Who Says We Embrace the Fence?

It was with great disappointment that we followed the Israeli cabinet debate and vote last week, just 12 days after the Sharm Summit, authorizing the "improved route" of the separation barrier.

It was with great disappointment that we followed the Israeli cabinet debate and vote last week, just 12 days after the Sharm Summit, authorizing the "improved route" of the separation barrier.

Meron Rapoport in Ha'aretz (February 24) "And now the fence is embraced by the left?" suggested that the Geneva Initiative welcomed this development. He was wrong. Both the substance and the process of the decision were deeply flawed.

In substance, the barrier route serves neither Israeli nor Palestinian interests. It took three years and a Defense Ministry Special Committee to realize what we all knew regarding the home demolition policy - namely, that in addition to being immoral, it actually increases anger and hostility among the Palestinian population.

A barrier can promote security on both sides and can perhaps even prevent terror attacks such as the condemned suicide bombing in Tel Aviv over the weekend. A fence / wall built within the Palestinian territory, while disregarding the Palestinian nation and leadership, has the same logic as the home demolition policy mentioned above.

A physical barrier constructed without Palestinian consent, inside Palestinian territory, leaves more than a quarter of a million Palestinians involuntarily annexed to "barrier-delineated" Israel. Tens of thousands of settlers remain on the "Palestinian side." The barrier will eventually be dismantled or moved. But for Palestinians, the fabric of daily life is further ruptured.

For Israelis, every revision and extra unnecessary kilometer of barrier takes resources away from desperately needed social budgets, while gaping holes remain in construction, as even the Sharon government hesitates to defy the Israeli Supreme Court, the Hague ruling and the U.S. government.

We are not against a physical as well as a political border, and fences may make for good neighbors. But not when the fence is in the neighbor's garden. It is an agreed border regime that will look after both peoples, the best security guarantee.

In the Geneva Initiative, we reached an agreed border - the detailed maps can be viewed at www.geneva-accord.org - based on the 1967 lines with minor mutual modifications, and a land swap that addresses both Israeli and Palestinian needs.

But it is the guiding policy of this decision that is equally troubling. The unilateralism that has characterized the last few years must now become the language of the past. With one hand the Sharon government met the outstretched Palestinian hand at Sharm, but with the other hand it continues to sign unilateral edicts that shape our shared future.

The unilateral policy had two components: one side exclusively defines what happens next and then implements these decisions alone. It seems that regarding implementation, the Israeli government has understood the need for coordination and cooperation. But this is not enough. The process itself, the parameters, the substance, must again be the result of a dialogue - and a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, not Israelis and Israelis. We must return to comprehensive negotiations.

The Gaza disengagement and unilateral West Bank barrier construction are connected in more ways than the Israeli government vote. Our concern is that this signifies the "morning after Gaza" intentions, namely a continued avoidance of permanent status talks and the creation of more facts on the ground that undermine the very viability of a two-state solution.

The temptation to go slowly, in measured steps, nothing too far-reaching, is perhaps human and understandable. But it is mistaken, and learns nothing from the past decade. The cruel terror attack in Tel Aviv is another example of what extremists can do to sabotage and wreck. It is in the interest of both our peoples to end this conflict - and soon. That is probably why in a recent poll published in Ha'aretz, 64 percent of Israelis and 54 percent of Palestinians supported the detailed content of the Geneva Initiative.

Interim arrangements and the avoidance of defining the endgame solutions are a recipe for encouraging extremists on both sides to torpedo every step along the way. Gradualism places an unbearable burden on any attempt to stabilize the security situation. Not defining the endgame feeds unnecessary fears and unrealistic dreams in both constituencies. In many respects, it may be easier to reach a permanent status agreement than an interim arrangement.

Of course, we both support an end of the occupation in Gaza. But the "morning after Gaza" is just around the corner, and those who wish this conflict to continue, or believe that it is our fate, are already planning their next moves. So it is not too early for the coalition of sanity on both sides to declare that after Gaza, no more unilateralism, no more interim solutions, end the uncertainty, end the conflict.

We find it instructive that in more than a year since the Geneva Initiative launching, no detailed alternative plan has been proposed for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even our critics appear to concede that if, or when, a solution is reached, it will be along the Geneva Initiative lines.

The alternative is to postpone the decisions and to prolong the conflict, thus guaranteeing more suffering and more victims. According to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Geneva Initiative gave birth to the Gaza Disengagement Plan. Our commitment is to drive the process from Gaza to the Geneva Initiative.