`GOOD fences make good neighbors,'' wrote Robert Frost. If his words apply to any neighbors, it is to Israelis and Palestinians. The two nations are like a couple mired in distrust, fear, and hatred. But each lives in a dream world, because neither is going to get all the property, nor will either succeed in driving the other away. It is time, then, to separate. But what kind of arrangement would stick? How can Israel trust that a Palestinian state would not become the kind that made Balkan history such a nightmare? And how can Palestinians trust that Israel won't invade? And even if their two governments kept a cool head - a big ``if'' - how could each trust that hotheads from the other state would not engage in unsanctioned attacks on enemy nationals in their homeland and abroad?
The answer is, neither party can trust the other to give up fantasies of ``having it all,'' the dreams of greed and revenge, the temptation to start a new war.
Since Palestinians and Israelis distrust each other too much to negotiate a separation arrangement, the international community must step in. The agreement must have teeth in it - and a ``dentist'' to ensure that the teeth are properly maintained.
Here's where the fence idea comes in - not steel, mines, and barbed wire, but a living fence established at an international conference under the umbrella of the United Nations - which has the structure and the experience of maintaining peacekeeping operations - and guaranteed by the world body.
There is precedent. Such a fence once operated in this general area: UNEF, the UN Emergency Force. It prevented war and terrorist incursions across the Israeli-Egyptian border for over 10 years (1956-1967) and might serve as a model for a peacekeeping force between Israel and a Palestinian state.
UNEF was the brainchild of Canada's minister of external affairs, Lester Pearson, who lobbied for the idea at the UN General Assembly during the October 1956 Sinai war. In keeping with Secretary-General Dag Hammarskj"old's concept, no great powers participated in UNEF: It was politically neutral, its function to secure compliance with the 1949 armistice.
UNEF contingents totaled 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers from seven countries (numbers and countries varied over the years) who patrolled the Egyptian side of its 164-mile border (Gaza and Sinai Desert) with Israel. A UN official said in 1963 that the border was so peaceful that ``Egyptians graze their goats right up to the line and Israelis plow right up to the line.''
Drawing on this experience, a peacekeeping force could be stationed on both sides of the borders in demilitarized zones between Israel and a Palestinian state. Each state would have to commit itself to preventing incursions from its side, and to the indefinite deployment of UN peacekeepers. Under no circumstances could the force be withdrawn until the two states were prepared for peaceful relations, and then only after more UN-monitored negotiations.
Until that time, however far off, a peacekeeping force would allay the fears of both Israelis and Palestinians. Its presence would deter terrorist attacks, and it could monitor the scene for early warning signs of invasion. It would also have deep psychological value. As a UN diplomat said in 1963: ``UNEF's value is not military, it's symbolic, and this is the quieting factor. UNEF is like a moral umbrella of the UN.''