. However, this could also be achieved by an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian occupied territories rather than by building a large prison in which the Palestinians have no freedom of movement whatsoever. The decision to impose a unilateral separation and the method in which it is being implemented will increase the current state of tension and force the Palestinians to retaliate.

The Palestinian Economy: From Siege to the Wall

The Palestinian economy, which developed partially on the margins of the Israeli economy, did not carry within its structure any serious preparation for future separation. It was constructed to be completely dependent on the Israeli economy, which saved Palestinians the effort of searching for new markets. The Oslo agreement was built on the basis of cooperation between both sides; thus a number of joint working committees were formed to develop economic cooperation and coordination. However, the Paris Economic Agreement increased the Palestinians' dependency on Israel.
The Israeli closures of the Palestinian territories, which began in 1993, prevented a normal exchange of goods between the two sides and stopped Palestinian goods from reaching Israeli markets, which had previously been worth a quarter of a billion dollars annually. Most Palestinian laborers did unskilled work in Israel and so were easy to replace with foreign workers following the Aqsa Intifada.
Other difficulties facing the Palestinian economy have been the preference for foreign goods in Arab markets, and Jordan's decision to prevent Palestinian goods crossing its borders to protect its own producers. To break into Arab markets, Palestinian goods would have had to compete with similar Arab products and develop a presence within these markets by marketing Palestinians' manufacturing skills. However, the absence of Palestinian airports, ports or freight transport facilities meant such a campaign was impossible.
As for the economic repercussions of the wall, one can foresee the following:

* The wall will tighten the closure on the Palestinian economy to the point of total strangulation.

* Palestinian economic dependency on Israel is irreplaceable in the short term.

* No alternatives will be created on the ground for up to ten years after the wall is constructed.

* The wall will put an end to economic viability for the future Palestinian entity.

* Because of overriding security considerations no Israeli officials will be concerned with Palestinian economic concerns.

* Palestinians will be unable to establish a legal or even illegal economic status within their besieged entity.

* The wall will allow the Israeli government to ignore the economic realities and needs of the Palestinians.

Required Palestinian Action

The Palestinian Authority should take emergency measures to counteract Israel's decision to establish a separating wall. Some official statements have been published, but those who have followed PA reaction towards the separating wall have come to the conclusion that the authority has neglected the issue and has not devoted enough attention to it. Alternatively, the PA has considered it extremely difficult to alter Israel's decision and thus has chosen to make the minimum effort in response to expropriation of Palestinian land. Palestinian citizens have been left defenceless in the face of Israeli brutality, without even minimal expressions of official or legal objections to the process of building the wall.
Taking the necessary reform process within the authority as a point of departure, the President should declare the formation of an official ad hoc committee carrying explicit responsibility for working on a number of points.
Firstly, it should try to persuade the Israeli side to halt the project, while at the same time, compiling exact information on the building process. This data should include the dangers and losses that Palestinians are likely to face as a result of land expropriation, loss of livelihood, etc. This information should be presented to the international community and especially to the EU and the UN to familiarize them with the consequences of the Israeli plan. The PA should consider filing a case with the International Court of Justice to resolve the issues of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It should also look at filing similar suits in a number of European countries where the legal system allows. Efforts should be directed at informing the Israeli public in general and academic and political groups in particular, in order to alter Israeli public opinion. Similarly, an international campaign should be carried out, concentrating on the issues of racial discrimination and separation that lie behind the decision to build the wall.
Despite the wide Israeli public and political support the separation plan has received, the building process has not yet been completed. There is still enough time to reverse public opinion, especially by dealing directly with the fear motivating the Israelis and discussing methods to alleviate this so they can see the full consequences of building the wall. These methods are not guaranteed to be successful, however in the current climate any attempt that has even minor success would be important. On a general level, public action should be taken in parallel to official action. Palestinians directly affected by the wall should work together to protest, complementing other actions taken by civil society organizations. Communication channels should also be opened for Israeli and Palestinian youths from civil society institutions to take part in joint protests. This united work-plan would form the basis of a strong network and could be used to tackle other issues as they arise.

1 As mentioned in Ha'aretz newspaper.
2 Such a situation occurred in the Falma area in Jayyous and in a number of villages on the frontiers that possess fertile lands or important aquifers.