Keep building the wall

Posted: Sep 17, 2003 12:00 AM

Israel has temporarily dodged another bullet -- this one from its closest ally. Angered that Israel won't abandon plans to build a 360-mile security fence to keep out Palestinian terrorists, the United States has threatened to withhold partial payment on loan guarantees Israel needs to boost its terrorist-ravaged economy. For the time being, the Bush administration says it won't deduct the money from the initial payment of $1.6 billion but may do so against future payments of the $9 billion in U.S. loan guarantees. This pressure comes perilously close to blackmail.

Israel should not give up its plans to build a secure barrier between itself and those who want to destroy the tiny nation. In the last three years, some 900 Israelis have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists. To understand what these numbers mean, imagine that the United States had experienced not one attack on September 11, but 14 such attacks, resulting in the loss of some 42,000 Americans. Given the scale of the carnage Israel has suffered, what right have we to tell the Israelis they can't build a fence?

Short of all-out war on the Palestinians, a security barrier between Israel and the Palestinian territories may be the only way to prevent future attacks. A similar wall separating Gaza has prevented any terrorists from launching attacks on Israel from there.

So far, Israel has built about 90 miles of the so-called fence, which is really a 25-foot high concrete barricade along many stretches and a razor-wire barrier, equipped with electric sensors and cameras at other points.

Make no mistake, the issue in the Middle East is not whether Palestinians deserve their own state, or under what conditions and within what boundaries. The issue is whether Israel has a right to exist, and whether Israelis have the right to live free from the murderous attacks of their neighbors.

Nothing that has happened in the last 56 years suggests that the Palestinians' real aim is simply political autonomy in a state of their own. Every time they have been offered a state, they have rejected the terms, from 1948 to the present "Road Map." The Palestinians want a nation, all right. It's called Israel. To believe otherwise is to ignore history.

The main objections to the Israeli security fence center on two issues: its parameters and its effect on the economic viability of a future Palestinian state. The first issue could be negotiated between the parties. But in the absence of honest partners with whom to negotiate, Israel should keep building. Every country has the right to defend itself by peaceful means -- and putting up a wall to keep out terrorists is certainly within that right. If, at some future point, new borders are agreed upon, the wall can be moved.

The second objection is in some ways the more difficult to overcome. Despite billions of dollars in aid from the United States and the international community, the Palestinian people remain impoverished. More than 115,000 Palestinians have lost their jobs in Israel since the beginning of the current Intifada in 2000 because they cannot freely travel from the territories to their jobs.

This is not Israel's problem, but the Palestinians'. Their corrupt leaders have been unable or unwilling to provide jobs for them in the territories -- except in building more suicide bombs. The formation of a Palestinian state won't do anything to create jobs for Palestinians. And Israel would be better off not depending on Palestinian labor in the future. If Israel must import labor, why not do so from countries like Mexico, or Guatemala, or El Salvador, whose workers have already demonstrated their willingness to take enormous risks and travel great distances in search of jobs?

"Before I built a wall, I'd ask to know/ What I was walling in or walling out," the poet Robert Frost once wrote. Israel's fence may never make good neighbors of the Palestinians, but it will wall out the murderers among them.