How to Build a Fence

PARTITION WITHOUT PARTNERSHIP

The idea of a fence separating Israelis and Palestinians is, on one level, an admission of failure. Yet it is also realistic: with little trust between the two sides and a history of bitterness and bloodshed, a negotiated partition is out of reach (at least for the foreseeable future). Israel's decision to build a "separation barrier," therefore, makes sense, given that a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians favor a two-state solution that includes an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank -- but they don't know how to make this happen. Israelis do not trust the Palestinian Authority (PA) to fulfill its security obligations and halt terrorist attacks, and Palestinians remain convinced that Israel will never voluntarily cede the West Bank and Gaza.

A properly constructed fence could cut through these problems and facilitate a final agreement. A poorly constructed barrier, however, would impede such an end. The United States should therefore back a version of the fence that boosts Israeli security without unduly hurting the Palestinians or foreclosing a future return to diplomacy. Washington should also support vigorous, innovative moves to minimize whatever Palestinian suffering even a legitimate fence would cause. And the United States must oppose Israeli fence plans that focus more on politics than on security.

A properly constructed fence could achieve multiple objectives: reduce violence by limiting the infiltration of suicide bombers into Israel, short-circuit the deadlock on achieving a two-state solution, advance the debate in Israel about the future of most settlements, and perhaps even provide an incentive for Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. Even without negotiation, the fence would function as a provisional border and could be modified in the future if Palestinians make real progress in halting terrorism against Israel and agree to restart talks.

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