Good fences make good neighbours

On my recent visit to Israel, the big new “fact on the ground” was the fence/wall/barrier, being constructed by the Sharon government through the West Bank. It’s very visible in lots of places, and it’s hard to imagine a way of breaching such a massive barrier, certainly not one accessible to an individual carrying a gun or bomb.

But, as recent court judgements from both the Israeli High Court and the International Court of Justice have shown, the very effectiveness of the barrier as a defence undermines any defensive justification for any route other than the 1967 border. It’s clear now, that Israel is in a position to safely withdraw its forces to that border, while running very little risk of attack[1].

Hence, the justification for any substantial deviation can only be the right of conquest, backed up by Versailles-style claims for revenge/reparations for past aggressions. Admission of such a claim by the international community would represent a recipe for endless revanchist wars. Not surprisingly, Sharon’s government has got nowhere in terms of international recognition for the legitimacy of the barrier or its attempts to annex parts of the West Bank.

Given Arafat’s miserable record of failure as a negotiating partner, I imagine a more realistic Israeli government could get away with some unilateral border adjustments, roughly along the lines of the Clinton-Barak plan, presented to the world community and the Palestinians as a fait accompli. But Sharon is a mirror-image of Arafat – always trying to get a bit more than the most that is feasible. Only when the Americans decide to ostracise him, as they’ve already done to Arafat, will there be any prospect of a realistic Israeli policy[2].

Even a separation exactly on the lines of the 1967 border would cause significant dislocation for the Palestinians, many of whom have come to depend on relatively menial jobs in Israel (though my very unscientific impression is that the amount of such border-crossing employment has already declined a lot). But given the history of the last decade or so, it’s hard to see how economic integration can persist without peace.

fn1. There remains a possibility of rocket attacks, but these have been kept under control in other border regions through a variety of methods, notably including the threat of instant retaliation.

fn2. There is a chance that the Israeli electorate will dump him. But the complexities of the system seem to make such an outcome implausible.

12 thoughts on “Good fences make good neighbours

  1. John, as a sovereign and legitimate state, Israel has the right to do what it wants on its land, e.g. build fences. The issue has always been that it has no right to do so on occupied land. But the fence goes with settlements, and both are seen, rightly to a large extent, as land grab. Unfortunately, it is hard to see the US ostracising any leader who is on “their side”.

  2. On the US ostracising any leader …

    Asia Times: Foreign Policy in Focus: Stephen Zunes: US Christian Right’s grip on Middle East policy
    n recent years, a politicized and right-wing Protestant fundamentalist movement has emerged as a major factor in US support for the policies of the rightist Likud government in Israel. To understand this influence, it is important to recognize that the rise of the religious right as a political force in the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon that emerged as part of a calculated strategy by leading right-wingers in the Republican Party who – while not fundamentalist Christians themselves – recognized the need to enlist the support of this key segment of the US population in order to achieve political power.

  3. Where to begin? For starters, Israeli security is not now and has not been since 1967 the issue. That was comprehensively settled in 1967 – the Arab nations have no capacity to seriously imperil the state of Israel militarily. There was no terrorist threat to Israel from the occupied territories for some decades thereafter. Did the Israelis even think for one second about withdrawal? You might recall Golda Meir denying the very existence of Palestinians as a people.

    No, the strategy since 1967 has been unambiguous and affected only in style by changes in government – increasing oppression of the Palestinians until they leave voluntarily or if necessary by force. If it happened anywhere else, it would be called by its proper name – ethnic cleansing. The wall is so clearly designed to imprison the Palestinian population in tiny cantonments that even the Israeli supreme court required it to be shifted. After all, the Jews above all people should recognise ghettoes when they see them.

    Over the last few years we have become numb to atrocities from that benighted land – extrajudicial assassinations carried out by helicopter gunships in broad daylight with a complete absence of concern about bystanders, snipers picking off children, tanks firing shells into peaceful demonstrations, mass bulldozing of houses. Always we hear the Israeli military’s excuses, often from the mouths of attractive and articulate young PR flacks in uniform. On the other side we see hysterical Arabs talking gibberish.

    The wall is only related to security in the sense that it declares to the world that the state of Israel wants to annex conquered territory, cleared of its inhabitants, and to feel secure in that annexation. Since opposition to military conquest as an outcome of war was the sacred principle on which we went to war with Iraq in 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait, it is difficult to take issue with those who condemn the US and Israel for gross hypocrisy.

    And on the subject of gross hypocrisy, the latest pretext for going to war has been possession of (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction. Israel has one of the world’s main arsenals of such weapons. What, pray, is the purpose of such weapons, and what on earth is the purpose of keeping their existence secret? Is it perhaps to allow the John Howards of this world to keep pretending they don’t know about them, in the same way they didn’t know about the kids overboard, or the dodgy intelligence?

    Sorry about the rant, but it makes my blood boil.

  4. Golda was not the first to advocate the non-existence of the Palestinians as a people. It was part of the Zionist enterprise – a land without people for a people without land. Its interesting that many supporters of Israel continue to push this line, so masterly crafter in Peter’s famous hoax – From Time Immemorial. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

  5. Israel has nukes for the simple reason that the populous states surrounding it have attempted several times to destroy and have sworn to massacre all Jews. They subsequently did massacre all the Jews them came across in the invasion of 1948 when they overran villages. Despite this type of behaviour, Israel, to its great credit, has on several occasions offered the Palestinians a fair and reasonable settlement which they have refused. The last time under Clinton, they were offered just about everything they wanted with 30 billions dollars compensation for the rest. Incidentally, no compensation was offered to the 850,000 Jews who were refugees from Arab lands. The Saudi Prince – Bander (I think) at the talks, who is not the most liberal or fair minded or pro-western individual in the world, told Arafat that if he rejected this amazing offer this would be a crime against the Palestinian people. Arafat walked away and commenced his appalling strategy of suicide bombings. It is little wonder that even some of the strongest and someone naïve Israel peaceniks now strongly support the wall and even Sharon – a fact that some of the anti-Semites (I am no longer willing to put the current hostility towards Israel and Jews down to ignorance) contributing to this site might like to dwell on.

  6. Michael, are you saying that you have seen Anti-Semitism on this site? If so, please highlight it and tell me where the Anti-Semitism has been exhibited.

    P.S. Jewish forces did more than their fair share of massacring in 1948. There are no “good guys” in the Middle East.

  7. Hristos, Jewish forces did not do more than their fair share of massacring in 1948. As far as I am aware there was one incident where Arabs had dressed as women and were firing on Israeli irregular troops. The population of the village was advised to leave. However, the truck with the microphone issueing the warning got stuck in a ditch and the warning was not heard and the situation escalated and civilians were tragically killed. This isolated event which, is out of character, is taught to every Palestinian schoolchild is a major source of shame to Israelis. On the other hand, there have been numerous such incidents by Palestinians and their allies. These are celebrated rather than regretted. To view such things out of context in the way you have done is anti-Semitism pure and simple.

    Most critics of Israel holds Jews to higher standards than other western countries. Also, during the various wars Arabs deliberately bombed civilian centres which Israelis concentrated on the attacking forces. I doubt if Australians when faced which such repeated acts of violence by Muslims would respond as humanely as Israel generally has.

  8. sorry michael but you are completely wrong on that.
    Why did Palestinians, both christian and muslim, run like the breeze when word came on the Stern gang or the other terrorist groups were coming to their village. Haven’t you heard of Deir Yassin?

  9. Michael, I am amazed how easily the term anti-Semitism is used, and I think generally to stifle debate. And yet, you readily through the word Muslim in a context that if we said Jew, we would be pounced upon. Seems like a double standard to me. Regarding 1948 there is plenty of scholarly work that refutes your rosy picture of what were predominately Zionist forces. And it wasn’t just Deir Yassin. Population centres were attacked, just as Beirut was bombed by the IDF decades after. There are several texts on this, written by Israeli historians (I am not referring to Palestinian propaganda here). There was a systematic campaign to drive out the Palestinians. Benny Morris (Israeli historian) recently lamented (in a Haaretz interview) that Ben Gurion didn’t complete the program of ethnic cleansing that was commenced in 1948.

    Michael to say this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It is to taking sides. It is to point out how armies – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, whatever – behave, how the cult of the military behaves, and how the State behaves. To say that Jewish forces can do evil things is not anti-Semitic. Nor does it excuse what Arab armies have done to Israelis, blowing up Israelis in restaurants, buses etc. But if we are to have a balanced debate we do need to get away from racism. The view – that apparently you hold – that Israel has done no wrong, that Israelis (and Jews in general) are somehow honourable, while Arabs are evil – that is more racist than criticism of Israel can be. And tell me, do you call Jews and Israeli professors and scholars who say the same – and more – as anti-Semitic?

    There is no need to hold Israel to higher standards – the same standards is sufficient. We should treat Israel in the same way as the US, Australia, Britain, France, Syria, etc. But, what many Israeli supporters want is NO criticism of Israel.

  10. The facts are that on several occasions Israel has accepted or proposed a peace plan that would have lead to the creation of a Palestinian and Israeli state. This has always been rejected by the Palestinians and their supporters in the Middle East. In 1948 (and frequently since) leading figures in the Arab world , radio stations and so on have broadcast messages urging Arab soldiers to exterminate any Jews they came across. Israelis have generally not resorted to this form of extremism – which is not to say that they do not overreact at times to the extreme provocation they face or make mistakes. However, to focus on this and ignore the context is anti-Semitism.

    On the charge of racism against Arabs or Muslims more broadly, any comments I make are relatively mild with those made by Muslim or ex-Muslim reformers such as Irshad Manji (The Trouble with Islam) and Ibd Warraq (Why I am not a Muslim). They and other are rather outraged that liberals in the West engage in cultural relativism and pander to extremists (the majority of the population unfortunately) in the Arab world. In other worlds, liberal minded Muslims should learn to accept that they operate under different standards to liberals in the West and accept all kind of restrictions including rape, torture and murder. Now, that I think is racism. Furthemore, even if we assume that Israel is to blame for the conflict why are Muslims and others so obsessed with this issue. After all, for every Muslim killed by an Israeli there are thousands killed by fellow Muslims and Serbs etc. Strange is it not that the focus of the world including the UN is on Israel – I wonder why.

  11. Hi Michael. I agree with much of what you say:
    • There is relatively more attention to, for example, a Palestinian death by Israeli forces, or settlers, than a Palestinian death by fellow Palestinians. People have various sensitivities and respond disproportionally to them.
    • The Arab world has a lot to answer for when it comes to Israel, propaganda, overt racism, support for terror, etc.
    • The Arab world has a lot to answer for when it comes to Palestinians – that they have allowed Palestinians to suffer for such a long time is simply terrible and shame on them. Can you possibly imagine, for example, Jews allowing other Jews to remain in such a situation, or Aussies etc.
    However, some of your comments are disputable:
    “The facts are that on several occasions Israel has accepted or proposed a peace plan that would have lead to the creation of a Palestinian and Israeli state. This has always been rejected by the Palestinians and their supporters in the Middle East.” This is not entirely true and misrepresents the situation. It has to be remembered that Arab states and Palestinians have also made many offers and until relatively recent times (in the 1990s), these were always rejected by Israel. From the time of Ben Gurion, Israel was reluctant to negotiate any peace that involved a transfer of land, since afterall, the whole Zionist project was all about securing land and as much land as possible. Not all of Israel’s offers could be accepted by any reasonable negotiator, a fact that many Israeli negotiators themselves have admitted. Since the 1990s, Israel and the US have converged towards what was the international consensus, land for peace. Have Palestinians made mistakes? Sure have. Are they represented effectively? No way. But, lets put the blame only on one side. If you read, for example, Barak offered, have can the Palestinians have accepted that?

    “On the charge of racism against Arabs or Muslims more broadly, any comments I make are relatively mild … “
    Actually, I was referring to your tendency to label any criticism of Israel as anti-semitism while simultaneously feeling free to criticize Muslims in a manner in which we cant criticize Israel. I have no problems with you criticizing the Muslim countries etc. They deserve it. However, be consistent. Criticism of Israel is not anti-semitism. I understand the sensitivities. I understand the pain. But that should not stifle debate. The whole point of a democracy is to listen to views with which we disagree with.

Comments are closed.