We still have no real idea of when or what President Obama will present as an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. In the meantime, the Prime Minister’s special emissary, Yitzhak Molcho, is off to Washington to try and reach some understandings with the US administration prior to the next meeting between Senator Mitchell and Netanyahu.
The rumors floating around suggest that Obama’s plan will aim to focus first on setting borders between the State of Israel and the future State of Palestine, now that Netanyahu has accepted the two-state solution.
Focusing on borders makes good sense, because once borders are agreed upon, Israel can continue its settlement activities in those areas that will be annexed to Israel and begin to construct new housing for the settlers that will have to leave their homes in areas that will become part of the State of Palestine.
Once the US plan is announced, the border debate in Israel will go into full force. It is important that the public and the government understand the dynamics involved and the red lines that will be imposed from the Palestinian side.
The following are some of the issues and principles that will be part of the debate: The Green Line will be the point of reference and not the separation barrier. From the Israeli perspective the separation barrier already marks the territories that Israel has planned to annex. From the Palestinian point of view, every place where the separation barriers enters the territory east of the Green Line is illegal and therefore, cannot be the point of reference for drawing the border. The international community, including the four Quartet members, will most likely support the Palestinian stance that the point of reference is the 1949 armistice Green line and not the separation barrier.
The size of the Palestinian state will be 22% of the land between the Jordan river and the sea. The Palestinian negotiators will surely come forward with an exact figure of how many square dunams were occupied by Israel in 1967 and will demand that the Palestinian state be established on that exact figure. The Palestinians will quote the UN principle regarding the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, and the precedents in this regard established in the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.
Continuity and contiguity of the Palestinian State to east Jerusalem including the Old City and the Muslim and Christian Holy Sites without going through any Israeli checkpoints will be a fundamental principle on which the Palestinians will make no compromise. The Oslo agreements cut Jerusalem off from the Palestinian people. This situation is at the top of the demands and will not ever be tolerated in any permanent status agreement.
While delineating the borders of the West Bank it will also be necessary to determine the nature of the physical link between the West Bank and Gaza, even if this will not be used for quite some time.
TERRITORIAL EXCHANGES as a principle have been accepted by the Palestinians. Yasser Arafat agreed to this principle in Camp David in July 2000. Since that time Palestinians have clarified that the exchanges must be on a 1:1 basis in quantitative and qualitative terms. Quantity is easy enough to determine, but how does one judge the quality of the territory? The Israeli settlements/neighborhoods built after 1967 inside of the expanded Jerusalem Municipal boundaries account for about 1% of the territory. Clearly, the lands in the area of Holot Halutza south of the Gaza strip are not of the same quality as lands in Jerusalem and Palestinian rejection should be easily understood. What lands could be exchanged for land in Jerusalem in terms of equal quality?
Likewise, Palestinians will reject any attempt to include land areas with communities of Palestinian citizens of Israel, such as Umm el-Fahm. There seems to be a clear understanding and agreement between Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Palestinian leadership that their status as citizens of Israel would not be exchanged in order to grant legitimacy to Israeli settlements. Even though Palestinian citizens identify with the Palestinian cause and want to see a Palestinian state established next to Israel, they will demand to retain Israeli citizenship, even if that means remaining second-class citizens. They will continue to struggle for equality in Israel rather than having to struggle for equality within the Palestinian state, which would mean an immediate decline in socio-economic status including health care benefits, free movement and access and a whole slew of other benefits they have as citizens of Israel.
SINCE THE status of Palestinian citizens in Israel will be raised as a result of discussing borders, it would be wise to raise the issue of the possibility of Jewish citizens of Palestine. There may be some settlers who would rather remain where they are, even if it would mean coming under Palestinian sovereignty. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad already suggested that some Jews would be welcome to remain in a future Palestinian state, if they agreed to observe Palestinian laws and live under Palestinian rule. Perhaps it would be wise for us all to link the rights, privileges and obligations of Palestinians in Israel to those of Jews in Palestine. Maybe then it would be possible to close the gaps of discrimination against Palestinians in Israel and prevent the discrimination against Jews in Palestine.
Palestinians will never accept the possibility that Israel will control their external borders. Every offer made the Palestinians so far, including the latest Olmert “take-it-or-leave-it” offer to Mahmoud Abbas fell on the Israeli demand to control access of Palestinians to the outside world.
No Palestinian leader will ever accept a Palestinian state which is a sovereign cage. This too should be easy for Israel to understand because Israel would never accept having its outside borders controlled by someone else. In fact, there is perhaps no better definition of sovereignty than this.
These are the main principles that will have to be taken into account in the discussions on borders. These discussions will be further complicated once the elements of security are included. There is almost no chance at all that the current government of Israel and the Palestinian leadership will reach an agreement on this issue.
If President Obama and Senator Mitchell are serious about resolving this issue first, they will rapidly come to the conclusion that unless they put the map down on the table, no lines will be drawn at all.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.