on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
October 14, 2003
In a pattern that is as familiar as it is distasteful, we have gathered for yet another meeting of this Council, called to censure Israel for its measures to prevent terrorism, rather than address the terrorism itself. Members might pause to consider what message is sent to the citizens of the world by this kind of Council activity.
If we look, on the one hand, at the impressive record of the Council on counter-terrorism initiatives in recent years, and in particular Security Council resolutions 1368 and 1373, and compare it to the countless ritual debates held at the request of those determined to see this Council condemn Israel alone for its counter-terrorism measures, one cannot help but be struck by the contradiction.
What message is sent by this Council when it convenes to address Israel’s measured defensive response against a terrorist training facility in which there were no casualties, but does not convene immediately to address the deliberate murder of 20 innocent civilians at a beachfront restaurant in Haifa on the eve of the holiest day in the Jewish calendar? What message is sent when the focus of a debate is the building of a security fence by Israel to protect against terrorism, rather than the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians that made its construction inevitable?
It is a message that the victims of terrorism, at least if they are Israeli, cannot seek or find protection in this Council from the rogue regimes that continue to sponsor the deliberate murder of innocent civilians, in violation of international law and the Council’s own resolutions. This is the true double standard at the United Nations and, sooner or later, it must be addressed.
Put plainly, it is simply impossible to talk about Israeli security measures without addressing robustly, forcefully and with greater vigor, the Palestinian terrorist atrocities that have made such measures necessary. It is these atrocities, encouraged and tolerated by a Palestinian leadership which has rejected every opportunity for peace, that have destroyed the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians and compelled Israel to act in defense of its citizens.
Many lies and misrepresentations have been made about Israel’s security measures, but no lie is so bold and audacious as the one which pretends that Israel’s actions occur in a vacuum and are not in response to years of terrorism of the most vicious and brutal kind.
The decision to construct a security fence is one which Israel has arrived at with great reluctance. The arguments against it are clear. However hard Israel tries to mitigate its effects, it is likely to cause inconvenience and hardship to Palestinians and Israelis. It represents a massive expense at a time when the Israeli economy can little afford it. And it is not a perfect solution to the terrorism we are facing.
And yet, over the past three years, an overwhelming majority of Israelis from all points of the political spectrum have come to the conclusion that, along with other measures in the battle against terrorism, the security fence is a regrettable necessity. There have been three main factors that have brought us to this conclusion:
The single most important factor has been Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Israel’s policy-making over the past 10 years has been guided by the belief that measures agreed bilaterally by the two sides are preferable to unilateral measures. And indeed, we still believe that today. But 10 years and thousands of victims later, we have painfully come to the recognition that wanting someone to be a partner does not make him so. Yasser Arafat has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is incapable, unwilling and uninterested in making peace with Israel. In the choice that faces the Palestinian leadership between building a partnership with Israel or with the Palestinian terrorist groups, the terrorists have won every time.
In choosing terrorists over Israel, and jihad over salaam, Arafat and the PA have flouted numerous Security Council resolutions, including resolutions 1373 and 1435, the provisions of the Roadmap and repeated Palestinian undertakings in our peace agreements. These documents clearly require that the Palestinian Authority dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, prevent terrorism and incitement, and bring those responsible to justice. And yet, to this day, the Palestinian leadership continues to declare brazenly and publicly that it has no intention of fulfilling the very first clauses of the Road Map which call, inter alia, for the "dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure". As we can see almost daily from the headlines, Yasser Arafat continues to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian leadership that will do something other than foment hatred, sponsor terrorism, or encourage and tolerate the smuggling of sophisticated weapons into the hands of murderers, while using civilians as human shields.
Indeed, while Israel has handed over territory and released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners – some of whom have murdered again – in order to build confidence, I am hard-pressed to think of a single measure the Palestinian Authority has taken to fulfill its obligations. The frequent argument that the Palestinian leadership lacks the capacity to defeat terrorism cannot explain its total failure to take any action whatsoever against it. Nor can it explain the mountain of evidence that the Palestinian leadership, under Yasser Arafat’s control, has continued to support and encourage the use of terrorism to further its political goals.
Indeed, recent reports have indicated that the Palestinian Authority has launched a new campaign to arrest and summarily execute so-called collaborators with Israel. Instead of using their security personnel, numbering in the multiple tens of thousands, to bring suspected terrorists to justice, Yasser Arafat’s associates have tortured, lynched and assassinated so-called Israeli collaborators. This is not a problem of capacity, it is a problem of commitment. This is not a question of capability, it is a question of willingness.
To be sure, there are, alongside the continued incitement and glorification of murder as martyrdom, occasional halfhearted condemnations of terrorist atrocities offered by the Palestinian leadership to placate the international community – but these merely condemn terrorism as a tactic, saying that it is against the interests of the Palestinian people. Were terrorism to be an effective tool, these statements imply, it would presumably be acceptable. We have yet to hear, from any Palestinian leader, the simple moral truth that deliberately killing the innocent is wrong.
For evidence of this duplicity one need look no further than the fact that the Palestinian observer at the UN occasionally offers muted criticism of terrorism but, at the same time, considers it unacceptable for a Council resolution to expressly condemn the actions of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and call for their dismantlement, as required by the Road Map.
In short, had there been any concerted action by the Palestinian side to confront and prevent the terrorists – as they have repeatedly undertaken to do – the security fence might not have been necessary. But by deciding to remain passive, and even support terrorism, the current leadership has built this fence with their own hands.
The second factor that has convinced Israelis of the need to construct the fence, has been the scarcity of other options.
In its fight against terrorism, Israel has very few tools at its disposal. Having handed over control of the areas in which over 98% of Palestinians live to the Palestinian Authority in the course of the peace process, Israel has found itself with very few options when those areas become places of refuge for terrorists, and when the police and weapons which we were assured would be fighting terrorists, become part of the terrorist infrastructure. There are no easy choices. In the horrendous situation that we are faced with, in which terrorists are operating with impunity in the heart of civilian centers, there is no perfect way in which we can obstruct the terrorists without having some impact on the lives of the Palestinians they are hiding among. Trying to find the appropriate balance between the right of Israelis to live without being blown up on buses and in restaurants and the right of Palestinians to live and move freely is a dilemma which Israel, its courts and its citizens anguish over daily.
There is no democracy that has found a perfect solution to the problem of terrorism, especially suicide terrorism, and most especially when it operates from within a society whose leadership is passively and actively supportive of its goals. Among states facing such a threat, Israel has been among the most successful, preventing over 80% of attempted terrorist attacks. But as the terrorists develop new and even more heinous means of murder, so must we devise better methods of prevention.
The construction of a security fence is one of the most effective non-violent methods of preventing the passage of terrorists and their armaments from the terrorist factories in the heart of Palestinian cities to the heart of civilian areas. We have seen this in the Gaza Strip where, since the construction of a similar fence, under an Israeli-Palestinian agreement of 1994, not a single terrorist has succeeded in penetrating into Israel from Gaza through the fence in order to execute an attack. That fence garnered no dissent from the Security Council or from the Palestinian side, and has in fact contributed to enhancing the personal security and welfare of Israeli and Palestinian communities on both sides of the fence.
Until now, there has been a stretch of some 300km across which Palestinian terrorists have been able to infiltrate Israeli population centers and murder civilians. Between Israel and Palestinian Authority areas there is no border or natural obstacles, and the distance dividing terrorists, who have emanated from Palestinian cities, and Israeli population center that have been targeted, has sometimes been less than a ten-minute walk. But in those areas of the West Bank where a fence has been constructed, a reduction in terrorist attacks is already evident.
The city of Hadera is a key example. Situated in the heart of Israel, Hadera and its surroundings have suffered a series of murderous suicide bombings coming from the West Bank. But since the construction began on the northern sector of the security fence, which shields the region of Hadera, there has been a substantial period of tranquility. This same improvement is true for other Israeli cities and communities now safeguarded by the fence.
The third factor supporting the construction of the fence has been the knowledge that it will enable Israel to markedly reduce its involvement in the daily life of Palestinians. The net effect of the construction of the security fence will be a reduction in terrorism and an overall improvement in the quality of life for both Israeli and Palestinian people. By building the fence, Israel will be able to significantly reduce the presence of its forces in Palestinian areas and further diminish the necessity for defensive action within Palestinian cities. Importantly, the fence will also enable the removal of road-blocks and check points. The result will be greater freedom of movement within the West Bank, without increasing the vulnerability to terrorism.
Moreover, it is hoped that the protection and security that the fence provides, will help create an atmosphere conducive to peaceful and fruitful negotiations. The security fence is a crucial measure in taking terrorism out of the equation. When a Palestinian leadership emerges that is ready to negotiate a political solution, the terror weapon will be less available to scuttle the efforts for peace. Could it be that those on the Palestinian side opposing the fence wish to ensure that the terrorist weapon remains a decisive factor in their arsenal? Could it be that this fence is particularly objectionable to extremists in Palestinian society, because they see it as thwarting their long-term agenda of seeking Israel’s destruction?
In determining the route of the fence, Israel has sought to create a barrier between those areas from which the terrorists originate and those that they seek to target. But alongside this security concern, Israel has taken into consideration other humanitarian and environmental concerns – even at the cost of increasing the risks to its civilians. The rights and interests of local populations must be weighed against the rights of civilians to protection from terrorism. Local Palestinian residents have been engaged and consulted throughout this process, with a view to providing individual solutions and ensuring access to schools, health resources and so on.
The use of public and unused lands has been of the highest priority. In the relatively limited number of circumstances where this has been impossible, dozens of agricultural gates have already been established along the route of the fence to enable farmers to continue cultivating their lands. In addition, new crossing points have been added for Israeli and Palestinian pedestrians and vehicles, and the transfer of goods.
Any private land used in building the fence is requisitioned for military purposes, in full conformity with the relevant provisions of international humanitarian and local law that specifically provide for this purpose. Indeed, there are a number of precedents where other states have made these kind of requisitions for security purposes pursuant to the applicable provisions of international humanitarian law. There is no change whatsoever in the legal status of this territory and it remains the property of the owner. Compensation matching the properties’ value is provided for the use of the land and any damage to trees and crops. In addition, owners of agricultural land are also provided with compensation for the full value of their crop yield for as long as the property will need to be used. Farmers who cultivate olive and fruit trees growing within the Security Fence Area can designate a new site to which the trees will be replanted.
All residents have the opportunity to submit objections. In numerous cases, the authorities and the complainants have reached mutual agreement regarding alterations of the path. Complainants whose concerns are not resolved also have the unprecedented opportunity to file a petition directly with the Israeli Supreme Court.
In seeking to divert attention from the fact that the true architects of this fence are the Palestinian leaders who have failed to take any measures against terrorism, Palestinian representatives have used a number of emotive and pejorative terms, which are without foundation.
One) They have termed the fence a "wall", even though they are fully aware that for well over 90% of its length it is a chain-link fence. Those short sections that are actually a solid structure, are only in areas where Palestinian terrorists can, and have, shot at Israeli civilians on roads or in nearby towns. Despite blatant misrepresentations to the contrary, there is no enclosure of the West Bank and no Palestinian town or village is closed off. Passage and movement is guaranteed between Palestinian areas throughout the West Bank, and into Israel. And, as I have stated, the fence will enable a reduction of Israeli forces in Palestinian areas thereby facilitating greater freedom of movement within the West Bank and an overall improvement in the humanitarian situation for the vast majority of Palestinian residents, without enhancing the risks of terrorism. By using the term ‘wall’, there is a transparent attempt by some to evoke memories of dark days when solid walls were used by certain states to divide one people and prevent the flight to freedom. The comparison is both false and offensive. This fence seeks to separate two peoples who are in conflict, to prevent suicide bombers from targeting innocent civilians, and thus to create a terror free environment in which finally we can move towards a peaceful settlement, which is itself founded on the concept of separation between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Two) They have charged that the construction of the fence is "racist", though what is really racism is their suggestion that one people do not have the right to protection from murderers. What is really racism is the mistreatment and persecution of Jews in Arab lands, the prohibition of entry imposed upon Jews in certain Arab countries, and the prohibition on the sale of property to Jews on punishment of death. To build a fence in order to provide security for the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, and ultimately advance the vision of peace between two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, is anything but racism.
Three) Above all, they have charged that the fence is an act of de facto "annexation" and an attempt to prejudice final status negotiations – as though it were Israel and not the Palestinian leadership that walked out of those negotiations and adopted the path of violence. The Israeli government has repeatedly made clear, and I reiterate again today, that the fence has no political significance. Israel remains committed to resolving all aspects of the conflict, including the final status of the West Bank and Gaza, through political negotiations. The sole purpose of the fence is to protect the vital security of Israeli citizens targeted by Palestinian terrorism. It does not annex territories to the State of Israel, nor does it change the status of the land, its ownership, or the legal status of the residents of these areas. The Palestinian observers accusations in this regard, are belied by the fact that certain sections of the fence, for example near Modiin and Kibbutz Ma’aleh Hachamisha, are actually being built within sovereign Israeli territory.
In fact, not only has Israel repeatedly asserted that there is no political significance to this fence, we have demonstrated in practice and articulated in negotiations that Israel is ready and able, at tremendous cost, to adjust or dismantle a fence if it so required as part of a political settlement. In the context of its withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May 2000, Israel moved a similar structure in order to comply with Security Council resolution 425. After having adjusted the Fence, Israel moved portions of it a further 95cm, at a cost of millions of dollars, to respond to requests by the Secretary General. Similarly, in the context of permanent status negotiations, Israel expressed a willingness to adjust the fence established in Gaza as part of the permanent territorial settlement.
In both cases, Israel has proven that security fences are security fences. This fence is intended to counter terrorism of the most brutal kind, not to dictate a border that is and remains the subject of permanent status negotiations. It is our hope that by building this fence, its very function will become irrelevant and that one day it will be dismantled.
It has been suggested that in order to avoid the impression of a political motive, Israel should have constructed the fence along the so-called Green Line. On the practical level, a fence along this line would create far greater humanitarian problems, arbitrarily dividing certain villages, and separating others from access to water and other basic services on a large scale. Moreover, it would ignore the aim of the fence, which is to frustrate acts of terrorism directed against Israeli population centers. It is the terrorists who, by their murderous attacks, have dictated the route, which seeks to protect as many civilians as possible, while seeking to minimize humanitarian and environmental hardship.
Of equal importance, the so-called Green Line has never represented an international boundary. The 1949 armistice agreements specifically refer to this fact. There was never a recognized and legitimate sovereign in the West Bank. The legal status of these areas remains that of disputed territory – to be resolved through negotiations. It is this that is required by Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which call for the parties to start negotiations, inter alia, on "secure and recognized boundaries", and agreements reached between the parties specifically refer to the need for there to be direct negotiations to resolve this issue.
When the familiar rhetoric and misrepresentations of the Palestinian observer are peeled away, the simple truth is revealed – the fence is a response to Palestinian terror, designed not to establish a border, but to create a terror free environment in which a border can be agreed through negotiations.
Much has been said of the need to conduct the war against terrorism in accordance with international law. We agree. But international law is not a suicide pact. International law recognizes that the measure of the legitimacy of a state’s actions is whether such action is proportionate to the threat. This means assessing the threat according to those attacks planned and prevented, not just those that have succeeded. In Israel’s case, this has meant not just considering the hundreds of civilians killed in terrorist attacks, but those many hundreds of attacks successfully thwarted, including mega-terror attacks planned against skyscrapers, gas depots, fuel tankers and bridges.
International humanitarian law specifically allows for territory to be requisitioned for security purposes. Some who speak of international law seem to have forgotten that there is in place a significant body of established laws that provide support for the confrontation against terrorism. They also seem to have forgotten that in fighting terrorists we fight an enemy that has no respect for life or for law. Yes we must respect the rule of law. But we cannot do so by apply misconceived or blinkered interpretations that no enlightened nation would apply to itself if faced with such sustained attack, and that effectively strengthen the hands of those devoted to trampling the law as they trample innocent life.
Since September 2000, nearly 6000 Israelis have been injured and over 870 have been killed in terrorist attacks. One in every 10,000 Israeli civilians has been killed in an act of terror. I would urge the members of this Council to make a simple calculation, to divide the population of their country by 10,000. That is the equivalent number of civilians lost to terror. Now consider what any state would do when faced with a continuing threat of that enormity. Were it not for diplomatic correctness, I could easily cite numerous examples of counter-terrorism activity engaged in by members of this Organization that have far exceeded Israel’s actions in their scope and impact, and in far less trying circumstances. And yet, which of these States has been subject to the prolonged scrutiny that the Council has devoted to Israel?
Israel has no problem, and indeed is proud, to be held to the highest standards. But at least let us be permitted to value the lives of our civilians the way that any other democratic country would. And if you decide to call us to account, then surely some of our neighbors should be the focus of equal attention. If the Council were to devote only a fraction of the time and resources it has spent considering Israel’s record to a fair examination of the destabilizing and dangerous conduct of the rogue regimes in our neighborhood, does anyone doubt the conclusions that would be drawn? If the United Nations voice is to be taken seriously, this selective treatment must end.
Israel yearns for peace and has proven that it is willing to make the most painful compromises for that end. We will continue to pursue every opportunity for a peaceful settlement with a view to realizing President Bush’s vision and the relevant Council resolutions. But no state can allow its citizens to be murdered in the hundreds by terrorists, with the support and toleration of the current Palestinian leadership that has virtually ceased to even masquerade as a peace partner. The fence comes to protect against terrorism, improve the overall humanitarian situation on both sides, and contribute to an atmosphere in which peace negotiations can proceed for the benefit of both peoples.
This conflict, and this debate, is not just about Palestinian rights. It is about Israeli rights as well. Dead, injured and terrorized Israelis are also a humanitarian problem, and until our neighbors and the international community are willing to seriously accept this and deal with it, we will have difficulty advancing towards a peaceful solution. It is just not enough for condemnations and expressions of sympathy to be issued in capitals or in UN speeches on the day an attack takes place, without the sustained action and public support needed to demonstrate that the international community will not tolerate the deliberate murder of innocent civilians.
Those in the Palestinian leadership that have turned Palestinian victimhood, from a condition that could be resolved by peaceful settlement, to a political strategy to be immortalized in the pursuit of personal power, have a great deal to answer for. We do the peace process no service by reinforcing a sense of entitlement without affirming a sense of responsibility.
The Road Map can never succeed if we absolve the Palestinian side of its obligations to end its morally bankrupt and profoundly destructive terrorist strategy. The security fence, like other Israeli defensive measures, is a product of that strategy. And it is the abandonment of that strategy that would obviate the need for such defense measures, including the security fence itself, and pave the way for peaceful negotiations based on mutual recognition and mutual compromise.
If we confuse cause and effect, if we apply justice selectively, and if we pander to more one-sided initiatives that assert sweeping rights but ignore well-founded responsibilities, we will only encourage a strategy of terrorism and push the day of peace further into the future.
Thank you, Mr. President.