Back to the Fence

Israel has learned an important lesson. It turns out that even unilateral moves under the heading "security and not political," as it were, are not implemented in a vacuum.

Ariel Sharon has scheduled for today one of the most important debates in his term as prime minister: he will present the corrected route of the separation fence from Ariel to Jerusalem.

The new map, which was drawn up after the High Court of Justice rejected a portion of the existing route, will bring the barrier closer to the Green Line, and will put an end to the vision of the "greater fence" climbing deeply into the West Bank and including most of the settlers.

Such are the reversals of political fortune: the same Sharon, who dedicated his life to blurring the Green Line and wiping it off of maps and documents, is now resurrecting it on the ground with bulldozers, reinforced concrete and barbed wire, making it much more obvious than before 1967. The residents of Ariel, Immanuel and Beit Ariyeh who previously had lived "in the heart of the consensus" will now be joining the settlers of Itamar and Yizhar, seeing the fence from the "Palestinian" side.

Next week Dov Weisglass will take the map to the White House, and like a student retaking a test, he will try to receive a passing grade from teacher Condoleezza Rice. Sharon will then bring the new route to the cabinet, and risk another confrontation with Benjamin Netanyahu and his friends who have sanctified "the fence at Ariel," and are once again perched on the horns of a dilemma between ideological boasting and reality.

Almost a year has gone by since the cabinet approved the previous route. In that time, only a minute part of the fence has gone up, but Israel has learned an important lesson. It turns out that even unilateral moves under the heading "security and not political," as it were, are not implemented in a vacuum.

Beyond the fence there is another side, Palestinian, which must be taken into consideration. The planners of the project admit today that they were working under pressure of the suicide attacks, and paid no attention to the Palestinian "quality of life" along the fence. This lack of attention, dictated from above, trapped the fence in the legal system. It exacted the high security price of an unprotected border, the high political price of international condemnation, and the high economic price of double and unnecessary work, which will reach its grotesque climax with the dismantling of sections already constructed.

The only person who predicted this was Meir Sheetrit, who demanded that the fence be built along the Green Line and voted against the route in the cabinet. Yosef Lapid and his friends from Shinui joined him retroactively, but after they had supported Sharon with their vote.

From its earliest days, the fence has been surrounded by double-speak and false promises, the purpose of which was to try to hide its real essence as a border marker, and to show activity where there was none. It is enough to take a peek at the project's Internet site: "Will the fence be based on the Green Line?" it asks. "Certainly not. Its installation is not based on this or that political border."

Just listen to the empty declarations of "accelerated construction" while the tractors stand silent, or Sharon and Shaul Mofaz promise that the fence will reach Ma'aleh Adumim, when this portion has not even been planned, or recall Sharon's long-gone "eastern fence" (which, interestingly, he mentions to planners from time to time).

The political zigzagging has left the planners at a loss. How should they bring the Etzion Bloc into the fence, with its Palestinian villages and fields, when the High Court has prohibited harming the Palestinians? And if the Etzion Bloc is taken out of the fence, what will the National Religious Party do?

The nightmare in Jerusalem is even greater: the Shin Bet security service is fearful of the inclusion of 200,000 Palestinians on the "Israeli" side, and the politicians are fearful of the shattering of the slogan "United Jerusalem" if they "give up" the Palestinian neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Shuafat has quietly been removed from the fence, which will not hug the city limits.

Those who have been part of this project get a failing grade. So does Sharon, who hesitated until he agreed to the project and then complicated it, as well as the legal minds that prepared the dubious route and after their fall in the High Court galloped back to the Green Line. They all now have a chance to correct themselves, to approve a reasonable route, and perhaps to bring this essential project to the finish line.