May 23, 2002
Israel to Build West Bank Fence
One day after a suicide bombing in Netanya, Israel has announced that it will build a security fence separating Israel from the West Bank within the next six months.
Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer made the announcement Monday during a meeting of Israelis living along the border. The 225-mile-long fence will be equipped with cameras and electronic detection devices, he said.
A total of $46 million has been allocated for the project, which also will include protective walls for nearby Israeli communities, Ben-Eliezer said.
Israelis attending the meeting later were quoted as backing the plan -- as long as it is completed quickly.
The idea of a security fence repeatedly has been proposed as a way to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from reaching their targets in Israel.
Supporters say a similar fence along the perimeter of the Gaza Strip has helped block terror attacks.
Detractors say the new fence inevitably will be seen as a border demarcation between Israel and the West Bank, and will harm Israel's negotiating position in any future talks with the Palestinians.
Sunday's suicide bombing in Netanya -- and another attack Monday in northern Israel in which only the bomber perished -- reinforced Israeli officials' skepticism regarding Yasser Arafat's call for reform in the Palestinian Authority.
The Netanya bombing came days after Arafat delivered a speech before Palestinian legislators in which he vowed to make reforms.
The Palestinian Authority president also used the speech to denounce Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians -- a denunciation that apparently fell on deaf ears among some of his constituents.
Hours before the Netanya attack, Ben-Eliezer said at the weekly Cabinet meeting that Arafat's call for reforms was just another of his "tricks."
After the attack, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said Israelis should not believe that Arafat's criticism of terrorism would result in a halt to such attacks.
The attack also has prompted speculation about whether or how the Israeli military will retaliate.
Earlier this month, Israel planned, and then called off, a military operation in the Gaza Strip following a terror attack at a pool hall in Rishon le-Zion that killed 15 and left more than 60 injured. Another sucide bombing in Rishon le-Zion on Wednesday killed at least two Israelis and seriously injured at least 37.
There have also been numerous Palestinian terror attacks in Netanya. One such attack at a Passover seder prompted Israel to launch a massive anti-terror military operation in the West Bank.
Three Israelis were killed and about 58 injured in Sunday's suicide bombing.
One of the victims of Sunday's attack had survived the "Passover Massacre" in Netanya. Arkady Wiselman, 40, worked as a chef at the Park Hotel, where 29 Israelis were killed in the suicide bombing at a Passover seder.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack, which was carried out by a terrorist dressed in an Israeli army uniform.
One day before the Netanya bombing, Israel asked the United States and Britain to isolate the leader of the Popular Front, Ahmed Sa'adat. Sa'adat, whom Israel claims masterminded the October 2001 assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi, is imprisoned under British supervision in a Jericho jail.
Israel claims Sa'adat has unfettered access to telephones and visitors, allowing him to use the jail as an office to plan terror attacks, including the one this week in Netanya.
The attack came as security forces were on alert in central Israel after receiving information that a suicide bomber was preparing an attack, Israel Radio said.
In another terror attack this week, a bomber blew himself up at a bus station near Afula on Monday when police approached him for questioning. Three people were treated for shock.
The terrorist had tried to board a bus carrying workers to a factory, but was told it was a private bus. Suspicious passengers alerted police.
Last week, Sharon set two preconditions for the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority -- a halt to terror and reform in the Palestinian Authority. Sidelining Arafat from the diplomatic process is the chief reform that Sharon is seeking.
At Sunday's Cabinet meeting, Ben-Eliezer said Arafat's call for reforms was insufficient, adding that it had to be backed up by deeds.
In a move that is likely to provide additional ammunition to those who question Arafat's sincerity, he hinted in his May 15 speech to Palestinian legislators that any peace treaty he signs with Israel will be temporary.
It was widely reported that Arafat used the speech to call for unspecified reforms in the Palestinian Authority and to tell legislators to prepare for new elections, without mentioing a date.
Arafat also provided yet another reason for skepticism: After issuing the call for new elections, he amended it over the weekend, saying there would be no elections until all Israeli troops withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.