In the summer of 2002, following renewed and continuing violence betweenIsrael and the Palestinians, the Israeli government began the construction of a security barrier separating Israel from large sections of the West Bank. This barrier, composed in part of a concrete wall and in other areas of parallel rows of barbed wire has recently been relabeled the “terror prevention fence”. The ‘fence’, or as also named “the wall” produced an intensive debate concerning the route of the wall which annexes 2,800 acres of Palestinian land,[1] the abuse of human rights (B’tselem, 2003; World Bank Report, 2003), the ecological damage [2]and the (in)ability and limitations of the wall in protecting Israeli citizens (Sagie and Sher, 2003). However, one of the significant results of the construction of the

wall is the tangible demarcation of the Israeli territory – the unilateral production of a clear borderline – between Israel and the Palestinian authority, deviating from the Green Line, the boundary which was created in 1948-49 and which marks the territorial extent of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, those areas which were conquered by Israel from Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 war.

This act of bordering, we propose, cannot be seen as an autonomous reaction rooted solely in the securitization discourse. Rather, it is also a result of the long history of discussions concerning the territorial nature of Israel and its spatio-political relations with the Arab world. This paper explores the historical background that shaped the border conflicts between Israel and its Arab states neighbours during the past century. This historical description allows us to explore the main themes that have shaped Israel border discourse over time. This discourse does not only relate to the issue of demarcation and territorial configurations of political entities, but also relates to the significance of borders for the nature of the relations between Israel and her neighbours in general, and more specifically between Israel and the Palestinians.

We will argue that the dispute over land and borders lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As in other cases of nation building this embodies political and social aspects as well as questions concerning identity, class formation and the symbolic production of space (see: Passi, 1999; Agnew and Corbridge, 1995; Smith, 1985; Anderson, 1983). Notions of political homeland, the symbolic and mythical territory which constitute a central part of national identity and attachment, are central to our understanding of the way in which Israel is and Palestinians formulate their respective border and territorial discourses. Nonetheless, in this paper we aim to limit the discussion to the way in which the borders and territorial dispute has been shaped, transformed and reproduced at specific political junctions. We do not aim to present here a comprehensive and detailed historical analysis here. Rather, we focus on those events which have shaped the main contours and transformations of the conflict through the different phases which have been identified in the theoretical framework of this project, namely: conflict episode, issue conflict, identity conflict and power conflict.

The EU, the USA and Other Third Party Actors

The role of third parties in the Israel\Palestine arena is a complex one. Given the importance of the area as the cradle of the three major monotheistic religions, the location of Jerusalem and the holy sites, the history of the Jewish people and so on, the region has always taken on great significance for world powers over and above their obvious geopolitical interests in the regions oil resources. Europe, because of its historical involvement in the region mentioned above, and the USA, because of its geopolitical interests and its feelings of responsibility towards the Jewish State, have continued to play a major role in the region. This is reflected in generous packages of aid and assistance on the one hand, and attempts to influence domestic and foreign policy on the other.

Since the onset of the Oslo Peace process in 1993, there has been greater international harmony and agreement over the perceived resolution of the conflict – a two-state solution – than ostensibly over any other major foreign policy issue. This has become even clearer in the immediate post-Iraq war situation, where Europe and the USA have come together over the implementation of the Road Map aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East. Israel has always played a double game with respect to third party intervention in the Israel\Palestine conflict. It readily accepts the vast amounts of assistance which come its way – especially from the United States – but is adamant in its determination that its foreign and defence policies must be independently decided and implemented without any external pressures or influence. Israel also views third party active intervention in the conflict as peace keepers with great suspicion, arguing that Israel must determine its own policies and that it cannot rely on third party presence. In particular, as we noted in the previous section, Israel rejects both United Nations and European active intervention, perceiving both as being “non honest” brokers. The failed role of past United Nations peacekeeping forces – in Sinai prior to 1967, and the UNIFIL forces in South Lebanon – make Israel highly suspicious of the ability of a new United Nations force to actually fulfil its role over and beyond any questions concerning political bias towards the Palestinians. Much more acceptable, in Israeli eyes, is United States troops or, at the least, an international force headed and controlled by the United States, as has been active in the Sinai since the implementation of the Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt since the early 1980’s.The Oslo Agreements of 1993 were negotiated and signed secretly between Israel and the Palestinians. Even the USA had not been a partner to most of the negotiations and they only became involved at a later stage of the process – commencing with the famous White House Ceremony in which President Clinton, Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat signed the Accords. Given the bilateral nature of the Oslo talks, it was felt at the time that the implementation would not require any major third party intervention. Problems could be resolved as and when they emerged, through direct talks and negotiations between the various military and political functionaries on both sides. In principle, this was the right approach but it assumed that such problems as arose could indeed be resolved through direct negotiations.The reality proved to be very different. As terrorism and violence increased, and as settlements continued to be constructed, the two sides found themselves in direct confrontation, accusing the other of not fulfilling their side of the Agreement, bringing relations to a new low following the initial euphoria of the immediate post-Oslo days. Without a third party acting as a buffer in the middle, the direct bilateral meetings became an arena of renewed conflict, often making matters even worse than they were before the meetings commenced.

The EU could play a major role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict by applying diplomatic, economic and political pressure on Israel.[3] Currently, however, the EU has mostly either stood on the sideline or sided with the US. This has particularly been a problem during the tenure of US President George W. Bush Jr., as the US stance has been more blatantly pro-Israel than ever. The implication of this is that no real pressure has been applied on the stronger part in the conflict. Israel holds most of the cards, has the military upper hand and is supported by the most powerful segments of the international community. For the sake of obtaining a peace treaty, the power balance must become more equal. The only way to do this is to put weight behind the demands on Israel. This is not the same as being anti-Israel, it merely means that Israel should be treated as any other country in the international community occupation and breaches of human rights are illegal by international law. As for the interests of the EU in solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, this is a more complicated matter. Palestine in itself is not a place filled with resources, nor is it of major strategic importance. However, since the plight of the Palestinian people is one which garners great sympathy in the Muslim world, there are clear interests by implication. For instance, many Islamic terrorists point out that the EU/US support for Israel is their main source of “inspiration” for attacking western targets. Beyond that, in dealing with countries such as Syria, Iraq and Iran (to name but a few), much political goodwill could be gained if the EU was perceived as pushing for a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Economic support given to the Palestinian population by the international community is greatly appreciated. However, a concerted effort must be made to uphold international law and bring the occupation to an end, without which there can be no solution to the conflict. The Quartet, and in particular the EU member states, have recognised the urgent need to alleviate the economic pressure imposed on the Palestinians, resulting in the creation of a temporary international mechanism to transfer funds for humanitarian purposes. This is a welcome measure, but one that falls very short of addressing deeper problems such as the fact that more than 150,000 civil servants have not received their full salaries since March 2006. On an even more fundamental level, Palestinians are being denied their basic rights under international law. The international community is actively participating in this.[4]

In order to answer this question apropriatly one must look more deeply at the context in which the EU demand took place. First of all Hamas won the election by fair democratic means and as such should have been treated as part of the Palestinian Authority, and not as separate from it. The false dichotomy created by the EU helped sow the seads for the civil war in Palestine. Secondly, the EU demands were more deeply founded than a mere “cease violence”. Hamas was asked to denounce violence, to acknowledge all previous agreements Israel had made with the Palestinian Authority, and to accept Israels “right to exist”. None of these demands were put to Israel. The feeling in Hamas was therefore that these were unfair demands that proved the bias of the EU. The European strategy could have been more successful had it lightened the pressure as Hamas made conciliatory moves. This was not done, and Hamas felt that there was no point in making concessions. The net result is that the EU policy was a failure on a grand scale, pushing Hamas back into its role as a spoiler.

The EU must take a clear stance. Does it want to solve the conflict or use the conflict as a way of

keeping close political ties with the US ? Currently it seems that the second option is the one being followed. If the EU wants to solve the conflict it must be willing to apply pressure on Israel and diverge from the US in its treatment of Hamas. What the EU has to realize is that the conflict is one based on a power imbalance. By being a blind “bridge builder” the EU is de facto supporting Israel. In the long run this is not the way to solve the conflict, rather it is a recipe for making it more difficult to solve as Israel can continue to create facts on the ground.


The EU must invest all its efforts in supporting this latest attempt to end the conflict. But it should also  encourage its allies, most importantly the US and Israel, to entertain new policies, in particular towards Hamas. Without a different approach to the group, the current peace initiative will not succeed. Even with

agreement from Israel and the quartet to engage Hamas, peace is far from guaranteed. In the near term, Hamas is unlikely to consider peace with Israel. But if the EU can convince Israel, with US backing, to engineer a long-term ceasefire with Hamas, it will already have contributed significantly to stabilising the situation. [5]Years could still be needed for the parties to build up the will and trust to enter into serious peace negotiations, but at least the cycle of endless violence will have been interrupted. If the EU can help to improve the Palestinian economy, it will make a further crucial contribution to creating the conditions for a viable peace. Effective EU financial assistance can also help restore the credibility of the EU and US – damaged by their boycott of Hamas which many Palestinians perceive as a punishment for their democratic choice. To maximise the impact of its aid, the EU should try to persuade Israel to allow more free movement within the West Bank and open its borders to trade with Gaza.


  1. The EU and the Israel\Palestine Conflict,EU Border Conf
  2. Clara Marina O’Donnell, The EU, Israel and Hamas

[1]Gush Shalom brochure, 2003,

[2] PENGON Report, 2003

[3] Jørgen Jensehaugen

[4] Palestinian human rights organizations

[5] The EU, Israel and Hamas,Clara Marina O’Donell

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