Global Policy Forum

Israel Suspends Work on Section of West Bank Barrier

Israel has halted construction of part of the controversial West Bank barrier.  The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the barrier was illegal under international law.  Palestinian communities have also challenged the legality of the barrier in Israeli domestic courts.  Israeli authorities have, however, stated that construction has been halted due to a lack of funding and not because of these legal challenges.

By Harriet Sherwood

May 11, 2011

Israel has suspended construction work on a 25-mile section of its controversial separation barrier in the West Bank in order to save money, it says.

A defence ministry document, revealed by Army Radio, says work near a group of settlements known as Gush Etzion has been frozen but is expected to resume at the end of next year.

Construction of the barrier – mainly an electrified fence, but in some places an eight metre-high concrete wall – has slowed considerably in the last few years after starting at a frenetic pace in 2003.

When complete, it will take about 12% of the West Bank on to the Israeli side of the barrier.

The area in which work has been suspended is close to a settlement bloc that Israel is intent on keeping in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians under which final boundaries would be drawn.

Israel has long maintained that Gush Etzion, along with Ma'ale Adumim and Ariel, other major settlements, will not be relinquished.

Army Radio quoted the defence ministry document as saying Israel "realises the importance of erecting the fence and retains all of the claims to its construction despite a lack of funding".

The cost of the barrier is thought to have risen considerably since it was estimated to be about $3.5bn (£2.1bn) five years ago.

A spokesman for the defence minister, Ehud Barak, said "the construction of the fence continues and will continue" but acknowledged the project was "complex from both a judicial and engineering point of view".

The section of the barrier around Gush Etzion has been the subject of several legal challenges. Its planned route would cut off at least 20,000 Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank.

As well as the mounting cost of the barrier, continued construction around Gush Etzion is politically highly sensitive and would be seen as pre-judging the outcome of negotiations on the borders of a future Palestinian state.

The route of the barrier has been the subject of numerous legal challenges in the Israeli courts brought on behalf of Palestinian villages that faced losing access to their land or being cut in two.

Israel has always argued that the barrier is necessary to prevent suicide bombers reaching targets and to protect its settlements, all of which are illegal under international law.

However, Palestinians and many in the international community say its purpose is to annex territory and create a de facto border in advance of any peace deal. In 2004, the international court of justice ruled that the barrier was "contrary to international law".

Along most of its route – which, in places, juts deep into the West Bank – it is an electrified fence with a border of barbed wire and patrol roads, cutting a 60 metre-wide swath through what is often prime Palestinian agricultural land.

In urban areas, it is a reinforced concrete wall that often slices through Palestinian neighbourhoods.


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