Israel considers plan to fence out foes

April 03, 1995|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- An elaborate plan to segregate Palestinians from Israelis with fences, guard dogs and electronic security systems is taking shape in Israel, despite objections that it would be too costly and would not work.

A committee led by Israel's police commissioner, Moshe Shahal, put final touches yesterday to the plan for a 200-mile-long separation line. It will be presented this week to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

"There is no other alternative," Mr. Shahal said of his plan. He told Israel Radio that no one else has "any idea of how to deal with terrorism without this plan."

Mr. Rabin repeatedly has expressed a wish to separate Jews from Palestinians, and he appointed Mr. Shahal's committee in January after a succession of suicide bomb attacks by Palestinians inside Israel. But the proposal already has brought a chorus of objections, even within Mr. Rabin's Cabinet. And it is a political curveball, confounding liberals, conservatives, Israelis and Arabs with its implications.

Over the weekend, for example, liberal Israelis and Palestinians demonstrated at two army checkpoints, brandishing signs that read: "Separation is Apartheid."

They are in unexpected agreement with right-wing Israelis, who object to the plan because they see it as ending their goal of claiming all of the West Bank for Jews.

"Those who are dreaming of a 'Greater Israel' object to this idea . . . because it will mean this is a dream and it cannot be realized," Mr. Shahal has said.

The plan could impose a one-sided solution to the Palestinian-Israeli territorial dispute, even as negotiations over the issue seem to flounder.

The proposal is to unilaterally draw a line in the West Bank and create a sophisticated security system to prevent most Palestinians from crossing it. The actual course of the line has not been set, but it is certain to be controversial.

Mr. Shahal proposes erecting fences where the line passes near Arab or Jewish communities. But other stretches of the separation line would be open, guarded by mobile patrols and watched with electronic monitors. In some areas, it might be more than a mile wide.

It could be guarded by joint patrols of Palestinians and Israelis, and guard dogs and helicopters would be used, Mr. Shahal has said. He said Israel should consider prohibiting all Palestinian cars and trucks inside the separation line -- forcing trucks with Palestinian produce, for example, to unload their goods onto an Israeli vehicle at the line.

Palestinians with proper licenses to work or do business could pass through one of 10 gates, some overlooked by watchtowers, he said.

"We will impose severe punishments against anyone who does not enter Israel through the checkpoints. In addition, we will punish the car owner who brings in [to Israel] a Palestinian without a work permit, and his car will be confiscated," Mr. Shahal said.

Every facet of his proposal has drawn criticism. The license plan smacks of the old South African apartheid "pass system," say its critics. The still-undefined separation line would become the new boundary for Israel, either encroaching on occupied territory or retreating to Israel's 1948 borders, say those opposed to the scheme.

And, coupled with Israel's continued preparations to withdraw from areas outside of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, it would leave an isolated Palestinian entity -- virtually a Palestinian state, they say.

"For all practical purposes, this is a state, even if it is not called one," Israeli Environment Minister Yossi Sarid said of the Palestinian areas that would remain after the Israeli withdrawal.

The Israeli finance minister also has attacked the separation plan. Estimates of its cost range from $130 million to $500 million.

"The goal is not achieved, and the price is too high," Finance Minister Avraham Shohat said of the idea.

Others say the fence idea would not work anyway. Palestinians in the heavily guarded and fenced Gaza Strip routinely tunnel under or cut through fences, they note.

"It is a complicated, wasteful plan, which may provide a psychological, but not a military, answer to terrorism," said Ze'ev Schiff, a commentator in the newspaper Ha'aretz.

"The state of Israel will appear like a country surrounded by fences and security areas, between which police dogs and [desert] vehicles move, and helicopters fly looking for Palestinian suicide terrorists," he said. "The suicide terrorist will not wait for checks at the roadblocks . . . but will bypass it."

But the plan may have political appeal to many Israelis. They are frustrated at Palestinian attacks. They have little patience for ultra-Zionist dreams of annexing the West Bank and would willingly fence off the West Bank to stop the attacks.

"The rhetoric of separation allowed its advocates to advance a left-wing agenda with a right-wing coating of intolerance of the Palestinians," Israeli political analyst Dore Gold observed.

Mr. Shahal defended the concept.

"Without it, there will be a sort of chaos, which will endanger the security of Israeli citizens," he said.

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