Nearly a decade after the outbreak of the second intifada, when Israel decided to build the separation fence, and just moments before the Olmert government steps down, just 60 percent of the 760 kilometers planned for the barrier has been built. Four huge gaps in the fence in addition to dozens of small ones, alongside passageways lacking security measures, will set the stage for an escalation in violence likely to occur because of the absence of a diplomatic process, the inciting of East Jerusalem by razing homes there, the accelerated expansion of settlements, and the unfinished negotiations on a cease-fire and the release of Gilad Shalit.
After the terrorist attack at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station during Passover in 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the defense establishment "to find a way to fill the gaps." This was an ineffectual directive. Almost three years have passed and the fence remains as exposed as it was, even though the deputy chief of the Jerusalem District Police noted that "due to the gaps there is an opening for thieves and, worst of all, terrorists, who can reach any point in the country." The state comptroller said that since November 2007, almost all work related to the fence has halted.
In addition to the fundamental error of drawing the fence route based on political and settlement considerations - arguments that did not convince even Israel's most avid supporters or the High Court of Justice, despite its lenient, flexible rulings - one can point to three reasons for the continued negligence.
The first reason is the budget. By the end of 2007, following the Second Lebanon War and the Brodet Committee's report, the decision was made to transfer half a billion shekels from the fence budget to other areas in the defense budget. While this decision did halt an annexation plan that was put forth under the guise of security - as is the case in the Beit Aryeh-Ofarim area - the necessary decision was not made: to complete the fence along a route based on security considerations and which is far shorter and cheaper.
The second reason for freezing the fence's construction is that the gaps are in disputed areas in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians - Ariel, Kedumim, Ma'aleh Adumim, eastern Gush Etzion and the southern Judean Desert.
Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni have not continued construction for fear of the Palestinian response, and they do not want to harm Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' standing. They are also concerned about the American position, which rejects slicing up the West Bank into cantons. In addition, they are wary about the huge waste of money that would compound the already enormous amounts spent on the fence due to the greed for land and the "wasteful, flawed conduct and thought processes," as noted by the Brodet report.
Yet, the three leaders did not complete the fence over a different route because they still believed their own rhetoric, which attested to the route's political purpose. Take Livni, who said that "the High Court is sketching the state's borders through its court rulings on the fence," and Ehud Barak, who made clear that "when we build a fence it is clear that there are areas beyond the fence, and that in any final-status agreement they will not be part of the State of Israel."
The third reason is the lack of public interest. With the waning of terrorist attacks and the sense that "the West Bank is under control," the public protest and media pressure that compelled Ariel Sharon to build the fence has disappeared.
Israel is soon liable to find itself in another wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence. As such, the public must demand that the new government complete the fence quickly and along a logical route. The police, Shin Bet security service and Israel Defense Forces must demand the necessary budgets and, more importantly, must adhere to their professional opinions regarding the fence's route.
The writer is a senior member of the Council for Peace and Security. He was also one of the architects of the Geneva Initiative.
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