Back to barbed wire and separation walls mentality

Above: An Israeli soldier watches while a construction crew puts part of Israel’s Aparthied Wall in place near Qalqiliya. (Ronald de Hommel)

Recently, we have been witnessing a raging debate about the separation wall which Israel has been building around itself, to prevent further Palestinian “suicide attacks.” But the wall will also include the settlements and the bypass roads built during the interim period under the Oslo accords, to link them with Israel — the interim period which was ostensibly intended to build confidence, not additional annexation facts on the ground — and the land which Israel claims is necessary for security, therefore slicing huge chunks of Arab Palestinian lands to add to Israel in a purely illegal unilateral measure.

Apart from the obvious reality that the wall will fail to achieve its alleged purpose, the prevention of further violence, whether in the form of suicide bombings or otherwise; it creates a countless number of complications which render any talk, let alone hope, of progress to peace totally utterly pointless.

If the wall is intended to completely separate Arabs from Jews, then it will either require the cleansing of 1.25 million Arab Israeli living in Israel to realise the solely Jewish nature of the state, most lately endorsed by the American president in Aqaba; or the admission that the wall has many more sinister and hidden long-term objectives than what has unconvincingly been claimed.

The idea of separation should also require a drastic change in Israeli attitudes, of abandoning the ghetto and the fortress mentality in favour of blending well in a normal and friendly Arab environment. One of the most basic grounds on which any future peace can be built, and which Israel in particular has been fiercely insisting upon as constant conditions for any peace with its Arab neighbours, is open borders for people and goods to cross freely in both directions. This is specifically supposed to destroy psychological walls of fear and separation, and create normal relations in an peaceful climate.

One of the major difficulties which held up and prolonged the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks in the late 1970s, was Israel’s relentless persistence in demanding full peace relations with Egypt, including, not only diplomatic recognition and relations, but also wide open borders, cultural and trade relations, tourism, joint ventures and full-fledged economic and any other form of cooperation in every possible area of human activity.

The Israelis never wanted to exclude any aspect of full normalisation from its treaties with the Arab countries. The counter argument — that normal peaceful relations between countries do currently exist, as they always existed, without necessarily exchanging resident or nonresident diplomatic envoys, and even without necessarily establishing diplomatic relations — was never accepted by the Israelis. Neither did they ever accept as a basis for peace Security Council Resolution 242’s stipulation of “termination of all claims or states of belligerency.”

The same situation was exactly repeated during the Jordanian-Israeli peace negotiations which culminated, as the previous talks with Egypt did, with a full peace treaty.

During the intermittent peace talks with Syria, which are yet to be concluded, the standard Israeli demand of full peace and full normalisation was always on top of its negotiating agenda

Additionally, the Israeli quest for pre-peace relations with the Arab countries ancillary to the conflict, which was pursued in the multilateral talks on certain regional issues such as security, water, refugees, the environment and tourism; and in the Middle East and North Africa economic summits, equally aimed at the same target of treating Israel and dealing with it as an integral part of the region, and never as an alien transplant.

Now with much of this already realised — and had it not been for the repeated failures of the peace attempts and the poor peace yield so far, much more would have been — the Israelis reverse the course, revert to the ghetto mentality, seek total exclusion, full separation and complete isolation from the Arabs behind the wall under construction.

The wall is certainly a very bad idea. It will never effectively serve any of Israel’s security needs or concerns, because it is the ability of the two peoples to live together, and the creation of suitable conditions to enable them to do so — rather than the erection of walls of hate and discrimination — that will produce and preserve the awaited peace.

The wall further contradicts everything logical, everything human, and everything right — more so for the Israelis than the Palestinians. More serious is the real danger that this wall will undo every modest achievement the peace process has managed to accomplish so far. It will destroy, beyond repair, the fragile bridges of reconciliation and confidence, not only with the Palestinians, but with the entire Arab region, and Israel will be the primary loser.

It is true that the wall will cause tremendous harm to the Palestinians as well. It will further fragment their land. It will create immense hardships by separating people from each other, and by separating them from the extremely scarce means of their livelihood — their land and their water. It will isolate small Palestinian communities from any surrounding environment and physically cut them off from any outside contact.

This is all serious and extremely discouraging. The most serious of all, though, is the message that the Israeli insistence to continue the building is sending, with or without the meaningless modifications the Israelis are trying to pacify the Americans with. It is a loud and a clear message that Israel continues to turn its back on any peace with the Palestinians. By building the wall Israel is not only unilaterally drawing its borders with the little left for the Palestinians, it is actually building them in the form of a high and defiant wall, at a time when historic walls, when not violently destroyed, are kept only as monuments and antiquities.

So long as there is Israeli injustice inflicted upon the Palestinians, so long as Israel intends to maintain and even increase such injustice, and so long as there is Israeli failure to cope with legitimate Palestinian anger and indeed fierce resistance, the only option left for Israel maybe is to build a wall.

Hiding behind the wall, no matter how high it is, and how strong, will only confirm the fact that Israel is outlawing itself by its unlawful behaviour. Hiding, as we learnt from past and recent history, only delays punishment but never prevents it.

The writer is former ambassador of Jordan to the UN. This article first appeared in The Jordan Times on 13 August 2003.