A New Wall in Jerusalem

NOTHING could symbolize the end of peacemaking for Israel more than a plan to build an eight-mile wall in Jerusalem.

The wall's function would be to funnel Palestinians into Israeli checkpoints and try to prevent would-be suicide bombers from reaching the Jewish part of the city.

A recent escalation in the number of bombings - including the first one by a woman - has pushed Israel to abandon Yasser Arafat as a negotiating partner, and perhaps even to abandon hope of negotiating a final peace.

Now Israel's only strategy appears to be merely containing the number of bombings, along with keeping Mr. Arafat under "town arrest" in Ramallah.

The United States, too, is poised to break ties with Arafat, especially after finding the Palestinian Authority tried to import arms from Iran in violation of the Oslo peace accords.

If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon builds the wall, it not only would signify the end of the peace process but the start of Israel's slow reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza with troops and more settlers. Those lands, including East Jerusalem, were taken by Israel in the 1967 war.

Israel would thus return to its pre-Oslo dilemma of being a Jewish state acting as the overlord of a burgeoning mass of Arabs in its midst, something Oslo was meant to prevent.

Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be living like the blacks of apartheid South Africa, behind obstacles like the new wall, or a maze of checkpoints, with their economy choked off.

Last week, 52 officers and soldiers in the Israeli Army reserve issued a statement refusing to serve in the West Bank or Gaza. "The price of occupation is ... the corruption of all of Israeli society," they stated. During their previous service, they had orders that had "nothing to do with the security of the state and their only purpose was perpetuating control over the Palestinian people."

Israel has made mistakes under the peace accords, such as adding Jewish settlements, which have frustrated Palestinian aspirations for a state as legitimate as Israel's. And the Palestinians have made little effort to end the bombings.

A strategic moment existed at the end of the cold war a decade ago when Israel saw a chance to coexist with a peaceful Palestinian state. Both sides have fumbled that chance.

Perhaps, now, the US war on global terrorism, and its effect on Mideast states such as Iraq or Iran, will create new opportunities for peace.

In the meantime, the new wall of Jerusalem, like the ancient walls of Jericho, will rise up, to perhaps eventually fall when another trumpet of peace, instead of war, is sounded.

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