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"Car with 400 kilograms of explosives captured" screamed the newspaper headlines on Wednesday this week, and the report told about the alertness of a few Border Policemen who prevented a horrible terror attack that was planned for the center of a large city. The car bomb was located and stopped within Israel, in the area of Wadi Ara, and this yet again placed the issue of the separation fence between Israel and the West Bank high on the agenda.

In the National Union campaign broadcasts, singer Ariel Zilber appears, sings the national anthem, "Hatikva," and declares that he does not want any separation fence that would divide the Land of Israel. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon informs voters, as if he had been forced to by an evil spirit, that he is building the fence. The Labor Party candidate for prime minister, Amram Mitzna, announces outright that he will build the fence quickly - if only they let him. And among the Jewish settlers in the territories, there is a dispute: The Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) Council agrees to an "eastern" fence while Daniella Weiss, the head of the Kedumim local council, is opposed to any fence at all.

Sharon has declared several times that he sees the erection of a fence only as a security measure, and not as the determination of a political border, but in the Yesha Council, they have begun to be suspicious. They have realized the psychological significance of the move. Elyakim Haetzni has said: "We are not prepared to have on our consciences the killing of even one Jew because there was no fence," and the head of the Binyamin local council, Pinhas Wallerstein, has proposed constructing the fence along a line that would run deep inside the territory, east of the Green Line (1967 border), and would take in the maximum amount of territory and Jewish population, and the minimum Palestinian population, and all this in order to prevent the erection of the fence along the Green Line itself.

After two years of serious terror attacks in the heart of the country, a consensus is forming that the fence is inevitable as long as it is not possible to reach a peace agreement in the foreseeable future. This is because not building the fence means abandoning the inhabitants of the country to the whims of terror. The fence has proved its efficacy well in Gaza, with dozens of attempted attacks prevented. It has also proved itself well on the Lebanese border.

But apart from the important security aspect, the fence is also the most significant political act here since the Oslo agreements. Anyone who is outside the fence will not be in the State of Israel. The inhabitants of the Jewish settlements that are beyond the fence will not be in the State of Israel. The fence will make it clear who is on the right side and who is not. The inhabitants of the Jewish settlements beyond the fence will feel increasing psychological pressure to evacuate. They will feel that Israel has left them "beyond the fence," alone, to their bitter fate.

When the fence goes up, terror attacks in the West Bank, on the roads and in the settlements, will be easier to carry out than attacks inside Israel, because the fence will constitute a barrier. The car bomb that entered Israel so easily this week will no longer be able to get through. It will be stopped at the border crossings. This is exactly the process now being experienced by the Jewish settlements that remain inside Gaza, which is surrounded by a fence. The inhabitants of these settlements feel that they are living on borrowed time, that it is only a matter of time before they are evacuated, because they are slipping out of the consensus.

Sharon is indeed not interested in building a complete fence that would surround the West Bank along the borders of the Green Line (with certain adjustments). He realizes that by doing this, he would be drawing Israel's political border. Therefore, for the moment, he is talking only about three sections of the fence, a northern section along a 42-kilometer stretch, a central section along 132 kilometers, and the fence of 22 kilometers around Jerusalem. Meanwhile, work is moving along sluggishly and only five kilometers of electronic fence have been erected in the central section, and one additional kilometer near Jerusalem.

But life is even stronger than Sharon. When the public realizes that an electronic fence, like the one that is now separating us from Lebanon, can protect our lives within the borders of the Green Line, the pressure on Sharon will increase to complete the construction of the entire fence around the West Bank, from Beit She'an to the Dead Sea.

This week, Prof. Zvi Eckstein and Prof. Danny Tsiddon of Tel Aviv University completed a study on the subject of the influence of a separation fence on the economy. They say that we are in the midst of a cruel, downward adjustment of the economy because of the fact that the main population centers are under an onslaught of terror, which is causing a decline in personal consumption, a decline in local and international investments, and therefore a loss in annual production of 3 to 4 percent during an adjustment period of about five years.

Such a process could lead to emigration from the country, write Eckstein and Tsiddon, and harm its military strength. It is likely to lead to a profound social crisis as a result of the damage to the weaker segments of Israeli society, the ultra-Orthodox, the Arabs and the inhabitants of peripheral areas and the poor neighborhoods. They recommend the erection of a separation fence in order to eliminate the problem of terror and thus allow the economy to grow - while not at the pace of "full peace," but rather at the pace of a country that is not threatened by terror.

"In conditions of the continuation of the violent conflict with the Palestinians, a separation fence without a doubt can be the most important infrastructure project for the Israeli economy," they say in conclusion to their study.