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U.S. Has Dim View of Israeli Border Fence
WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- The State Department threw cold water on Israeli plans to erect a fence separating Israeli and Palestinian territory in West Bank on Monday, raising concerns that the action could be construed as unilateral determination of the borders of a final Palestinian state.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "Some call it a demarcation of a border; some call it a security barrier; some call it other things. I don't think it's for me to describe what the purpose of this is. But to the extent that it is an attempt to establish a border, we would have to say that that really has to be done through direct talks."
Last Friday, Israeli bulldozers began clearing a hillside at the old boundary line between Israel and the West Bank in the first move toward erecting obstacles, including a fence, to separate the two areas. The work began a border police camp beside the Megiddo-Jenin road. The point overlooks the minaret of a small Palestinian village, Zbuba, where Israel is responsible for security and the Palestinian Authority for civilian affairs, and on the other side the red-tiled roofs of the Israeli Arab village of Salem.
The Israeli plan calls for building a fence and obstacles along a 70-mile stretch to the Rosh Ha'ayin area north east of Tel Aviv. A similar border fence exists for the Gaza Strip. The fence, designed by Israel's defense industry, is wired to alert a central command post if an intruder tries to climb or get around it.
Eventually the fence should cover some 220 miles and enclose the West Bank, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Sunday at Kibbutz Giv'at Oz, after visiting the ground-clearing site about a mile away.
Since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000, Israel has suffered over 500 casualties from Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, whereas Palestinian losses mount to around 1,400. Many of the suicide bombers that explode schools, cafes and marketplaces inside Israel's pre-1967 borders come from inside the Palestinian administered territories inside the West Bank. In April, Israeli military officials described the Jenin refugee camp for example as a "suicide bomb factory."
Earlier on Monday, a White House spokesman was less detailed in his remarks asking the Israelis to consider the consequences of their actions, but reiterating that Israel has a right to self defense.
Boucher however was a bit more pointed in his remarks. "The issue of borders between Israel, living side by side with a future Palestinian state, is one that needs to be resolved in negotiation. So the question of permanent status issues like borders, those questions need to be resolved in negotiation. We have always opposed unilateral attempts to try to decide these issues, and that position hasn't changed."
But Boucher also said it was unclear whether the fence was a temporary security measure or an attempt to create a new border between a future Palestine and Israel.
Indeed the decision was attacked from both the far right and the far left. The political party representing settlers living inside the largely Palestinian administered territories chided that the fence left them outside of Israel, while a spokesman for Israel's Meretz Party argued it would not provide security.
In some ways the difference in tone between the State Department and the White House echo larger rifts in how to pursue peace in the Middle East. Over the weekend, President Bush and his top foreign policy advisers continued debate what the president should demand from Palestinian Authority Leader Yasser Arafat in exchange for agreeing to recognize an interim Palestinian state.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns returned this month from a trip to the region with faith that the Palestinians could keep a cease-fire if the Israelis offered to freeze the construction of settlements.
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