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W. Bank settlement head at GI conference on the separation barrier: "I would evacuate my home for peace"

14/05/2008: W. Bank settlement head at GI conference on the separation barrier: "I would evacuate my home for peace"
Date: 14.05.08

On Wednesday, May 14th, Geneva Initiative held a conference entitled: "The Separation Barrier and the Political Process - How Decisions are Made and where they Lead."

The conference, held at the Giv'atayim Theatre in Gi'vatayim, honored of the publication of "The Wall of Folly," by GI signatory Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli and Adv. Michael Sfard.

In addition to the two authors, speakers at the conference included GI co-architect MK Yossi Beilin, Prof. Yeshayahu Folman (Author of the book "The Story of the Separation Fence), Brig. Gen. (res.) Ilan Paz (head of the Israeli Civilian Administration in the West bank from 2003 to 2005), and Alfei Menashe council head Eliezer Hizdai.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Israela Oron moderated the discussions, which consisted of a lively exchange of conflicting views. Following is a summary of the discussions:

In her opening statements, Israela Oron said the issue of the separation barrier, addressed in "The Wall of Folly," is among the most important issues with which Israel is dealing. She added that the discussion of the issue encompasses several significant principles such as legitimacy, security, and morality

Arieli, who co-authored the book, said the barrier and its route mirror earlier plans by statesmen and army men that date all the way back to pre-Israel reports by Zionist leaders. He explained, in detail, why the barrier has failed to live up to its official goal—providing security—and instead acted as a means for the Sharon government to unilaterally implement its political vision and annex settlements and other territory to Israel. He added that the National Security Council and IDF backed down once they realized the plan was political rather than based on security, and did not refer to the so-called defensive project as their own. Moreover, Arieli said the manner in which the route of the fence deviates from the Green Line increases the security threat posed to soldiers and other Israelis. Arieli also stressed that the political aspirations behind the route of the fence have cost the Israeli taxpayer billions of shekels, a large percent of which has gone to waste.

Arieli stressed that a separation barrier will be necessary in any future scenario, but explained that its route must be based on a border between two states, agreed by the two sides following political negotiations. He said the Palestinians were willing to swap land to accommodate Israeli settlements in a final agreement, and that the gap between the land they are willing to swap and the land Israel wishes to annex has become very small.

Adv. Sfard repeated the statement that the barrier was not defensive but rather political. He explained the book details the Israeli government's continuous foolishness that is leading it to political, economic, and moral bankruptcy.

Sfard further explained that the route of the barrier is unlawful and unacceptable in international standards, and showed how's Israel's politicians were not even trying to hide the fact that the route of the fence is set to mark the state's final borders. He added that its current route creates a situation that deprives local Palestinians of access to or control over their private lands. Sfard also spoke against the High Court of Justice, which he said gave legal backing for the barrier's route despite knowing that its pretext was false.

MK Beilin gave an historical account on how the barrier came into being, explaining the Prime Minister Sharon initially opposed building a barrier, but when the public demanded it, he adapted its route to his own political vision. He criticized the High Court's handling of the issue of the barrier. Beilin stressed that the book illustrates the extent to which the route of the barrier can be changed, and said whoever builds a fence without reaching an agreement, must understand that its route will need to be changed at a later date.

Mr. Hizdai said the book provided a highly accurate account of the decision-making process that brought about the barrier's route. He also said that the changes to the route suggested by the Peace Security Council were legitimate, but criticized human rights organizations that petition against the separation of Palestinians from other Palestinian towns and their land. Nonetheless, Hizdai said he wishes there could one day be real negotiations for peace, in which case even he would evacuate his home in Alfei Menashe, in exchange for "a real peace."

Prof. Folman defended the barrier as necessary, but agreed there were many grievances in its route. He said the whole reality brought about since 1967 has been a series of grievances.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Paz also defended the need for the barrier and said no militants have crossed it in segments that have been completed. Nonetheless, he criticized the many security problems its route causes for mere political reasons.