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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=4&datee=10/26/00&id=98055

The suffocating border that breathes

By Meron Benvenisti, Haaretz, 10/26/2000

The slogan of "separation" automatically crops up the moment Israel's leaders want to demonstrate that they have discovered an "effective response" to the violent and political challenges posed by the Palestinians.It is certainly no coincidence that the plans for a total separation of the Israeli entity from the Palestinian one in every individual and collective aspect are being formulated by the Defense Ministry. The ministry implements plans for encircling Palestinian communities, stations tanks and opens fire on "sources of gunfire" in order to suppress a popular uprising, as it seeks to restore Israel's "deterrent power." While doing all these things, the Defense Ministry, under the camouflage of a plan for the "implementation of a clearly-defined "separation of sovereignty," is hammering out programs whose aim is to strangle the territories under the Palestinian Authority's control and to bring the residents of those territories to their knees by means of starvation and shortages.

Separation is a much more effective weapon than the stationing of tanks and the employment of helicopter firepower. After all, tanks and combat helicopters produce unpleasant photographs, whereas unemployment, starvation and the blocking of medical assistance are never given much media coverage. Does anyone really care what goes on "over there" - in the closed-off camps also known as the territories of the Palestinian Authority? Quite the contrary, the idea of "separation" is supported by most Israelis, especially the members of the peace camp, whose rallying cry is "Let's separate in peace."

"We will be here and they [that is, the Palestinians] will be over there" and "The Gaza Strip must be removed from Tel Aviv-Jaffa" are mottos that have closed the ranks of both the left and the right in Israel ever since the pre-Oslo period and they are still effective today, now that hatred of Palestinians and the desire to keep them at arm's length have shed the thin mantle of polite verbiage.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is now scraping the bottom of the barrel of public relations ideas that might save his political skin, has turned the concept of unilateral separation into the central component of his policy and into the main whip he is using to punish Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat if he unilaterally declares a Palestinian state. Teams of experts from many disciplines are hard at work on the details of the unilateral separation plan, and the discussions conducted by these teams are the focus of considerable public attention and are given wide media coverage, as if we were on the very brink of a new reality. As anyone familiar with the complex and intimate relations between Palestinians and Israelis knows, "separation" is a pure pipedream and "unilateral separation" is merely a euphemism for collective punishment.

All of the components of the separation plan focus on internal arrangements between the Palestinian cantons and areas containing a Jewish population. In other words, these components do not deal with territory over which Israel has sovereign control but rather with each individual Jewish community or at least with "clusters of Jewish settlements" in the territories. The boundary that is to determine the demarcation line of the separation has been defined as a "border that breathes" - that is, a "perforated" demarcation line that will limit only the Palestinians but not the Israelis and one that will enable the arrangements established by that permeable border to ensure that no Israeli interest (whether military or economic) will be adversely affected.

This porous border is implementable only because the substantive separation will exist along the external borders of what was once British Mandatory Palestine, rather than inside those boundaries. Control of the external envelope - by means of the land border crossings with Jordan and with Egypt and by means of the Dahaniyeh airport in Gaza - is a necessary condition for the creation of a permeable border; otherwise, Israel could lose control of the transfer of persons and goods from abroad and would then be forced to establish hermetically sealed internal borders.

Only if there is an external separation can the internal unilateral separation serve as a means of punishing the Palestinian Authority (or state): If the PA or the independent Palestinian state enjoys direct contacts with the outer world, how can Israel prevent the Palestinians from receiving foreign assistance and from developing their economy? After all, foreign assistance and economic development would enable the Palestinians to break out of the Israeli stranglehold. Thus, the encirclement of the cities of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which is the first phase in a unilateral separation, must be accompanied by the closing down of the Dahaniyeh airport and by a maritime siege on the coast of the Gaza Strip.

It is perfectly natural that Israel's Defense Ministry is the agency designing the structure of the unilateral separation plan; however, it is surprising and depressing to discover that this plan is being regarded by many Israelis as an infrastructure for the creation of coexistence and cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. Separation, whose price will be paid by the weak and subjugated side (the Palestinians) and which is clearly an instrument for coercive control, has a name in Afrikaans: apartheid.


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