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At the last moment, just as the government was about to decide that the security fence should run to the east of Ariel, Condoleezza Rice let it be known that the U.S. was opposed. If any proof were needed that this security fence had implications that went beyond security, here it was.

After the government had repeated for the nth time time that the fence was for security, pure and simple, and that no other significance should be ascribed to it, the Palestinians, and with them most of the rest of the world, insist that that is not the way they see it. The location of the fence separating Israel from the Palestinians has become a cause celebre. Even the residents of Ariel agree - they want to be on the Israeli side of the fence, for their security, but not only for their security. Beyond the considerable inconvenience caused to Palestinians living in the fence's vicinity, the assumption by almost everybody is that territory to the west of the fence will remain under Israeli control for the foreseeable future, eventually lying within the borders of the state of Israel.

Israel's case for locating the fence east of Ariel is a strong one. The city of Ariel, with its 18,000 inhabitants and the College of Judea and Samaria, with its student body of 7,000, are as much in need of protection against Palestinian suicide bombers as are the residents of Kfar Sava or Hadera.

The Palestinians have only themselves to blame for the fence. The Sharon government had been most unenthusiastic about the fence. It was going to cost a fortune, the settlers hated it, and despite government statements to the contrary, almost everybody sensed that it had significance beyond security. Prodded by the opposition on the left and a growing wave of public opinion, as the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian suicide bombers rose from week to week, it finally gave in.

Each and every murder by a Palestinian suicide terrorist contributed to the government's decision to build that fence. Now Palestinian cries of anguish over the fence and its location seem like a burglar's complaint that bars on the windows of residential housing deface the surroundings.

As the wave of terror continues, as the Palestinian Authority shows no sign of being prepared to undertake the dismantlement of the terrorist infrastructure in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, thus making it impossible to carry out negotiations leading toward a resolution of the conflict, unilateral measures seem to be the only option open to Israel: IDF operations to combat terrorists in Palestinian towns and villages, and protective measures to save the lives of Israel's citizens. The fence is one of these unilateral measures.

It may very well be that the fence's location will affect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, when and if they take place. But the protection of Israel's citizens at this time must take priority over such considerations. Even Condoleezza Rice will understand that. Leaving the residents of Israel unprotected is not an option that Israe's friends should urge on the Israeli government.

But even if the location of the fence remains a source of disagreement between Israel and the U.S., this is an issue on which Israel should not give in. If we disagree on a matter that is of vital importance to the U.S., it is Israel that should defer to American wishes. But if it is a matter of vital interest to Israel, it is the U.S. that should defer to Israel's position. With few exceptions, that has been the tradition of U.S.-Israeli relations in past years, and that is how it should continue.