The US Mediation Efforts – Proposed Next Steps
March 21, 2010
The settlement issue will continue to be the major point of contention between Israel and the PLO in the coming months of negotiations – whether through proximity talks or through direct face-to-face negotiations. Whether in Jerusalem or within the settlement blocs in the West Bank, Israeli building plans, either from the government or from private initiatives of settlers, will continue to offset the peace process and jeopardize the chances of moving forward.
The current Israeli government and even the previous government expanded settlement building primarily in those areas that Israel assumes it will annex within the context of a permanent status agreement. The main problem is that there is no Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the delineation of borders between the two states so the Israeli settlement expansion is continually seen as unilateral actions aimed at creating facts on the ground that prejudge the outcome of the negotiations.
In the Olmert-Abbas talks, to the surprise of many, the territorial issue presented the greatest difficulty, more than Jerusalem or even refugees. According to Olmert, he offered the following: 93.7% of the West Bank to the Palestinian State, Israel would annex 6.3% including main settlement blocks of Ariel and Maaleh Adumin as well and the Jewish parts of East Jerusalem. Ariel would have a tunnel leading to it in the area of the Palestinian villages in order to avoid annexing areas with Palestinians on them to Israel. The territorial swaps areas would be: in Jenin area, south Jabel Hebron, Halutza (near Gaza) and Gilboa (north West Bank). No Palestinians would be annexed to Israel.
According to the official response prepared by Saeb Arikat, the Palestinians were prepared to allow the Israelis to swap and annex only 1.9%. According to Israeli expert Shaul Arieli, an annexation of 4.1% or 254 square kilometers would accommodate 75.6% of the settlers or 335,500 leaving about 108,000 settlers in about 94 small settlements outside of the annexed areas. If the annexation was 5.2% it would incorporate 81.89% of the settlers in an area of 322.2 square kilometers leaving 18.11% of the settlers or some 80,000 in 86 settlements that would have to be relocated. Larger annexations become more difficult because of the lack of practical options for qualitative territorial swaps from land inside of Israel that do not include communities of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
It is almost certain that the current Israeli and Palestinian negotiators do not have the tools or the political will to reach an agreement on the delineation of borders, yet this issue will continue to be the primary point of contention even before dealing with the sensitive issues of the Old City of Jerusalem, refugees and security. The border issue deals with the territorial issue of Jerusalem and is therefore essential to reach compromise on this in order to advance the negotiations on the other issues.
The US (and the Quartet) should positively consider putting on the table a proposed Quartet Map for the delineation of borders between the two states. Almost all of the possible mapping work has been done by experts such as Shaul Arieli and Samih al Abed on the Palestinian side who together worked on the maps of the Geneva Initiative. Arieli and Abed have explored all of the annexations and swap possibilities and have computerized programs displaying the options including full details on the exact amount of land involved, the number of settlements and settlers, and the number of Palestinian residents within the proposed possible annexed areas.
What would mainly be required of the Quartet is to reach a decision on which option to present to the parties. In addition to a proposed map, it would be wise to present a plan or a proposal for how to deal with the settlers who would find themselves inside the areas which will become the Palestinian state with territorial contiguity. The range of possibilities include: remaining in the Palestinian state as law abiding citizens or permanent residents of that State, to being repatriated to Israel proper or to the annexed areas, enabling them to remain in a part of Judea or Samaria. Financial compensation will have to be dealt with and a proposal on that matter could be included in the Quartet’s proposal.
If the Quartet tables a proposed plan and a map the Quartet mediator will maintain control over the negotiations. Otherwise, the territorial negotiations will take forever, will be conducted as a Middle East bazaar, will create mutual animosity and could easily lead to a speedy breakdown in the talks. If the talks breakdown as a result of the table Quartet plan, it will demonstrate that there is no chance at this time to reach any kind of meaningful agreement.
If that should occur, it would be advised to make the Quartet’s proposal public so as to enable Israelis and Palestinians to understand what is at stake and how a possible agreement could be reached. This dynamic, according to what we know about Israeli and Palestinian public opinion could help to build public pressure on the governments to move forward with negotiations. After nearly 18 years of negotiations it would be greatly beneficial to have a Quartet map on the table.
Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.
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.