For months CNN has misrepresented the facts of where Israel’s apartheid barrier will run. Repeated interventions by Partners for Peace have only brought marginal improvements. Efforts on November 5-6, however, brought significant change.
On November 5, CNN wrote:
“Israel has already constructed 93 miles (150 km) of the barrier in the north. When finished the barrier will stretch 217 miles (350 km) at an estimated cost of $200 million.”
This simply is not the case. Numerous sources have put the anticipated length of the barrier at 400 miles and Molly Moore in the Washington Post of October 31 — http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A44374-2003Oct30_2.html — cited the Finance Ministry as saying the final cost was expected to be $2.3 billion. Both figures are significantly higher than the totals cited by CNN.
Efforts by Partners for Peace brought the following change from CNN on November 6:
“According to Defense Ministry spokeswoman Rachel Niedak-Ashkenazi, the planned fence route, which has been approved by the government, will be 690 kilometers (429 miles) long. Cost is estimated at $1.5 billion.”
While the cost is not as high as stated in the Washington Post, it is far more accurate than the $200 million figure noted earlier. More importantly, Israeli Defense Ministry spokeswoman Rachel Niedak-Ashkenazi went on record with the highest figure Partners for Peace has seen to date on the anticipated length of the barrier. This is a clear indication that Israel intends to run the barrier right through the Jordan Valley — effectively imprisoning Palestinians not just to the west but to the east as well.
A New York Times map of November 12, provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, indicates, however, that the barrier will reach more than 400 miles before even traversing the Jordan Valley. See http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/12/international/middleeast/12MIDE.html (map at right). The extraordinary depiction highlights the manner in which the barrier relentlessly doubles back on itself as it wends its way across the western portion of the West Bank (as well as the northern and southern reaches). Further information can be found at: http://www.globes.co.il/serveen/globes/docview_archive.asp?did=736547. This article makes clear that Israel does intend at some future juncture to construct an eastern barrier. Readers will note that the total anticipated cost of both the western and eastern barriers is NIS 15 billion (well over $3 billion).
The announced total distance should galvanize the State Department into action. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon clearly intends to reduce Palestinians to an apartheid-like existence in walled or fenced-off bantustans. The State Department has an immediate responsibility to lop $1.5 billion or more from the loan guarantees for the barrier alone (and an additional amount for settlement activity), while making a clear and powerful statement that the barrier inside the West Bank is antithetical to any meaningful peace agreement.
In a frightening turn of timing, General Wesley Clark wrote in the November 7 issue of The Forward that “the fence is not a barrier to the peace process.” In fact, it is a very real threat both to any peace process and to the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. In full, the presidential candidate states:
“Currently, Israel is building a security fence — not because it wants to, but because terrorism has forced its hand. The fence is not a barrier to the peace process. No country can negotiate if the other side believes it has no alternatives. The fence will help contain the terrorist onslaught. It will warn other parties in the Middle East that they need to start negotiating — now. But it is not a sustainable substitute for peace.”
Clark is right that the barrier is not a “sustainable substitute for peace,” but shows a disturbing naivete in not recognizing that Sharon is using the barrier to create what could very well become permanent facts on the ground. Clark’s call for parties in the Middle East to negotiate now contains an implicit threat: Reach agreement with Israel or be responsible for whatever system of apartheid and land seizure Israel forces upon you. A recommended negotiating stance of this sort coming from a presidential candidate is reprehensible. Clark would be on far firmer ground were he defending the construction of a barrier on Israeli territory, but he is not. Instead, he is lending his name to land seizures and apartheid directed at an occupied people.
Israel is most unlikely to spend $1.5-2.3 billion on such a barrier as a temporary measure. This is Sharon’s effort to close off the prospect of a meaningful Palestinian state. The substitution of bantustans for a state, however, will only fly if Sharon can put in place, with tacit support from the Bush administration, a Palestinian regime of quislings. No authentic Palestinian leadership would ever accept isolated enclaves as an outcome.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the standards at the BBC continue to plummet. For weeks the BBC has ignored concerns from Partners for Peace that the news network is understating the length of the barrier by claiming it will be 245 km (150 miles) in length. Once again, this simply is not the case. Perhaps the figure will be the case after the next interim segment of the barrier is completed, but the BBC has a responsibility to indicate in a clear manner the difference between the length of the barrier when partially completed and the anticipated final length. Right now those who get their news from the BBC are left with the impression of a segregation barrier considerably shorter in distance than even Israeli officials are stating.
Within two days of publication of this EI article, the BBC brought its barrier information up to date (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3260855.stm and view the link on the bottom graphic). The cost per kilometer is still low at $1.6 million per kilometer, but the total projected length of the barrier is now far more accurate. It is, however, worth noting that if the barrier is expected to reach more than 400 miles before its eastern portion is even constructed then additional scores of miles will have to be added.