ISRAELI WALL TO ENCIRCLE PALESTINE
Sharon accused of turning territories into huge prison
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Tuesday March 18, 2003
Ariel Sharon has told his cabinet that he plans to extend the "security fence" Israel is building along the length of the West Bank so that it entirely encircles any Palestinian state.
The revelation, which follows the Israeli government's decision to oppose full independence for Palestine in favour of a state with "certain attributes of sovereignty", immediately drew fire from the Palestinians who accused the Israeli prime minister of trying to turn the occupied territories into a huge prison.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army killed 10 Palestinians, including a four-year-old girl, in a raid on a Gaza refugee camp yesterday.
Hanan Ansar and two teenagers were among those killed as tanks and helicopters led an assault on Nusseirat camp in search of wanted Palestinians and to destroy the homes of "terrorists".
Mr Sharon dropped what is being called a political bombshell on Sunday while taking his cabinet on a secret tour of the fence, which is a six-metre (20ft) wall topped with barbed wire and lined with guard towers in many places.
The 230-mile wall and fence already under construction will extend the length of the West Bank, creeping deep inside Palestinian territory for long stretches. It will almost surround at least one, and probably two, cities.
Now Mr Sharon is proposing to link the two ends of the fence already under construction with an additional section along the length of the Jordan valley. But he denied it was intended to define the borders of a Palestinian state ahead of the implementation of the American "road map".
"A fence is not a political border. It is not a security border but rather another means to assist in the war against terror, and greatly assist in stopping illegal aliens," Mr Sharon said.
The move was condemned by the Palestinians who said it would effectively turn any future state into a prison with the Israelis controlling access.
"This just confirms that the wall is not to separate the West Bank from Israelis, it's to separate Palestinians into their reservation," said Michael Tarazi of the PLO's negotiations support unit. "It means that the Israelis will take con trol of our border with Jordan and what remains of the best agricultural land we have. The wall near the green line has already taken a lot of our best land and now they are going to do the same with what remains in the Jordan valley.
"If they think this is going to create a 'fact on the ground' that they don't want to remove, that would kill any chance of a negotiated settlement."
The first 80-mile stretch of wall and fence, running north from near the city of Qalqiliya, is nearly complete and expected to be turned over to the control of the army in July.
By the end of the year a second section enclosing the entire northern border of the West Bank should be finished and work will then concentrate on the southern part of the Palestinian territories around Jerusalem and Hebron.
The new section planned by Mr Sharon would link the wall near Hebron with the barrier in the far north of the West Bank by running the full length of the Jordan valley.
Jeff Halper, a respected documenter of Israeli expansion in the occupied territories, said it was hard to justify building a wall through the Jordan valley as a protection against terrorism.
"If you're talking in terms of terrorism from the Palestinian side, there's not much to attack in the Jordan valley. It's not like the wall on the other side where you've got Israel," he said.
"So it's hard not to conclude that they are using the wall to create a de facto border that basically reduces the West Bank to the 45% or 50% that Sharon is talking about giving the Palestinians, all truncated."
The Israeli government portrays the wall as a temporary measure to contain attacks within its 1967 borders until there is a political settlement.
But Mr Tarazi questions whether Israel will find the political will to tear down the wall, given that it has the support of all the major parties.
"Anything is reversible if you have a will. The question is whether there is any on the part of Israel," he said.