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.
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.
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.