Israel's wall might bring about a one-state solution

QALQILYA, WEST BANK — QALQILYA, West Bank - If there is one iron law that has shaped the history of Arab-Israeli relations, it's the law of unintended consequences.

For instance, Israel is still wrestling with all the unintended consequences of its victory in 1967. Today, Israel is building a fence and walls around the West Bank to deter suicide bombers. But, having looked at this wall extensively from both sides, I am ready to make a prediction: It will be the mother of all unintended consequences.


Rather than create the outlines of a two-state solution, this wall will kill that idea for Palestinians and drive them, over time, to demand instead a one-state solution - where they and the Jews would have equal rights in one state.

And since by 2010 there will be more Palestinian Arabs than Jews living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza combined, this transformation of the Palestinian cause will be very problematic for Israel. If American Jews think it's hard to defend Israel today on college campuses, imagine what it will be like when their kids have to argue against the principle of one man, one vote.


Why is this happening? First, because the fence is not being built on the 1967 border. It is being built on Palestinian land across the border, inside the West Bank. And since the fence is really a strip - up to 100 yards wide - of razor wire, trenches, sensors and cameras, more slices of Palestinian land are being confiscated to build it and farmers are being separated from their fields.

"If the Israelis want to build the wall on the 1967 Green Line - no problem, they could build it 100 meters high," said Nidal Jaloud, spokesman for the West Bank Palestinian border town of Qalqilya, where Israel put a 24-foot-high wall after five suicide bombers came out of there. "But it is not being built on the Green Line - it is built on our lands."

More important, Israelis just see a fence from their side. But for the Palestinians, the fence is part of a web of Israeli checkpoints and fences inside the West Bank, and the sealing of all exits but one from many Palestinian villages. This has transformed the West Bank into a series of cages. Qalqilya is surrounded by fences on three sides - to shut it off not only from Israel proper to the west, but also from West Bank Jewish settlements to the north and south. You can get out of Qalqilya only by going through a single Israeli checkpoint.

"I am trying to get to al-Funduk village - 10 minutes from here by car," Luay Tayyem, a Palestinian aid worker, told me as he stood in line to get out of Qalqilya. "Today it will take me three hours. When I tell the soldiers I am going to al-Funduk, they ask me in broken Hebrew: 'Where is that?' They speak to each other in Russian. I speak better Hebrew than they do. ... I have been here 30 years, they've been here two."

If the Israelis were building a fence around the West Bank, and then removing all the checkpoints inside, it would make great sense. But they can't, because the West Bank Jewish settlements also have to be protected - hence the fences and checkpoints all over the place, which are choking commerce and creating cages that will become factories of despair.

As Palestinians find themselves isolated in pockets next to Jewish settlers - who have the rule of law, the right to vote, welfare, jobs, etc. - and as hope for a contiguous Palestinian state fades, it's inevitable that many of them will throw in the towel and ask for the right to vote in Israel.

Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster, has already found 25 to 30 percent of Palestinians now supporting this idea - a stunning figure, considering it's never been proposed by any Palestinian or Israeli party.

Mohammed Dahleh, the first Israeli Arab to clerk on the Israeli Supreme Court, said to me: "If Palestinians lose their dream to have an independent state, then the only thing that might guarantee for them a dignified life will be asking for the right to live in one state with the Israelis. When this struggle starts, it will find allies among the 1 million Palestinian Arabs inside Israel. ... We will say, 'Don't evacuate even a single West Bank settlement. Just give us the vote and let us be part of one community,'" since Israel has made it into one space anyway. "This call will find great resonance within the international community."


I have enormous sympathy for Israelis trying to deter suicide bombers. But to build a fence without a border, and without facing up to the contradiction of having Jews on both sides of it, will only bring more troubles.

Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.