Israel has suffered a serious defeat in its attempt to explain why it needs the separation fence in the West Bank. This is in contrast to the fence built in the Gaza Strip, which was accepted without question. Many of Israel's friends, too, are finding it difficult to accept the explanation that it is only a security fence, intended to make life harder for both Palestinian terrorists and Arabs who want to settle in Israel without permits.
Even Israeli diplomats are finding it hard to explain the harm the fence causes the many Palestinians who live adjacent to it and which disrupts their lives.
When relating to the fence, many people around the world, including in the United States, refer to an Israeli "wall," a term that arouses associations with the Berlin Wall. "The fence" is perceived as the expropriation of Palestinian lands, not a defensive measure designed to protect Israel's residents. People find it hard to believe that the idea of building the fence actually sprouted in Israel's leftist camp, which sought to prevent the massive shift of voters to the right due to Palestinian terror. The fence's opponents were, first and foremost, all the supporters of the settlements, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon himself.
Every time President George W. Bush and his speechwriters level criticism against Palestinian terror, they mention in the same breath the Israeli "wall" and the harm being caused to the Palestinian population. This is how they theoretically maintain a balance in their criticism. If these are Bush's words, which are usually supportive of Israel, it is natural that many Americans follow these views. The sweeping opposition of the Americans is evident in the fact that they are also unwilling to support the deviation of the fence eastward into the West Bank, in the area of Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod, in order to protect flights.
Shortly after expressing their opposition, an American cargo plane was hit by a missile as it prepared to land at Baghdad airport, and all subsequent flights were disrupted.
Israel's difficulty in explaining its position on the fence was not caused by any ingenious plan by the Palestinians, but by Israeli actions: The settlers turned the fence into a tool to deepen the occupation. The idea of building another fence in the eastern section of the West Bank has convinced many that Israel intends to put the Palestinians into a fenced ghetto. This is hard to explain and justify.
On the other hand, it is unimaginable that so many nations are demanding that Israel forgo a defensive measure and expose itself to suicide terror and the invasion of Palestinians who want to live in Israel. The problem is that an initially correct defensive idea has been totally distorted. The settlers' contention that the original route of the fence was designed to abandon them is incorrect. Budgets were set aside to fence in every settlement separately.
The fence between Israel and the Palestinians is not the only one under discussion. The James Baker Institute for Public Policy in the United States is conducting a comprehensive study with regard to the U.S.-Mexico border, which has been partially fenced by the Americans in recent years.
The U.S.-Mexico border is over 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) long, and used to be a battle zone with many incursions and killings. It became a peaceful border, but its maintenance encounters numerous problems.
The institute's director, Edward Djerejian, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and Syria, says problems range from the infiltration of people without permits to drug smuggling and water, health and economic problems.
There are no suicide terrorists infiltrating the U.S.-Mexico border, but it is clear that even in a state of peace, the border problem between a poor country and a rich one does not disappear.
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