U.S. Involvement in the Region
By April 2002, it was clear that the Middle East was in the throes of a period of violence perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists to which Israel had responded with military force. The military operation came under increasing international fire for delivering only short-term benefits at what seemed to be a disproportionately high human cost on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
It was widely believed in the region and beyond that only involvement by the united States could reduce the level of confrontation and perhaps guide the situation toward peace. In early April, u.S. president Bush gave a speech to that end and then sent his secretary of state, Powell, to the region.
Bush argued that the Palestinians needed to abandon their suicide bombings and other violence, or their hopes for a state could not be realized. The Israelis would have to withdraw their military from the West Bank and recognize that the end of the occupation was essential to peace.
This presaged increased u.S. involvement in the problem. But speaking about peace did not lessen the terrorist attacks against Israel, nor did it convince Israel to cease its military response to terror.On the contrary, in response to President Bush’s speech of April 4, calling on Israel to end its invasion of the West Bank, Israel increased its military force in the area.
Although Bush had stated, “I meant what I said about withdrawal without delay, and I mean what I say when I call upon the Arab world to strongly condemn . . . terrorist activities,” a subsequent delay in Powell’s visit to the region was widely interpreted in the Arab world as giving Sharon additional time to complete his military operations. By late April, Israel began to withdraw from the West Bank cities.
Arafat’s Ramallah confinement ended on May 2, when Israel lifted its 34-day siege of his headquarters. Arafat agreed to compromises with Israel to end stalemates at the Church of the Nativity and at his headquarters in Ramallah. In the former case, he agreed to the exile to Europe of 13 Palestinians regarded as terrorists by Israel; in the latter, he turned over six Palestinian prisoners wanted by Israel to the custody of British and u.S. jailers in the West Bank town of Jericho. On May 13, 2002, for the first time since December 2001, Arafat ventured out of Ramallah and toured some other West Bank cities by helicopter, but the Palestinian crowds that greeted Arafat were small and not especially enthusiastic.
Operation Determined Path
Despite the successes of Israel’s security services in preventing a number of terrorist attacks on Israelis, they could not prevent all violence and terrorism. The surge in attacks after the end of Operation Defensive Shield came as little surprise. Despite Israel’s well-equipped forces and its highly developed intelligence capabilities, its security experts knew they could not stop bombers entirely.
After a grouping of terror attacks in Jerusalem and elsewhere in June, Sharon pledged, based on the recommendations of the security services, to retaliate even more harshly than he did with Defensive Shield. With Operation Determined Path, which began on June 19, 2002, Sharon promised to reoccupy parts of the West Bank ceded to Palestinian control under the Oslo Accords, but not for a matter of days, as in the past, but “as long as terror continues.” On June 19, Israeli troops (including thousands of reservists called up for military service under emergency orders) moved into Palestinian cities. Their goal was to round up terrorists and to disrupt and destroy their infrastructure for future attacks.
On June 23, the office of Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer clarified that Israel had no intention to establish IDF civil-administrative control over the residents of the cities that Israel had taken control of in order to fight terrorism. However, Defensive Shield had ended sooner than many in the security services and the IDF had wanted owing to significant u.S., European, and international pressure.
Although many individuals responsible for terrorism against Israelis at various levels had been arrested or killed, portions of the main terrorist organizations had eluded Israeli forces because of the short and hasty nature of the operation. Determined Path would make up for these lapses by intensifying the counterterrorism operations and placing additional pressure on the PA to stop terrorism.
The Bush Vision
The violence of early June and Israel’s response to it had come at a time and in a manner that threatened to disrupt the Bush administration’s policy. As Bush’s team was preparing a major speech on his administration’s Middle East policy, the suicide bombings continued, and the tone and content of the language of the speech became tougher on the Palestinians, essentially challenging them to achieve their state by exercising their efforts to stop terrorism as the first step. The Bush team determined that it would not criticize Israel’s response.
On June 24, 2002, Bush rearticulated his vision of two states living side by side in peace and security, and reaffirmed his support for a Palestinian state but only if its leadership was not compromised by terrorism: “Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born. . . . I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror.” The approach was that of a threeyear transition period during which there would be an end to terror and the establishment of democratic institutions and financial structures that would be transparent and noncorrupt.
At the end of the transition period there would be secure and recognized borders between Israel and the Palestinian state, and the issues of settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem would have negotiated solutions. Arafat was essentially disqualified as a peace partner and was seen as directly linked to the violence and terrorism that had followed Camp David II. This seemed to match Israel’s perspective. But Bush also called on Israeli forces to withdraw fully to the positions they held prior to September 28, 2000, and demanded that settlement activity in the occupied territories stop, consistent with the Mitchell Committee recommendations.
A Separation Fence
Within the Israeli government there existed two camps supporting different approaches to dealing with terrorism: One supported taking control of the West Bank cities, and the other advocated separation from the Palestinians, which would be accomplished in part by building a separation fence between Israel and the West Bank.
The idea of building a separation fence between Israel and the West Bank had been raised as early as 1995–96 in response to terror attacks and bombings, but it gained greater impetus with the al-Aqsa Intifada. The idea initially faced formidable political hurdles. Fearful that any physical barrier would predetermine future borders, Israeli governments refrained from erecting the integrated system of physical barriers, technological means, armed personnel, and command, control, and monitoring systems that might prevent at least some of the terrorists from entering Israel.
The proposed fence would resemble those constructed on Israel’s border with Jordan, including barriers of coiled barbed wire and trenches, with electronic sensors to detect intruders, as well as a road for military patrols. There would be no mines along the fence. Fence is a somewhat general term for a physical barrier of various forms in different areas or locations.
The exact composition of the separation fence would vary at different points along its length. Where there were Israeli and Palestinian population centers close to each other, it might take the form of a concrete wall that would prevent the infiltration of terrorists as well as afford protection from light arms’ fire. Elsewhere, it could take the form of an electronic fence. under the concept, passage into Israel would only be possible through supervised entry points, and the aim would be to detect and foil any unauthorized attempt to cross into Israel.
As late as December 2001, both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer declared that it would be militarily impossible to put up a defensive wall along the entire length of the Green line separating Israel from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as established by the 1949 armistice agreements. But by midwinter, public-opinion polls showed that nearly 80 percent of the public was in favor of unilateral separation from the Palestinians, even if it entailed the uprooting of isolated settlements in the interior of the West Bank.
left-wing advocates saw separation as a temporary measure, diffusing tension until final-status negotiations could resume but also as a means of ending the occupation. For right-wing supporters, separation would be the final status, determining the country’s security borders and ensuring a united Jerusalem under Israeli rule. A somewhat informal “fence now” movement began to appear in early 2002 with bumper stickers in Israel: “A Protective Fence, the Only Way.”
In April 2002, the government decided to construct a fence along part of the Green line between Israel and the West Bank. On June 23, the government authorized the first stage of the project, involving 115 kilometers (71 miles) of fence. The cost was estimated at about $1 million per kilometer. Sharon and Ben-Eliezer repeatedly emphasized that this was “a security fence,” with no political implications or intentions. The fence was constructed to roughly parallel the border inside the West Bank, with changes to incorporate some Israeli settlements. Its primary aim was to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into Israel from areas controlled by the PA.
Opposition to building the fence centered on a number of themes ranging from financial to political reasons. Some opponents argued that the fence would be very expensive; others argued that it would not necessarily stop terrorists from infiltrating into Israel. Some believed that it would be perceived as a unilateral Israeli demarcation of a political border between Israel and a Palestinian state, which would generate protests by Arabs and by Israelis who believe that the West Bank is part of the biblical prophecy and oppose any compromise of that territory.
Many on the Right, including members of Sharon’s own party, resisted the idea of a separation fence arguing that it would convey the political message that Israel was willing to accept a line close to the pre-1967 Green line as its future border with a Palestinian state and manifest a willingness to abandon the settlers in settlements located on the Palestinian side of the fence. Despite these concerns, however, Sharon could not stop the building of the fence because of public pressure and his inability to present another effective security solution.
The fence had many weaknesses. The line demarcating the West Bank was long (307 kilometers, or 190 miles), and the topography was complex and varied considerably from one sector to another. Moreover, densely populated areas of Israel often were close to Palestinian-populated areas, such as was the case in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, which had been the venue of the largest number of suicide bombings, was even more complex, given its mosaic of neighborhoods where effective separation would be practically impossible.