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On Point

Babies, Shekels and Bullets


by Austin Bay

On the Israeli side, the settlements policy, a land-grab by religious radicals who believe God promised them the land from the "great Egyptian river to the Euphrates," politically undermined efforts at economic integration.

On the Palestinian side, Yasser Arafat's corrupt government sapped development. Iraq, Iran and Syria still fund militants, because endless war furthers their interests. Apocalyptic Islamists cast 2002 in the rhetoric of self-serving triumphalism. For Islamists, if the Palestinian people are destroyed in the process of destroying Israel, so be it.

The Palestinians bear a high degree of responsibility for their current hell. Suicide bombing campaigns do not incline minds to support legitimate Palestinian demands. The rejection of Ehud Barak's 2000 peace offer was a terrible mistake, though arguably that offer was rushed, more appropriately made in a post-Saddam era.

The Israelis are in the process of militarily smashing the Intifada's infrastructure. As they withdraw from Palestinian cities, they will leave behind surveillance assets.

But after the withdrawal? One proposed Israeli government "solution" to the demographic war is to build "the Wall." The Jerusalem Wall, like the Berlin Wall, will divide populations.

A wall around Israel will reduce the threat of terror attacks, a legitimate goal. However, it will never bring peace. The West Bank will become a zone of permanent deprivation, a ghetto of sorts. Jordan could topple into ethnic chaos. Inside the Wall? This "Fortress Israel" isn't Paradise. One 2020 projection sees an urbanized sprawl of 6.5 million Israeli Jews, with 3 million Israeli Arabs. Do the math, for the baby battle affects ballots. Israeli Arabs will have a third of the votes. What happens then? A move to "curb" Arab democratic rights? Arab expulsions? Another Wall? Building walls risks turning Israel into just another Middle Eastern ethnic and religious autocracy.

What's the alternative? Ironically, a larger war, one aimed at regime changes in Iraq and Syria, would in the long haul improve Israeli and Palestinian prospects. The defeat of zealots is essential. Arab moderates (they do exist) lack the ability to tackle their zealots. That means the Israelis will have to do it for them (which they are, with guns). The Israelis, however, must also defeat their own radicals. The settlements must be withdrawn.

The real alternative is shekels. As impossible as it seems, that dream of economic integration still represents the best prospect for long-term peace and justice.

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