Text size

The planners of the separation fence between Israel and the West Bank failed to foresee the degree to which it would disrupt Palestinians' daily lives, and this error must now be rectified - including changing the route of the fence, National Security Council Chairman Giora Eiland said yesterday.

Eiland, who was speaking in Munich at a panel on the Middle East that was part of the 40th Munich Conference on Security Policy, described the fence as a "necessary, legitimate and temporary measure." Nevertheless, he continued, "the planning and the implementation of the course of the fence had failed to foresee all the repercussions the fence had on the life of innocent Palestinians." Now, he said, Israel must ameliorate the situation, "including, where necessary, changing the original path of the fence."

Eiland said that since unilateral measures are inferior to a negotiated settlement, Israel is still committed to the U.S-backed road map. However, he continued, if it becomes clear that the road map cannot be implemented, "Israel will simply have no alternative other than to initiate unilateral disengagement... to try and produce a new and better reality," since the alternative is to "permit the current deadlock and bloodshed to continue."

Nevertheless, he stressed, the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 decisively disproved the claim that all that is needed to end the Israeli-Arab dispute is an Israeli evacuation of Arab lands. In Lebanon, Israel scrupulously withdrew to the international border, he said, yet Hezbollah continues to wage war on it, and has created a strategic threat along Israel's northern border by stationing some 10,000 rockets there - activities that could wind up dragging Israel and Syria into a military confrontation against their will.

Other speakers at the conference's Middle East forum included King Abdullah of Jordan, Pakistani Foreign Minister Mian Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, and India's national security adviser Brajesh Mishra. Abdullah called for a two-state solution, and told the panel that "mainstream Palestinians accept that the refugees' right of return must not undermine the demographic balance of Israel."

Kasuri spoke in favor of a Palestinian state and against the separation fence. In his only hint at the possibility of future relations between Pakistan and Israel, he said: "A genuine movement towards resolution of the Palestinian problem will generate greater understanding in the Islamic world for normalization of relations with Israel."

Mishra objected to Israel's exclusion of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat from the diplomatic process, calling him "the only credible leader who can coordinate all streams of Palestinian opinion."

Eiland, however, disputed this assessment, saying that Arafat has no interest in a negotiated solution unless all his demands are met, and that the Palestinian leadership he heads "has remained committed to unacceptable means and unattainable goals." Arafat, he continued, has pursued a "strategy of sowing chaos to undermine every possible solution." As an example, he noted, back as 1998 - long before the outbreak of the intifada - Arafat turned "the main Palestinian political party [Fatah] into a militant militia, more powerful than his security organizations, which no longer had the ability to enforce order."

Eiland stressed that Palestinian terror is not a new phenomenon. On the contrary, he said the root of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, ever since the 1920s, has been the Palestinians' ongoing legitimization of terror as an accepted social and political norm. Thus, for negotiations to resume, two conditions must be met: The Palestinians must recognize Israel's right to exist in peace as a Jewish state, and they must completely abandon terrorism. In exchange, he said, Israel is ready to make "big compromises."

The two-day conference was Eiland's first appearance abroad as head of the NSC.