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Fence-Sitting on the Wall

Prime Minister Sharon convened a group of choice ministers to make a crucial decision on the route of the counter-terrorism partition wall this morning. In the end, no decision was taken.

First Publish: 9/19/2003, 10:32 AM

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened a group of choice ministers - members of both the Likud and the security cabinet - to make a crucial decision on the route of the counter-terrorism partition wall this morning. In the end, no decision was taken.

The main issue at hand was whether or not to build a large eastern-pointing bulge in the wall that would include Ariel and nearby Jewish towns. The alternative is for the wall to run north-south not far from the Green Line armistice demarcation of 1949.

The U.S. is pressuring Israel not to include the Ariel district inside the partition, because of the diplomatic ramifications of including so much of the Shomron (Samaria) together with other Israeli territory. The Americans are threatening to subtract the costs of the wall from the loan guarantees it provides the Jewish State.

The Jewish residents, on the other hand, say that they, too, deserve protection from terrorists. The bulge would include some 45,000 Jews and only 7,000 Arabs. In addition to Ariel, at stake are communities such as Kedumim, Karnei Shomron, Emanuel, Yakir, Barkan, and more. Another possibility under consideration is to encircle Ariel with a fence of its own.

MK Uri Ariel (National Union) explained recently why he objects to the wall in principle:
"Each kilometer costs 12-14 million shekels, and... the total cost of the project will be between 7 and 8 billion shekels [well over $1.5 billion]. At times like this, when they're cutting costs and budgets all over the place, this is a significant amount... But I don't want to hide behind the fiscal issues; I object to the wall for more essential reasons. It started out as a security measure, and has now turned into a diplomatic/political issue [in that it appears to be determining future borders between Israel and a PLO entity], and much less of a security measure. This is unacceptable, and the Knesset voted against this as well... [In addition,] I think there should not be a wall because it puts us in a defensive position."

Dov Weisglass and Avigdor Yitzchaki, Prime Minister Sharon's two top aides, are scheduled to depart for Washington on Monday to discuss the matter.

Prime Minister Sharon has often said that the wall would pass to the east of Ariel, thus including it. Of late, however, he has been saying that the Israel Defense Forces must make the final decision.