Kerry's View on Israel's Fence: 'Legitimate' or 'Barrier to Peace'?

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

( - As three days of hearings at the International Court of Justice over Israel's security fence came to an end, an Israeli newspaper contrasted Democratic front-runner Senator John Kerry's positions on the issue now, and four months ago, when he addressing an Arab American audience.

After hearing submissions by countries and groups overwhelmingly hostile to Israel, including the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the 15-judge panel in The Hague will consider its verdict and issue a decision at a date to be announced.

Israel did not participate in the oral proceedings, arguing in a written submission that the ICJ did not have the jurisdiction to rule on the case.

That position was supported by the United States, although Washington has criticized the route taken by the security barrier, which encroaches in some places on areas the Palestinian Authority (PA) claims as part of a future independent state.

Israel says the fence is essential if terrorists from the PA self-rule areas are to be prevented from carrying out suicide bombings in Israeli cities. More than 900 Israelis have been killed, and 29 such attacks have occurred, since September 2000.

Adopting a stance echoing that of the Bush administration, Kerry indicated in a statement issued this week that Israel had the right to erect the barrier, while its route should be carefully considered.

"Israel's security fence is a legitimate act of self defense," he said. "Israel has a right and a duty to defend its citizens. The fence only exists in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israel."

Kerry also said that President Bush was "rightly discussing with Israel the exact route of the fence to minimize the hardship it causes innocent Palestinians."

The Jerusalem Post pointed out that the statement was issued a week ahead of the March 2 primaries, which include New York state, "with its high concentration of Democratic Jewish voters."

It also noted that last October, Kerry had referred to the fence as a "barrier to peace."

He did so during a speech at the Arab American Institute's national leadership conference in Michigan, which was also addressed by other Democratic contenders. A transcript is posted on the organization's website.

"I know how disheartened Palestinians are by the Israeli government's decision to build the barrier off of the Green Line -- cutting deep into Palestinian areas," Kerry told the AAI audience in a video link-up.

"We don't need another barrier to peace," he continued. "Provocative and counterproductive measures only harm Israelis' security over the long term, increase the hardships to the Palestinian people, and make the process of negotiating an eventual settlement that much harder."

Kerry also used the speech to criticize President Bush for "ignoring or downplaying" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "for far too long," and vowed that, as president, he would appoint an envoy in the Middle East "who would never depart ... a person of
such stature that we could move the process forward."

Kerry has said since that speech that he would consider former President Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter, or former Secretary of State James Baker as a Mideast envoy.

An AAI poll last July showed a sharp decline in support among Arab Americans for Bush -- from 45.5 percent at the 2000 election to 33.5 percent in the poll. Respondents in the same poll placed Kerry and Howard Dean at the head of the pack of Democratic contenders at that time.

A poll released by the American Jewish Committee last month indicated that 31 percent of Jewish voters would vote for Bush in a race against Kerry in 2004, while 59 percent would support Kerry and 10 percent were unsure.

The Republican Jewish Coalition said that poll result showed a more than 50 percent increase in Jewish support for Bush since 2000, and made him "the most popular Republican presidential candidate with Jews since Ronald Reagan won a second term in 1984."

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow