What if it works? What if the terrorism prevention barrier, the fence, the wall – call it what you like – what if it actually were to succeed in frustrating the West Bank terrorists who for years have routinely murdered Israelis by the score?
This possibility has not received much consideration. Instead, the debate has been dominated by those who argue that the fence is inconveniencing Palestinians who live along its route -- as it surely is -- and whether the International Court of Justice can be manipulated into condemning Israeli self-defense as it has never condemned terrorism. In fact, the court is likely to be so manipulated; the hearings begin Monday, February 23rd in The Hague and the UN's court is expected to act as a kangaroo court.
But what if all that is ignored, the fence is erected -- and it works? The benefits to Israelis are clear. Less obvious is that under such conditions it also would be possible to relieve Palestinian communities of the stress of Israeli military occupation. Tanks and troops could pull back. Curfews could be lifted. Checkpoints could be removed.
And that's not all. Currently, life on the West Bank is dreadful – poverty is rampant, unemployment is epidemic, freedom is non-existent. It doesn't need to be that way. It wasn't always that way.
In 1967, Israel took the West Bank from Jordan. That was the price Jordan paid for launching an attack against Israel from the West Bank – joining Egypt and Syria in what was intended to be a war to drive Israel into the sea once and for all.
Ironically, under Israeli rule from 1967 to 1993, the West Bank's economy was among the fastest growing in the world thanks to burgeoning commerce between Israelis and Palestinians. Health care improved and the mortality rate dropped. Where there had been not a single institution of higher learning, by the early 1990s there were seven universities in the West Bank.
What stopped this momentum? The “Oslo peace process.” In 1993, the Israelis brought Yasser Arafat back from exile in Tunisia and put him in charge – angering many local Palestinian leaders. Arafat made the territories under his control a safe haven for all manner of terrorists. Then, in 2000, at Camp David, he turned down an Israeli offer for full statehood in 95% of the West Bank and Gaza and launched a wave of terror beyond anything Israel had ever experienced. In response, in 2002, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered his soldiers to re-occupy the West Bank.
For the average Palestinian, Arafat's rein has been all guns, no butter. He has done nothing to spur development, and he has nurtured corruption. Schools have taught not skills and vocations, but hatred of Jews and the glories of dying as a suicide bomber. While billions of dollars in foreign aid have poured into the Palestinian Authority's coffers, employment and income have fallen. But Arafat has become one of the richest men in the world.
Putting up barriers that deny terrorists easy access to Israeli victims won't end Arafat's misrule. But perhaps, in such a circumstance, other Arab leaders might facilitate that goal.
To date, Arab leaders have not played a serious role in the peace process. But perhaps they could be persuaded to assist in the reconstruction of Palestinian communities -- once the fence had created a de facto ceasefire, once it became clear that West Bank-based terrorism was no longer a growth industry.
And were average Palestinians to enjoy some peace, quiet and economic opportunity, perhaps they would be less inclined to continue to passively accept Arafat's failed leadership. Perhaps they would be bold enough to demand leaders willing to fight terrorism and corruption, initiate democratic reforms and negotiate in earnest with Israel.
Such a scenario frightens Arafat as no helicopter gunship ever could. That is why he has orchestrated next week's hearings at The Hague. The purpose is not really to argue about the route the fence will take. Israel has been negotiating with American diplomats on that, and Israel is willing to talk with others – though not with terrorists. You don't negotiate with burglars where you may put your burglar alarms.
No, the real point of the hearings in The Hague is to challenge Israel's right to self-defense, to put on trial Israel's right to exist, to ask a respected international body to issue a license to kill Israelis.
But what if this effort fails? What if people see the hearings for the propaganda exercise they are? What if the UN's court is dismissed as having compromised its integrity, having become no more serious a body than the UN's Commission on Human Rights – which is headed by Libya and includes such chronic human rights violators as Saudi Arabia and Syria?
And what if the barriers, fences, walls – call them what you will -- succeed in separating two societies now locked in mortal combat, giving both a chance to calm down, cool off and look squarely toward the future? Is there a chance that, at the end of the day, the fence could become a bridge to a new era? Is it not worth a try?