On the fence

Yesterday, I “questioned the wisdom” of Ariel Sharon’s intention to unilaterally pull out of a portion of the West Bank. I tried to choose my language carefully (questioning the decision rather than denouncing it) because there is an obvious argument in favor of a pullback, namely that the border established will be more defensible than the current de facto one.
Our frequent correspondent, Dafydd ab Hugh, makes this argument in an e-mail. He contends that the current borders, in fact, are indefensible; that the fence line represents a major improvement in that regard; and that, without the constant irritant of Jewish settlements on the “Palestinian side” of the fence, many Arabs eventually will accept the border and forget that Jews live on the other side of it. He acknowledges that Israel will take a PR hit and that Hamas and Hezbollah will claim partial victory and profit in terms of recruiting. But he argues that these groups will be unable to translate this into much success in killing Jews, given the protection of the new border.
I believe Mr. ab Hugh may be overstating both the extent to which the status quo is indefensible and the extent to which the new borders will reduce terrorism. As to the first point, for example, I tend to think that, with the security fence and the use of aggressive tactics, the current set-up is defensible in the short and probably the medium term. As to the second point, who really knows? Sharon’s approach puts Israel in a more defensive crouch. Maybe that’s the place to be, maybe it isn’t.
Nonetheless, if the only issue were the comparative security of two boundaries, I would defer to Sharon and his advisers. My concern stems mostly from my doubt that this pullback will establish a permanent or long-term boundary. I fear that the national and international dynamic is such that Israel is trapped in an extended “engagement” or “process” with the Palestinians such that Sharon’s unilateral action will not be the final word. Before too long, some unfortunate combination of U.S. president and Israeli prime minister will likely cause Israel to return to the negotiating table. At that point, Israel’s pullback may amount to having given up something for nothing, leaving Israel in an inferior position.
I am comforted, though, by the unhappiness of Washington Post and our State Department over Sharon’s approach. This suggests to me that, on balance, Sharon may be on to something.


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