Wall of Defense or Division?
Israel’s “wall of defense”—an eventual 425-mile barrier composed of concrete wall, ditches, fencing and barbed wire—continues to be built despite an ongoing barrage of criticism from all sides. Around one-quarter completed, the wall is being built as a last-ditch effort to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out of Israel. Since the resurgence of the Palestinian intifada that began in September 2000, more than 400 Israelis have been killed in over 100 suicide bombings.
Palestinians see the wall as an effort to place limits on land that may eventually fall within the borders of an independent Palestinian state. In December, the UN General Assembly voted to seek a legal opinion on the matter from the International Court of Justice, located at The Hague. The hearing is to be held February 23.
Palestinian officials have been rallying world leaders, European leaders in particular, against the barrier, and have found several sympathetic ears. Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Nabil Shaath took a European tour in January to mobilize support. “It is highly important to have Europe on our side when the International Court of Justice in The Hague begins to look into the wall issue,” he stated (bbc News, January 8). Shaath warmed EU leaders with talk of a future European role in the region to boost the peace process.
A ruling against Israel in The Hague could damage the country’s already battered economy if new international sanctions are introduced. That is a likely result because, as Victor Davis Hanson put it, “Modern diplomats do not like walls either. For them the problem is not that they are ineffective, but that they work too well—ending utopian hopes of eventual reunion between warring parties. They would rather gamble that changed Palestinian hearts and minds, not a bastion of concrete and wire, will save the lives of school-age Israelis” (National Review, June 25, 2002).
The U.S., while hesitant in its support of the undertaking, has not been as vocal a critic as Europe.
The Hague hearing is unlikely to result in a halt to the building. But it could have an important effect that will build on an ongoing trend—the ever-growing gulf and competition between the U.S. and the emerging EU superstate over influence in the Middle East.