Israel Banks on a Fence

A pedestrian is reflected in a puddle of water as he walks along the Israeli barrier in al-Ram, on the edge of Jerusalem, Februa
A pedestrian is reflected in a puddle of water as he walks along the Israeli barrier in al-Ram, on the edge of Jerusalem, February 12, 2008. (Mahfouz Abu Turk / Courtesy Reuters)

PEACE THROUGH SEPARATION

Recent public opinion polls show that a growing number of Israeli citizens support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while also believing that a total separation of the two peoples is necessary -- at least for a time. Separation is now seen as so important that a majority of Israelis even favor doing it unilaterally if need be. In the wake of the second intifada, much of the population has lost faith in negotiated solutions.

The same opinion polls indicate that most Israelis now believe that the fastest and most efficient way to achieve the separation they desire is through the erection of an electronic fence, and such a barrier is in fact already under construction. The fence will inevitably lead (at least initially) to an economic divorce between Israel and Palestine, which will create hardship for both sides until each economy becomes more self-reliant. But both peoples seem to favor such a course over living in a binational state that they could not be sure of controlling.

A growing number of Israelis now realize that demographic imperatives, and not just basic justice, dictate a two-state solution. The drastic decline in Jewish immigration to Israel in recent years -- as well as the very high birthrate among Palestinians -- has led population experts to predict that by 2020 or shortly thereafter, there will be an Arab majority in all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. At that point, the land will cease to be "Jewish."

Israel's politicians have been quick to take note of the growing support for a complete division between the two peoples. Amram Mitzna, the new leader of the Labor Party, has called for an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and most of the West Bank, together with the building of a wall. His opponent, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has also backed construction of the fence (albeit reluctantly, and in the wake of mounting public pressure), but without letting go of the settlements.

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