Thursday, August 07, 2003
By contrast, I haven't commented on the latest fracas over Israel's security fence because . . . it's complicated.
People should realize two things. First, this spat is quite limited; the U.S. has a longstanding policy of opposing Israel's settlement policy, and has deducted spending on settlements from our loan guarantees for a while as well. All this spat is about in money terms is whether the fence will be counted as spending on settlements for this purpose. American objections are not going to stop the fence going up, and I doubt they'll significantly affect its contours. The American position is *not* that Israel has no legitimate claim to the territories, but rather that Israel should not prejudice the outcome of negotiations by creating "facts on the ground" through settlements. Ditto for the fence: America has no inherent objection to the fence, but objects to putting the fence on the other side of the Green Line to keep Israeli settlements on the inside, protected, rather than on the outside, and vulnerable.
Second, the whole business about where the fence goes and objections thereto really boils down to two places: Ariel and the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley has only a small number of people living in it, Jews or Arabs; the reason Israel needs a presence there is twofold: to deter attack from the East (from Jordan or, historically more likely, from Iraq through Jordan) and to protect *Jordan* from the Palestinians. The first reason is less pressing than it used to be, but it's still early innings; in the context of an actual peace with Iraq (and Syria) it would be much less pressing, but right now it's appropriate for Israel to hedge her bets. The second reason is much more problematic; Jordan officially says it wants no such protection, but Jordan has not been terribly helpful in dealing with the Palestinians in the context of the Oslo war, so it's hard to know what to make of their official stance. I have long maintained that there is no solution to the Palestinian problem without the very active participation of Jordan, and therefore ultimately a fence between Jordan and the Palestinian entity, whatever it turns out to be, is counterproductive; we want the Jordanians involved, not walled off. But they have to agree to get involved, which they haven't. So, like I said, this aspect is problematic.
Ariel is a different story. Ariel is one of four real, genuine, difficult territorial problems in dealing with any kind of separation. (The four problems are: (1) the Palestinian cities that are "too close" to Israeli cities - Tulkarem, Qalqilyeh and Jenin - and therefore ever-present security risks; (2) Hebron, a large Palestinian city with a tiny Jewish population, each hating the other, and a city with an important holy site to both Judaism and Islam; (3) the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the Islamic holy places on the Temple Mount; (4) Ariel.) Ariel is a problem because it was built - deliberately - deep inside Samaria, and is therefore very difficult to annex to Israel without cutting a swathe out of what Palestinians see as their future state territory. Every proposal from the Israelis - and the Clinton proposal as well - has annexed Ariel to Israel; it is not a subject for serious negotiation on the Israeli side, for two reasons. First, because Ariel is a real city, with over 20,000 citizens; this is not an isolated settlement outpost built recently but a Jewish city of decades. Second, because Ariel's existence provides Israel with strategic depth at close to Israel's narrowest point. It gives Israel a position on the heights of Samaria and makes it far less likely that enemy armies could establish themselves in Samaria before Israel had time to react. Nonetheless, while it's not a topic of serious negotiation on the Israeli side, it's a commonplace on the Palestinian side - and among their sympathizers in Europe and America - that Ariel will be inherited by the Palestinians, not the Jews, and that Israel is therefore foolish for spending any money on the town.
Excluding Ariel from the protection of the separation fence is really a non-starter on the Israeli side. It would amount to a concession that Ariel is "in play" and no one thinks it is. It would topple the government. But including Ariel on the Israeli side of the fence means building the fence deep into Samaria, and does look like the unilateral drawing of a border to include maximal (plausible) Israeli claims.
How's this going to hash out in the end? I think Israel is going to lose some money and build the fence where it wants. Israel is not obliged by the Road Map to cease from building the fence, and Bush is not going to seriously strongarm them over this issue. But he'll cut some money as a geture to the other side that he is genuinely even-handed. Am I pleased? No. Am I worried? Not really. Not about this.