JERUSALEM: Israel risked a confrontation with the United States and angered Palestinians by approving a security barrier that cuts deep into the West Bank to shield key settlements – as well as Israel – from suicide bombers. The barrier has outraged Palestinians who consider it a major land grab.
The Cabinet decision on Wednesday was crafted to deflect US criticism that the barrier could disrupt Palestinian lives and might pre-empt peace talks by creating a de facto border.
To appease the United States, sections around settlements in the midst of the West Bank will for now be disconnected from each other and from existing barrier sections built closer to Israel's pre-1967 border with the West Bank. The final route will be decided in the coming months.
The barrier was conceived, under public pressure, as a means of keeping Palestinian attackers out of Israel, where hundreds have been killed in suicide bombings during three years of conflict. But the project has been complicated by efforts to incorporate some of the 220,000 West Bank settlers on the “Israeli” side.
To date, Israel has completed about 150km of fences, razor wire and concrete walls and trenches built fairly close to the pre-1967 border but dipping slightly into occupied territory in some areas to include Jewish settlements.
The government has struggled with the question of settlements deeper inside the West Bank, especially Ariel, a community of 18,000 residents some 25km inside. The settlers wanted the fence to incorporate them – but the idea angered the United States and Palestinians.
In line with the secrecy that has characterised the project, no maps were officially released on Wednesday. – AP
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