Israel's Apartheid Wall: what it is and what it isn't

Via Cursor, we get this link to an article by Brendan O'Neill at spiked-online on the Apartheid Wall that Israel is building inside of the West Bank.

O'Neill makes a few good points in his article. However, it is clear that he is laboring over a number of major misconceptions on how the Wall fits into Israeli strategy in the West Bank. I will briefly point out a few below (briefly, due to a series of technical mishaps which caused a long post on the same topic to disappear). Readers may use the handy map to the left of the Wall's actual and proposed routes, taken from Gush Shalom, for reference.

O'Neill claims that
...America's veto of the resolution, which was tabled by Syria's pro-Palestinian ambassador to the UN, was not the all-out defence of its 'old friend' Israel that many have claimed. Rather, the Americans argued that the resolution was 'unbalanced' and 'failed to draw attention to Palestinian terrorism'. The Bush administration, like the UN, the European Union and many others around the world, has in fact been critical of Israel's fence...
This is pure smokescreen and propaganda. Lack of "balance" is always the stated reason why the US blocks resolutions critical of Israel. The fact that it cited this as a reason this time has no bearing on whether or not it actually opposes the Wall.

The Bush administration may "oppose" the Wall, but it does so merely for tactical political reasons. It does not oppose the Wall on principle. It hasn't taken one concrete step to prevent its construction, and if the Israeli government went ahead and built the Wall along a route that the US did not approve of, the US would not do anything to stop it (and neither would the EU and Russia).

O'Neill's argument about the outside management of the "peace process", particularly by the US, is also curious. On the contrary, the US's main role in the "peace process" has been to block outside interference, leaving the weak Palestinians at the mercy of their overwhelmingly wealthier and more powerful neighbor.

But the biggest problem with O'Neill's analysis is the exact role of the Apartheid Wall:
If Israel's fence is not the deviation from the peace process that many claim it is, nor is it an expression of Israel's 'imperialist ambitions' over Palestine. Rather, the fence looks like a fearful and defensive measure on Israel's part, driven more by a sense of isolation than conquest. Many of Israel's critics claim that the fence is a 'land grab', showing Israel's determination to dominate the Middle East. The fence certainly cuts into West Bank territory along its path, deeply in parts, in order to include some Jewish settlements on the 'Israeli side'. But it also represents the negation of Israel's historic territorial claims over Palestinian territory.

Until recently, the revisionist Zionism of what is now Ariel Sharon's ruling Likud Party talked up the creation of a 'Greater Israel' - with claims over the East Bank of the river Jordan (in Jordan) as well as over the West Bank. Likud's party line was that 'the state of Israel has rights and claims to sovereignty over Judea, Samaria [meaning the West Bank] and the Gaza sector', emphasising that 'under no conditions shall a Palestinian state be established'.

Now, Likud rulers have effectively ditched these territorial claims by building a fence between Israel as it currently exists and the West Bank, offering a tacit political recognition, and a powerful physical recognition, of Palestinian territory. Consequently, it isn't only Palestinians in the West Bank, whose villages and livelihoods are being torn apart, who oppose the fence. So do hawkish Israelis, concerned that the fence will undermine Israel's 'sovereign territory' and give Palestinian claims to statehood too much legitimacy.
Unfortunately, for O'Neill, the only way that this explanation of the Wall can be described is "preposterous".

O'Neill's confusion is apparent in the fact that he can claim that Israel is "building a fence between Israel as it currently exists and the West Bank" while at the same time maintaining that the Wall "certainly cuts into West Bank territory along its path, deeply in parts..." (emphases added). Which is it? It can't be both. If taking land wasn't an issue, and "security" and "separation" were the only issues (the two functions that the Israeli "left", who came up with the idea of the Wall, originally envisioned it fulfilling), then Israel would be building the Wall on Israeli land along the Green Line and would not be cutting of the West Bank from Jordan, neither of which is the case. So, clearly, stealing land (for agriculture, water and, perhaps most importantly, for ideological reasons) is a consideration in the Wall's construction.

O'Neill's argument that "hawkish Israelis" oppose the fence is incorrect. The settlers, the most hawkish Israelis, opposed the fence when the idea was to build it along the Green Line, which would have both cut off their colonies from the homeland and also provided a tacit admission that Israel's international border was on the 1948 cease-fire line. But now, since this is not the case, settlers no longer oppose the Wall and are demanding that their settlements be included within it.

But, in fact, the entire Apartheid Wall is more offensive than defensive. The idea that Israel is "negating" its "historic territorial claims" over the West Bank by building the Wall is not sustainable. In the short term, it allows Israel to maintain as much control over the West Bank as possible, while keeping the Palestinian population physically, and hence legally, separated from the Israeli state. In the longer term, the Wall will serve as an implement of "transfer" by cutting off Palestinian communities from the resources (physical and social) they need. In the words of Gush Shalom, the Wall "is an intention of quiet ethnic cleansing, the sort that cannot be photographed, but is nevertheless as effective and devastating (what this will look like in real life can already be seen in Hebron). The Apartheid Wall will almost freeze Palestinian movement and growth, but it will not reduce Israel's ability to act in Palestinian areas at all: attack helicopters will be able to fly over the wall, tanks and soldiers will be able to pour through the Wall's gates and put any population center under curfew at any time, and bulldozers will be able to drive through and raze large parts of towns and refugee camps to the ground, as has already happened at Jenin and now at Rafah.

So what is the Apartheid Wall? It is the perimeter of a prison, the world's largest, whose only criterion for inmates is that they be ethnic Palestinians who live in the West Bank. Prisoners behind walls at places like Folsom and San Quentin and Sing Sing do not enjoy "sovereignty" or self-determination, even though they far outnumber and occupy more space than the guards who control them. No one in their right mind would ever claim that when the US built these prisons, it was offering the inmates "tacit political recognition" and "powerful physical recognition" of "prisoner territory". Why make such claims for a people that will be entirely surrounded by a wall, minefields, and razor-wire? The Apartheid Wall is turning the West Bank into a giant maximum security penitentiary, even if it dwarfs any other prison in the history of the world. Claiming that the this new prison wall offers its Palestinian inmates any kind of advantage, and that its builders are constructing it from a position of weakness, is completely absurd.

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