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Israel revives plan to separate from Palestinians

JERUSALEM, June 5 (JTA) — Israel marked the 34th anniversary of its stunning victory in the 1967 Six-Day War this week, but the nation is still plagued with its consequences.

Dan Meridor, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, recalled how neither end of the political spectrum was able to deal with the war’s outcome.

The right wanted to annex the territories; the left wanted to withdraw. Neither side was able to follow through on its wish.

As a result, Meridor said this week, Israel deferred the issue of drawing a border with Palestinian lands.

The interim agreements forged with the Palestinian Authority during the Oslo peace process purposely deferred the issue until the two sides had created enough mutual trust to tackle the most difficult questions — including borders.

But any trust that had been established between the two sides since the Oslo process began in 1993 was dissolved with the eruption of Israeli- Palestinian violence last September.

And now, following a suicide bombing last Friday that claimed the lives of 20 Israelis, there are growing calls within the Jewish state for Israel to fence off the West Bank.

The suicide bomber had traveled to Tel Aviv after evading military checkpoints separating Israel from the West Bank.

The idea of fencing off the West Bank was raised during former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s term.

He advocated total separation from the Palestinians if peace negotiations, which became deadlocked before the violence began last fall, remained frozen.

Some had argued at the time against the idea, because a fence could be seen as an acceptance of the border that existed before the 1967 war.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has refrained from embracing his predecessor’s separation plan, which included a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from isolated Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

His spokesman, Ra’anan Gissin, dismissed the fence idea this week.

“You can’t cut off the territories with a fence and hope it will work,” Gissin said Tuesday.

“It’s a very long and winding border. You would have to build about” 600 miles of fences, he said.

Instead, Sharon is currently eyeing an Israel Defense Force plan for creating a security zone — as wide as five miles in some areas — that would have the 1967 line between Israel and the West Bank as its western border.

Many of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank would fall within the planned zone, whose eastern border would fall near Palestinian-controlled areas.

Located within the zone would be physical obstacles such as trenches, as well as lookout posts and electronic and thermal detection devices.

The estimated cost, according to the army: $250 million.

Critics like Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister, argue that the cost will be much higher.

IDF officials hope that by using aerial reconnaissance and increased ground patrols the zone would greatly enhance security.

The idea is not new. A similar plan was proposed by former Internal Security Minister Moshe Shahal following a series of terror attacks in early 1996.

Under his plan, Palestinians would not be allowed to work inside Israel — a move that could now prove devastating to the faltering Palestinian economy.

Even as the idea of separation is reviving, opponents are raising their voices loud and clear.

Likud legislator Gideon Ezra charged that a separation plan, no matter how carefully planned, will prove ineffective.

“What will you do here if you have 10 simultaneous penetrations?” he asked. “Will you fight the infiltrators within Israeli cities?”

Ezra said the billions of shekels that would be invested in the plan would be a total waste of money.

“I will do everything possible to prevent investing money under stress, an investment which will not bring about the desired results,” he said.

Sneh said the main obstacle to the plan would be the settlers, who would be caught within the newly created security zone.

He said the zone — reminiscent of the one Israel maintained in southern Lebanon until May of last year — would be an area in which settlers and soldiers would be the target of Palestinian militants.

But supporters of the idea, like Likud legislator Michael Eitan, argue that it is better than having suicide bombers strike in Tel Aviv.

Columnist Dan Margalit wrote last week in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz that the fence could serve as a valuable tool in future negotiations with the Palestinians. The fence will send a message to the Palestinians, he wrote: If the two sides negotiate and come to an agreement, the fence can be removed. As long as you do not negotiate, the fence will remain in place.

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