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Israel begins construction of fence on West Bank border

By Wolf Blitzer

Israeli soldiers patrol along a wall Israel has already built on the western edge of the West Bank town of Qalqilya, Wednesday.

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Jerusalem (CNN) -- The Israeli argument is simple: As the poet Robert Frost said: "Good fences make good neighbors."

And so, the Israelis have started building a fence that eventually will continue for more than 200 miles -- roughly coinciding with Israel's 1967 border with the West Bank. But there are several major detours to ensure that Ariel, Immanuel and other major Jewish settlement communities on the West Bank are on the Israeli side of the fence.

Surveyed from the air, it's a massive project. It's eventual cost: an estimated $220 million.

The Israelis say they need this fence to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers and other terrorists from crossing into populated Israeli centers. Most of the infiltrators, they say, have come from the West Bank.

Israel already has a fence encircling Gaza. Officials say there have been virtually no infiltrations from there.

Construction in this phase of the project began this week and is now on-going near Jenin, Bethlehem and other towns and cities along the Israeli-West Bank border. Once completed, the barrier will actually be a combination of fences, walls, ditches, patrol roads and electronic surveillance devices. The first 68 miles of the barrier is scheduled to be finished within a year.

Most Palestinians say they hate the fence -- in part because it will make it more difficult for them to get to desperately needed jobs in Israel. It will also -- at various locations -- divide Palestinian farms and villages.

Many Palestinians believe that maintaining exchange between Israel and the West Bank is essential -- and some say that people will try to cross the border when and where they want to regardless of the fence.

"Even the wall of Berlin -- the big wall -- the people there were jumping over it to the other side to look for work and this fence compared with the Berlin Wall is nothing," a Palestinian shepherd told us.

"The fence will not help," another man said. "Everyone who wants to cross can do it."

Israelis we spoke to acknowledge it won't provide 100 percent protection but they insist it will help in the short term. The only long-term solution, they say, is peace.

"I think you have to get to an agreement with the other side. I hope this is what they'll do," one man told us.

An Israeli woman we spoke to dismissed the fence as window dressing: "What you need is a real peace agreement and not a fence. It is not the solution, I think."

But Israeli government officials say seven-year-old Naomi Leibowitz would be alive today if that fence had been completed. Her father was driving her and her three-year-old sister in central Israel this week -- not far from the West Bank town of Qalqilyah. They say a Palestinian gunman crossed into Israel and shot them. Her father and sister survived. A fence, the Israelis say, could have prevented the incident.

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