393. "But Remember, Good Fences Always Make for Good Neighbors." Los Angeles Times (June 26, 2002) p A13.
President Bush has offered a fine plan that, at best, will take years to implement. For now, a fence will make all the difference.
Critics argue that the barrier to cars and people that is being constructed roughly along the pre-1967 line "will not stop the suicide bombers" which is quite true. But it will greatly reduce their number and impact.
Cars loaded with explosives will be unable to cross it, and individuals are likely to be detected by cameras, censors, and patrols. Such a fence already surrounds Gaza. Next to no suicide bombers come into that region, despite that it is teeming with bitter, well-armed, Palestinians. Such separation also helped pacify the border with Lebanon.
There is, in effect, a widely held informal understanding that one day there will be a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, that hopefully will live in peace with Israel. Its borders, it is widely expected, would be more or less along the pre-1967 line (following some land swaps for security reasons). The new fence, in effect, recognizes this basis for a settlement and is a strong albeit indirect signal that the Sharon government is moving away from the notions of a Greater Israel, to encompass the West Bank.
The fence is no cure-all. It would not run all the way up and down Israel, especially because placing it in or around Jerusalem raises extremely difficult political issues.
Palestinians complain that the fence in some places separates some of their villages from one another and extends their travel time. Presumably they could learn to live with such an inconvenience as an alternative to being re-occupied by Israeli tanks and troops.
Given that greatly reducing the attacks by suicide bombers is the most important prerequisite for any serious movement toward a political solution, the fence should be hailed rather maligned.
Amitai Etzioni is a professor at George Washington University and author of The Spirit of Community (Simon and Schuster, 1994).