Israel's President:
"Israel should stop building the security fence .if the terror ends"

Published: 22 December 2004
Briefing Number 123



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Summary:
This Briefing highlights the recent statement by Israel’s President Moshe Katsav that if Palestinian terrorism ends, Israel would like to stop building its security fence. This statement has been supported by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office. Palestinian violence brought the fence about. In the post-Arafat era, a Palestinian end to violence could make the fence irrelevant.

Background – the security fence in Israeli and international politics

In 2002, the Israeli Government decided to build the security fence. Its purpose was stated to be to prevent Palestinian terrorists from the West Bank from attacking Israeli civilians (see Beyond Images Briefing 73). The decision was reluctantly taken: for many months, the Government had avoided going ahead.

Much has changed since 2002. Israeli military activities have reduced the ability of Palestinian groups to launch terror attacks. In areas where the fence has been completed, the number of attacks against Israelis has lowered dramatically, contributing to the wide support among the Israeli public for the fence. Yasser Arafat is no alive. And the current Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has stated that Palestinian violence since 2000 was “a mistake”.

The route of the fence, and the speed of its construction, are each being heavily influenced by Israeli court decisions upholding Palestinian rights, but the fence is steadily progressing (see Beyond Images Briefing 119).

On the international front the fence has been subject to widespread criticism. It has been condemned in diplomatic forums, and repeatedly at the UN. An advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice has held the fence to be illegal under international law (see Beyond Images Briefing 101).

Israeli President Katsav’s challenge to the Palestinians

Israeli President Moshe Katsav has now issued a challenge to the Palestinians regarding the fence: stop terrorism, and Israel should stop building the fence.
His comments were made in an interview with leading Israeli newspaper
Ma’ariv on 25 November 2004 (but were hardly reported internationally).

President Katsav said: “both the Israelis and the Palestinians have an interest in stopping construction of the fence. It costs us a lot of money, puts international pressure on us and creates legal problems. If the Palestinians would stop the terror, we would have no interest in continuing to build the fence…”

Katsav is a widely respected mainstream voice in Israel. And Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s spokesman confirmed that Katsav’s view was that of the Prime Minister. The spokesman continued: “the fence is a temporary security border, and not a political one…. if a real partner emerges that puts an end to terror, the fence – which was built to reduce terror – will become irrelevant….” (spokesman’s comments reported in Jerusalem Post, 26 November 2004).

Conclusion: The fence came into being as a result of Palestinian violence. An end to that violence could mean the end of the fence. There would have to be a long-term cessation in violence, rather than a tactical pause, for Israel to stop the fence, because its construction is a long-term project, not an overnight measure. Nonetheless, Katsav’s comments are a reminder of two things. Firstly, the fence is not motivated by territorial expansion: if it were, why would Israel be proposing to stop it? And secondly, the future of the security fence is essentially in the hands, not of Israeli planners, but of the Palestinians.

Related Resources:

Briefing 73 – the case for Israel’s security fence
Briefing 101 – the International Court of Justice and the security fence
Briefing 113 - the security fence and Palestinian rights