July 24, 2003 | New York Daily News

Israel’s Fence Aids Security – and Peace

By Richard Z. Chesnoff

I don't understand who so many people are unhappy with the new security buffer that Israel is building between itself and the Palestinians. Yasser Arafat's propaganda machine charges that Israel's “racist Berlin Wall” is stealing Palestinian land on the West Bank. It is also trying to establish facts even before new negotiations over final borders have begun.

The Europeans, who never miss a chance to blast Israel, say construction of the approximately 200-mile-long wall-cum-fence will scuttle the much vaunted road map for Mideast peace. Even the Bush White House says the new Israeli security barrier is “unhelpful.”

I couldn't disagree more.

Israel must defend its citizens. And since even Mahmoud Abbas, the new
Palestinian prime minister also known as Abu Mazen, has so far insisted he can't (or won't) fulfill his obligation to “dismantle the terrorist structure,” it's up to Israel to do the next best thing: Prevent new waves of suicide bombers from sneaking into Israel.

What's more, as Mideast strategist Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute points out, the security fence is more than just a fence and certainly nothing like the much-hated Berlin Wall that divided one people. “Israel's security fence,” says Satloff, “will separate two peoples … offering the prospect of security for both.”

So far, some 85 miles have been completed at a staggering cost of $1.6 million per mile. It's a combination of chain-link and barbed wire and a network of cement barriers, a high-tech system of underground and long-range sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles, trenches, land mines and old-fashioned dirt guard paths that will be swept clean each day so footprints will show.

Passage will be permitted only through guarded gates – allowing legitimate Palestinian workers to go through. A similar security fence already exists around the Gaza Strip and has proven its worth; to date, not one suicide bomber from that area has infiltrated Israel. In contrast, close to 300 suicide bombers came into Israel from the West Bank over the past three years.

It will snake just east of the pre-1967 border. In addition, building has begun around three parts of Jerusalem. When it is completed, this section of the fence will run about 30 miles around the municipal boundaries of the Holy City.

Needless to say, even this high-tech buffer is not expected to be foolproof; some terrorists will manage to get past. But the barrier will minimize dangers.

Most important, as one senior Israeli official puts it, “The fence is meant to serve purely as a security barrier, not a permanent political border.” Should a peace treaty be negotiated, the fence could be moved or torn down. The very existence of the fence – some of it on land beyond the old Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank – should provide added impetus for Palestinian negotiators.

In growing numbers, Israelis are convinced that the ultimate answer to conflict with the Palestinians may be separation. If so, and if the Palestinians agree to live in peace with a Jewish state, people and goods could flow freely back and forth across a barrier. But if the Palestinians remain committed to violence and unwilling to coexist, the barrier could be sealed.

The line in Robert Frost's poem is right: “Good fences make good neighbors.”