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Ariel and the Fence

October 1, 2003 - The security fence Israel is now in the process of building is a subject of great controversy. It has been the target of much disingenuous political sloganeering, including the label "apartheid wall." But the purpose of the fence is not to enclose Palestinians within a "ghetto," but to keep terrorists away from Israeli towns and cities. Those who make the charge of apartheid routinely ignore the very reason for the fence's being: the long series of bloody attacks against Israeli civilians. Attacking the existence of the fence makes sense only if the lives of those civilians do not matter.

There is, however, a legitimate argument about the location of the fence. If the placement of the fence makes a viable Palestinian state impossible, then it will serve neither Palestinian nor Israeli interests. The location of the fence is crucial.

Israel is facing some tough choices: if it goes ahead with the fence, should that fence enclose any of the settlements already established on the West Bank? If the fence cuts too far to the East it will include many Palestinians on the Israeli side, something neither side really wants. But if it adheres strictly to the Green Line (pre-1967 border), it will exclude some major settlements that will be very difficult to evacuate.

Right now the settlement of Ariel, actually a small city of about 18,000 southeast of Qalqilya, is at the center of the dispute. The U.S. has been pressuring Israel to leave Ariel outside the fence. At first it seemed that Israel would comply, but according to recent reports, current plans are to bring Ariel inside. Israel is having a tough time defending this decision, and it may not yet be final.

However, it may be possible to justify keeping Ariel inside the fence and even to see it as a step towards a comprehensive settlement.

The Clinton/Barak plan of 2000 would have included Ariel as part of Israel, with an equivalent amount of land from Israel given to the Palestinians to make it an even trade. In a new article David Makovsky points this out, observing that 75% of the West Bank settlers live in clusters close to the Green Line comprising just 5% of the West Bank. They can be incorporated into Israel with an appropriate land swap to compensate the Palestinians.

Of course, using this argument to justify fencing Ariel in would require a commitment to the Clinton/Barak plan. This is an idea worth considering. The plan made sense three years ago and it makes sense today. The Palestinians have no moral basis for objecting to the plan, since instead of proposing any alternative they broke off negotiations and began a war that has lasted three years and caused so much death and bloodshed on both sides. It could be very much in the interests of both sides if both the Roadmap and the fence were used to implement the Clinton/Barak plan, which should have put an end to hostilities three years ago.

To make this work Israel would have to show signs of being serious about dismantling settlements outside the borders of this plan. Such action might go a long way towards promoting the interests of peace, and at the very least make it difficult for the Palestinians to justify continuing their war. The fence must be built in such a way as to make possible a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. If such a rationale for building the fence is adopted and made clear, it will be difficult to raise any credible objection.


Makovsky, David. "The 5 Percent Solution." Foreign Policy, September/October 2003.

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