Whenever hopes for peace between Israelis and Palestinians rise, a new surge of bloodshed extinguishes them. Palestinian suicide bombings provoke Israeli military attacks, which provoke more suicide bombings, which provoke more military attacks. Now the Israelis are trying to stop the violence by building a 225-mile wall—variously consisting of concrete, barbed wire, electronic fencing, motion detectors, and trenches—that will separate the Jewish state from the West Bank. It will be completed this year and will profoundly change the geographical and political landscape of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The wall is the most ambitious attempt by Israelis to reclaim the relative quiet they enjoyed before the second intifada, which began in September of 2000 and has since subjected Israel to a relentless wave of suicide terrorism. The logic behind the wall is unassailable. Israel's other borders (with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Gaza) are fairly well protected; none has the security problems with terrorist infiltrators that exist on the frontier with the West Bank. The Gaza Strip, for example, was a major departure point for Palestinian terrorist strikes into Israel before it was fenced off, in 1994. Since the current intifada began, no Palestinian suicide bomber has entered Israel from Gaza.
Polls show that at least 70 percent of Israelis support physical separation from the West Bank. However, many of the 200,000 Jewish settlers who live there oppose the wall, for a simple reason: once it is finished, the Israeli army will no longer provide the level of protection settlers currently enjoy. Few settlers are likely to want to remain outside the wall, given their increased vulnerability to attack; most will probably move back to Israel. Thus the wall could spell the death of the attempt to settle Greater Israel, which encompasses the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria and includes the West Bank. It will also create a de facto international border.
The idea of the wall also makes many Palestinians unhappy, because it will not exactly follow the Green Line—Israel's pre-1967 border with the West Bank. Instead it will reach into the West Bank to embrace some nearby Jewish settlements. Palestinians consider this a land grab. In addition, the wall will further weaken the already severely damaged Palestinian economy in the short run, since entry into Israel will be more difficult. As Palestinians are forced to turn elsewhere for jobs and income, however, the impetus for a more self-reliant and robust Palestinian economy could emerge.
But the wall could also deepen Palestinian rage and enmity, of course, prompting escalated mortar and ground-to-ground missile attacks against targets inside Israel. Hamas has already launched such attacks from the Gaza Strip, and it may now do so from the West Bank. The wall could also prompt further attacks on Israelis overseas, like the suicide bombing last November of a Mombasa hotel filled with Israeli tourists and the accompanying attempt to shoot down an Israeli chartered plane.
The population of Russia is getting smaller and older. In 1992 the country's population was estimated at 148 million; today the number is 145 million. That's an absolute decline greater than that in any other nation during the past decade—and some analysts predict that the number of people in Russia will drop below 100 million by 2050. The number of Russians aged fifteen to twenty-four, though temporarily growing because of high birth rates in the 1980s, may shrink by nearly half over the next fifteen years, because of low birth rates in the 1990s. This will greatly strain a country that is already struggling to cope with a daunting array of security challenges, including controlling the world's longest borders and largest land mass, maintaining the world's largest nuclear arsenal, and reining in one of the world's most serious weapons-proliferation problems.
"Dead Souls" (January 1999)
A prominent demographer warns that the spread of tuberculosis and AIDS in Russia will soon make Western hand-wringing over the pace of Russian "economic reform" seem quaint. By Murray Feshbach
The security implications of this demographic change become clear when one examines its effect on Russia's military, police, border guards, and other security forces, which in coming years won't be able to fill their ranks. And more is at issue than a simple decline in numbers. Young Russian men, the population from which the military and other security agencies draw most of their personnel, are today plagued with health problems, among them alcoholism (a long-standing problem), tuberculosis (a returning scourge), and HIV/AIDS (a rapidly emerging new epidemic). The mortality rate among Russian men aged fifteen to twenty-four nearly doubled in the 1990s and is now almost three times that among American men of the same age. The rate of death from suicide, one of the leading killers of young Russian men today, is more than three times that for young American men. And many young Russians who are fit for (ostensibly compulsory) military service bribe their way out of it, leaving a force even less healthy than the military-age population as a whole.
Unlike many European states that also have shrinking populations of young people, Russia isn't currently in a position to compensate for a loss of manpower by putting more money or technology into its military and other security organs, because the country's economy and scientific sectors have suffered considerably during the past decade. And as the country's population ages, burgeoning pension obligations will drain away resources that could otherwise have been devoted to security. Although immigration might mitigate some of the population loss and help to fill the ranks, the trend is not encouraging: immigration has plummeted from more than 1.2 million in 1994 to fewer than 185,000 in 2002. Russia could try to expand its military ranks, at least, by relying more on women soldiers, but the military's attitude toward women is hostile in many ways, and cultural adjustments simply will not come quickly.