Analysis: Is Barrier a Defense or Terrorists' Spring-board?

There has been a fall in the number of terror attacks originating in areas where the separation fence has been built, but the barrier also annexes 180,000 Palestinians to Israel, apparently including a significant number of terror collaborators.

In addition to the emotional argument provided by Sunday's Jerusalem suicide bombing to Israeli public relations officials ahead of the opening of the International Court of Justice deliberations in The Hague, the suicide bomber also strengthened the practical argument for the continued construction of the fence.

Since the completion of the first stage of the separation fence - from Salem to Elkana - in the summer, terror has migrated to the south and east, to areas in which the fence has not yet been built.

The Shin Bet security service reported only five terror attacks in 2003 in which the suicide bomber managed to permeate the fence (usually travelling in Israeli cars through roadblocks): near the old central bus station in Tel Aviv; at a Netanya cafe; in a train station in Kfar Sava; at a moshav in the Sharon region; and at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa. There were hundreds of terror attacks in the same area in 2002.

The trends continued in 2004. The two suicide bombers who blew themselves up on Jerusalem buses this year were from areas in which the fence has not been completed. Those who dispatch suicide bombers, such as Amjad Abeidi, who was behind the Maxim suicide bombing, told interregators from the Shin Bet security service that in recent months they have preferred to send the bombers eastward, to the Jordan Valley, or south to Jerusalem, because of the fence.

Two weeks ago a would-be suicide bomber was arrested near Bethlehem, on her way to Jenin, where she was meant to receive an explosive belt and return south, apparently to carry out a bombing in Jerusalem.

Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki on Sunday apparently reached a natural conclusion. The fence surrounding Jerusalem has not yet been completed, he said, and therefore the police cannot be expected to succeed in foiling each and every attack in the capital.

But the reality of the Jerusalem Envelope is a lot more complicated than the picture presented by Aharonishki, and there is no guarantee that the completion of the fence would halt the terror attacks. There is a great deal of doubt regarding the efficiency of the fence being built around Jerusalem, and this is implied by one of the fence's staunchest supporters, Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter.

During a speech at the Herzliya Conference, Dichter described the Arabs of East Jerusalem as a 'spring-board' for terror, taken advantage of by terror organizations.

The fence in Jerusalem does the exact opposite of what is required from it with regards to security: it actually annexes almost 180,000 Palestinians to Israel, and there are probably a significant number of terrorist collaborators among them.

The fence will make it hard for them to keep in touch with the terror centers in the West Bank, but will certainly not separate them from the Jews of Jerusalem. In addition, Haaretz recently published articles on the suffering the Jerusalem fence would cause the Palestinians in the capital, which is far worse that the suffering experienced in other parts of the West Bank.

But those objecting to the fence are omitting from their struggle the most central practical argument that is supposed to sway Israeli public opinion, which is already fed up with hearing about Palestinian suffering.

The large sums of money spent on the fence could have been beneficial to the hundreds of thousands of people who are supported by the state's welfare institutes. It is no wonder that in the Arab areas slated to remain on the Israeli side of the fence, real estate prices are on the rise, and even storage rooms and small alcoves are being rented out for handsome sums. This is happening while everyone understands that in any future diplomatic arrangement, most of the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem would be transferred to Palestinian control.

The participants of the Israeli PR forum that convened Sunday morning ahead of the ICJ hearing hoped that the terror attack would assist their efforts. Only a few of them tried to understand what was behind the timing of the attack, which appeared to go against the logic of the Palestinian struggle.

It is possible that this was an echo of the old Shin Bet argument that the militants were "taking advantage of opportunities." In other words, when a terror attack has a chance to succeed, the suicide bomber is dispatched without any consideration for the diplomatic circumstances.

Bethlehem has turned into a terror flashpoint, not only because of the fence, but also because of the scarce IDF activity in the West Bank city since last summer's hudna (temporary truce).

Because Israel has decided to take into consideration the goings on at The Hague, it will avoid carrying out a large-scale operation for the duration of the deliberations. But it is safe to assume that Bethlehem will at some in the future receive the same tough treatment from the IDF and Shin Bet that Nablus has recently experienced.