The Failing Enterprise of Partition

Good Fences make Good Neighbours
(or, in this case, Fences make Neighbours)
October 2004

In 1936, the French government completed its multi-billion Franc Maginot Line, an extensive series of forts, tank traps and other fortifications, along its border with Germany, designed to create an impregnable barrier, making an invasion from Germany impossible. In 1940, the German army invaded and conquered France in a matter of weeks ... by going around the Maginot Line, through Belgium.

In 2002, the Israeli government began construction of a Security Fence along a path that roughly follows the 1949 armistice line with a few detours. The fence design includes over 3000 km of barbed wire and requires moving over 20 million cubic metres of earth, and represents, by far, Israel's single largest infrastructure project to date. In highly populated areas, the fence takes the form of a reinforced concrete wall, about 30 feet high, to protect against "direct shooting" of Jewish targets.

Israel has another tall security fence -- at its border with Lebanon. On the other side of this fence are the Iranian-and-Syrian-backed Hezbollah. For many years, Hezbollah has regularly launched low-tech short-range (8-20 km) unguided Katyusha rockets over this fence into moderately- populated northern Israel, hoping to kill pretty much anyone (and sometimes succeeding). More recently, Hamas and Fatah have been launching their own design of Kassam-2 and similar rockets over the fence from Gaza. The new danger lies, of course, in the fact that there are many more targets in central Israel than there are in the more sparsely- populated North.

Before the Fence, suicide bombs were a weapon of choice for several reasons. First, even the cheapest rockets are more expensive and complicated to construct than a suicide bomb. Second, Hamas has had only intermittent success in smuggling rockets into the West Bank & Gaza. Third, suicide bombs are a "peoples' weapon", not a military weapon, each explosion underscoring the terrorists' political message of ethnic liberation with the drama of individual sacrifice.

Since completing the first section of the Fence, the IDF has been touting a significant decrease in suicide bombing in the areas where it has already been built. While their observations may indeed be correct, there is reason to suspect the meaningfulness of those observations to be short-lived. If the Fence brings the terrorists to reassess and downgrade the tactical value of suicide bombing, they will soon want something to replace it. Thus, Hamas and Fatah will need to focus their resources on developing alternatives and the logistics needed to make those alternatives work -- like more innovative smuggling techniques (just as drug smugglers have done as a result of the drug war). But aside from more over-the-wall projectiles, it's also likely we'll see new tactics designed to recapture the drama of martyrdom, such as shifting more resources to the campaign by Hamas & Fatah to alienate Israeli Arabs from their State ... followed by a more intense drive to recruit and indoctrinate Israeli Arabs for new suicide attacks, which would originate from Israel's side of the wall (though this will be far more difficult than it was on the other side of the Green Line).

Make no mistake: the Fence is not a check-mate in the terror war. Instead, its value as an anti-terror tactic has to be seen in the context of an ongoing arms race of measures and countermeasures. This kind of arms race has existed throughout the history of warfare, including asymmetric warfare (insurgencies, the war on terror and the war on drugs). So, the obvious question we are left with is: how long will the Fence be effective at serving its immediate tactical purpose before Arab terror organizations and their sponsor states develop ways to circumvent it? A month? A year?

The Israeli Ministry of Defence is fully aware of the increasing availability of rockets, and their ability to deliver powerful explosions into Israel's cities -- as effectively as a "Shaheed" human delivery device. Knowing this, and knowing the extraordinary cost of the Security Fence project, one must therefore ask: what is the long-term purpose of such a hugely expensive infrastructure project? After all, no government spends so much money on an edifice so large and so clearly in public view, unless it intends to use it for a very long time. Thus, it is the contention of this author that the Fence has a broader strategic purpose and is not merely an antiterror tactic, as will be argued below.


In July, 2004, as stage B of the Fence was nearing completion, the UN's International Court of Justice issued an "advisory opinion" (later supported by most of the General Assembly) that the Fence violates international law for various reasons, including a de facto annexation of occupied land. The ICJ saw clearly that the Fence cannot help but function as a unilaterally-imposed border. Unfortunately, they were unable to see the context which placed it within the realm of moderate and reasonable options.

Ariel Sharon responded to the ICJ by rejecting their opinion -- and correctly so, but not because of any egregious error in the ICJ's conclusion that the Fence is illegal. Indeed, given the longstanding international consensus that the Green Line is to be seen as a territorial boundary, the ICJ could not help but conclude that the Fence is a de facto annexation of foreign land, to the extent that it goes over the Green Line. So, the Fence may very well be at odds with international law (even in spite of clear mitigating factors since the wall actually does have some self-defense value). But, as with any law, if applied too unforgivingly, it ceases to fulfill its purpose, and can even undermine the principles on which it is based. Thus, we could, as an exercise, focus on the UN itself the same way, and find the very insertion of a revivified Jewish Commonwealth in this predominantly Arab/Muslim part of the world equally at odds with these same laws. This would, by extension, place the UN itself in conflict with its own laws by virtue of its Resolution 181 which also demands artificially-imposed borders as part of its Partition Plan. This is only one of many self-referential conundrums that have grown out of the confused way the UN has chosen to deal with Israel, for reasons we shall see below.

For the moment, though, let's get back to the problem of annexation brought about by the Fence. In the absence of a functioning peace process, in the absence of good will by the other side, in the absence of a balanced and objective international system of justice, Israel was left to its own devices to experiment with a new, albeit incomplete solution to its problems with Arab terror, after having tried so many other methods unsuccessfully. In doing so, it has acted with much greater restraint than other nations have typically done under equivalent conditions. Who knows how much the Fence may make things better overall, or if it will ever prove to be worth the cost? The point is that, given the escalating violence, the global political pressure, the morale of the citizenry (on both sides of the Fence), the strategic challenges, and the limited options, it was not an unreasonable thing to try. Unless both sides of a conflict show the desire to negotiate in good faith, there is simply no reliable way to bring about peace and security. In the mean time, this puts the onus on Israel to look for a unilateral approach that has the potential to improve the current level of peace and security. More significantly, being the elected officials, and hence the protectors of Israeli citizenry (including the settlements the current government inherited), this was ultimately the Israeli government's judgment to make -- not because of any notion that Palestinian Arabs have no right to participate in finding a formula for peace and security, but because their leaders have explicitly chosen to withdraw from such participation.

Now, if only there were some way to instigate a change in the Palestinian Authority's motivations and discourage their strategic political objectives ...

Perhaps there is a way to effect this change, but to see it, one must first see that the Fence is more than just a barrier. It also has the potential to shift the international political dynamic. By taking away from the Palestinians the opportunity to use weapons involving martyrdom, and instead putting them in the position where the only way to kill Israeli civilians is by using military weapons and tactics, it changes the entire character (though perhaps not the effectiveness) of their attacks on civilians. If, at the same time, the Shin Bet can also prevent recruitment of Shaheeds within Israel, the resulting moral shift may go some distance in undermining popular sympathy among the West's peaceniks for the Palestinian cause, especially in the context Israel's pullout of Gaza under its Disengagement plan.

But more significantly, the Fence and the Disengagement plan combined represent a strategic endeavour to end a longstanding state of uncertainty and confusion in the region. It is this uncertainty that has been the source of inspiration for extremists (on both sides) to continue their efforts to do what they feel they must, in order to eventually acquire the entirety of Eretz Israel. By forcing a new clarity, perhaps the hope of the militants can be broken, or at least dented.

The resulting effect on international opinion may at last put pressure on the P.A. for some sincere and meaningful peace overtures -- or even stimulate an ouster of Arafat from within. In fact, we are already seeing more infighting and fragmentation within the P.A. (and within the political Right-wing in Israel) over this strategy because, if successful, it means nobody will get the whole Land.

However, regardless of the exact political aims of this strategy, or its chance of success, the conditions that made it necessary to undertake (or at least consider) such an elaborate scheme are deeply rooted in the current international framework for achieving peace and security: the UN. The Fence can only go so far in discouraging terror as long as the UN maintains conditions that encourage it.


An important justification for Sharon's rejection of the ICJ's Advisory Opinion is the fact that the ICJ's parent body, the UN, have an unaddressed conflict of interest when it comes to the State of Israel. This conflict of interest undermines any dispassionate distance and objectivity the UN might otherwise have had in its interactions with Israel, especially surrounding issues related to the Palestinian Arabs, Arab terror and border questions. But to more fully appreciate the meaning of this, we need to go back to the late 1940's.

In the months leading up to the State's inception, the British government handed over the Palestine "problem" to the newly-formed UN, which was to act as a Trustee in the formation of the two partitioned States. Thus, the UN, which had been formed as a body for maintaining peace and security between nations through international cooperation, suddenly found itself in the unchartered role of creator of nations. Ben Gurion understood the implications of this new and dubious manifestation of UN power, and responded with: "It is we who will decide the fate of Palestine. We cannot agree to any sort of Trusteeship, permanent or temporary. The Jewish State exists because we defend it."

Notwithstanding such statements of Jewish self-determination, the Jewish Agency continued to solicit validation from the UN, seeking from them a path to legitimacy, and ultimately accepted the UN's partition plan. To take this unfortunate obsequiousness further, Israel's own Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel explicitly leans on the Balfour declaration, the Mandate of the League of Nations, and finally the UN as key elements of the State's source of legitimacy. To quote a key passage: "by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel." (As it turned out, the strength of that UN Resolution (181) apparently wasn't sufficient (even in spite of Article 42 of its charter) to lift a single rifle to help ward off invading Arab armies in 1948.)

Other UN member states, even the newer ones, haven't needed a UN stamp of approval simply to exist; their membership is based on "sovereign equality of all its Members" as in Article 2 of the Charter. Though probably unaware of the long-term impact of its thoroughly unnecessary subordination, the Jewish Agency and the State of Israel contributed to the UN's belief that the international body holds the reins of Israel's legitimacy in its hands.

The historical context of the formation of the UN makes the problem more poignant still: The task of partitioning the Palestine mandate was to be a defining moment for the UN, which was intent on succeeding at maintaining the peace where its predecessor, the League of Nations had failed. Indeed, success at imposing a just and peaceful Partition would showcase the valuable role of the UN in a New World Order. As a result, the UN had come to depend on the success of the enterprise of Partition to validate its own legitimacy.

It was thus that the UN acquired an existential need to get its fingers into Israel's affairs in an ongoing and zealous manner, and it is this phenomenon that has largely been ignored in explaining the absurdly disproportionate number of Resolutions against Israel. Intensifying the problem, this tiny nation's willingness to continually disregard UN demands regularly broadcasts a "bad example" which undermines UN authority and relevancy, thus making UN officials anxious that other nations will do the same.

Any discussion of the UN's obsessive concern with Israel cannot ignore the role of antiSemitism in the Arab and Muslim voting bloc in the General Assembly, but it is often missed that this bloc could not so easily twist and misuse the lofty principles contained within the UN Charter (by overzealously applying them to judge every Israeli defensive action) if not for the fractures in the UN's own commitment to those principles.

It is the misplaced proprietary and existential interest in Israel's activities, primarily those that relate to the ongoing (and, in their eyes, failing) enterprise of Partition, that is the fundamental conflict of interest plaguing any chance of objectivity and even-handedness by the UN. The assumptions which support the UN's power to slice up a forfeited colony into separate States with externally-imposed boundaries stand in direct contradiction with the principles of sovereignty and self-determination as outlined in its own charter. This contradiction softens the principles embedded in the UN charter, preventing them from becoming manifest within the processes used in settling international issues. This is the core problem, because any process that is genuinely committed to the Charter's principles would not tolerate the particular political agendas of Antisemitic and Dictatorial member states. The very fact that these agendas continue to hold sway reveals the failure of the UN to enforce a Charter-consonant process for issues concerning Israel. One of the most flagrant examples of this was that from its inception until May 2000, Israel was the only member state that was ineligible to sit on the Security Council and key UN committees.

Unfortunately, at the UN's outset, it has set procedural precedents that violate its own principles, creating a momentum and tradition that will be very hard to reverse. (As a result, it is primarily, if not exclusively, by virtue of US veto power in the Security Council that the military options in Article 42 have never been employed by a large international force against Israel.)

More to the point, it is the UN's very failure to offer Israel the status of other member states that could ultimately prove to be the greatest long-term danger to international peace and security. Empowering the UN as arbiter of Israel's right to exist is inconsistent with the UN Charter's respect for the sovereignty of member nations. This has left Israel with a defacto lesser grade of sovereignty than other states, with the effect of unfettering the UN, enabling it to get involved in Israel's affairs in a way that is not limited by the usual rights that come with sovereignty. Further, by adopting, in practice, the notion of degrees of sovereignty, the UN is undermining its own core principles which it needs in order to fulfill its function of fostering international peace and security. By obfuscating the concept of sovereignty, the UN is teasing out and pulling at a loose thread that must eventually unravel the tapestry. As human history has taught us, any weakening, any loophole in the sovereign character of statehood is all that is necessary to "Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war": a future which would render the UN as obsolete and ill-conceived as its predecessor, the League of Nations.

The manifestations of this failing are already right before us: it is precisely because of the corrupting influence of the UN's conflict of interest, and the resulting behaviour towards Israel, that has emboldened Arab terrorists, offering them a license for unrestrained violence against this nation of "questionable" validity.

Maybe it was a nasty bit of bad luck that the State of Israel had to come into existence at roughly the same time as the UN, because if not for this accident of history, the UN and Israel may not have become existentially intertwined in this way. And, the UN may never have developed the motivation to obsess over the precise mile-by-mile distribution of land throughout as small a space as the West Bank. Nonetheless, the only way the UN will stop treating Israel like an errant child in need of constant supervision and strict discipline is to help them come to the realization that it is precisely this overinterventionist behaviour that provides the occasions for Israel to disregard it ... just as other states would do if the UN treated them this way. Put simply, this is self-defeating behaviour and is bad for the UN, for Israel, and probably even for the Palestinian Arabs. To correct this problem, Israel must negotiate a new relationship with the UN, one that completely abandons any lingering sense that the State's validity depends on them. This, I believe, is the only way to free the UN from its conflict of interest so that it can apply its rules dispassionately and free of the corrupting sway of existential challenges.

Ultimately, the UN must come to understand that the legitimacy of Israel rests upon the same foundation as other states, namely, the consent of the Governed to form a Government -- whether formed by way of a War of Independence or by popular Revolution or by plebiscite and Declaration. It is the Will of the collective, the body within a nation, that is the ground for legitimacy of a State, not some external administrative entity. This is the challenge that has to be brought to the UN, to dispute its perceptions and motivations. Unfortunately, it may be that the only way the UN will come to understand this is for Israel to explicitly present this problem to them. It may even be necessary to threaten to withdraw from the UN (and to update and edit its own Declaration). In the end, a challenge of this sort is needed to start the appropriate debates, shake up the common assumptions about Israel's relationship to the UN, and maybe even renew the UN's commitment to the principles of its Charter. Only then might the conditions arise that are conducive to peace and security in that region.

Howard Pasternack

More links:

Map of the Fence:

Relevant documents by the ICJ on their ruling including dissenting opinions:

More on the development of Palestinian missile technology:

The Homemade Rocket That Could Change the Mideast,8599,202159,00.html

Missile Proliferation May Accelerate Middle East Developments

Hamas armed wing test-fires new anti-tank missile

Israeli Effort Fails to Halt Rocket Attacks