January/February 2001
Western Wall

Separation Now!

By Gerald Steinberg

(February 16) - The terrorist who murdered eight Israelis at a bus stop on Wednesday morning, and crippled many more, was supposedly a "safe" Palestinian. He was allowed to enter and work in Israel as part of a broader program that enables thousands of Palestinians to earn enough money to feed their families.

In what has been described as a "humanitarian effort," successive Israeli governments have allowed such programs to continue, despite the waves of terrorism. Participants were supposedly cleared by the security agencies according to standard terrorist profiles, and only individuals over a minimal age and with families were considered to be reliable.

Wednesday's murders were bitter reminders of the na•ve belief that Palestinians who are indoctrinated to hate Israelis, can somehow be screened to prevent terrorism. People who are raised in a culture of violence and jihad, and whose hatred is reinforced daily by the unjust "occupation" and the mere existence of Israel, cannot readily be divided into safe and unsafe groups.

This lesson is not new, and after the wave of suicide bombings in 1996, Palestinian access to Israel was barred for many months. However, following the economic collapse in the Palestinian areas, and pressure from human rights groups, the closure was lifted and cross-border flows resumed.

This pattern was repeated in the past months. When the Palestinian campaign of terrorism and violence began at the end of September, the Barak government re-imposed the ban on the entry of Palestinians. While this policy did not totally prevent terrorist attacks, it succeeded in minimizing both the number of incidents and the casualties.

However, over a period of weeks and months, the Palestinian economy approached bankruptcy again. At this stage, the "great and good" of the world, such as Norway's Terje Larsen (now the United Nations special "peace" envoy in the region), appealed to the Israeli government to reopen the borders to Palestinian workers on humanitarian grounds. If Israel had refused, it would have been accused (simplistically, of course) of embracing a policy of collective punishment.

The decision to bow to this pressure was a tragic and costly mistake. There is no moral justification for forcing Israelis to sacrifice themselves to terrorism in order to balance the failures of the Palestinians and their supporters around the world.

The economic and social collapse of Palestinian society is first and foremost the responsibility of the corrupt Palestinian leadership, with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat at the head. The hundreds of millions of dollars that are donated annually to the PA for job creation, infrastructure development, and to improve the Palestinians' standard of living, have disappeared into the pockets of the PA leadership. This corruption is a major source of anger among Palestinians, as demonstrated by the recent Mafia-style shooting of the head of Palestinian broadcasting.

In this environment, it is time to put an end to the economic dependence of Palestinians on jobs and services in Israel. Physical proximity does not require economic links, (however desirable these may be in a "normal" relationship), and many countries in the region, such as Egypt, spurn economic cooperation with Israel.

In addition, Israel has no moral obligation to provide for the welfare of a people who preach hatred and engage in terrorism. Israel is not responsible for the economic condition of the vast majority of Palestinians who have been living under Arafat's regime for more than five years. The sophistic effort to blame the Israeli "occupation" for all Palestinian suffering ignores the fact that the 1967 war, like the entire refugee problem, was a response to the Arab efforts to destroy the State of Israel. Those who argue that Palestinian welfare is primarily an Israeli responsibility, such as the representatives of the major European "donor countries," are using this as an excuse to avoid dealing with their own complicity in fuelling official Palestinian corruption and economic disaster.

In addition, the view of Israel as the primary source of Palestinian employment, also fosters the false analogy with the old South African system of apartheid. In this sense, economic links and dependency, in a situation of conflict, is counterproductive, and should be minimized until the political situation improves radically.

Under these circumstances, and without the prospect of a political breakthrough in the short term, the answer is separation between Israel and the Palestinians, both physical and economic. While physical barriers may be incomplete, particularly in areas such as Jerusalem, the terrorist threat is more readily controlled in the absence of thousands of Palestinian "guest workers."

Ending Palestinian employment in Israel is not a panacea and will not remove the problem posed by other forms of terrorism. To be more effective, the principle of separation must be extended to the points of friction and exposure resulting from the failed Oslo process. This will take more time and pose additional difficulties for Prime Minster-elect Ariel Sharon and the new government, whatever form it takes. In the meantime, economic separation is an important step in the right direction.

(The writer is director of the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation at Bar- Ilan University.)

©2001 - Jerusalem Post
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