Monday, March 15, 2010

The space between

The Foundation for Middle East Peace has an invaluable Israeli settlement database that catalogs everything one could possibly want to know about the Israeli settlement project, all available in an easy to use format. Furthermore, FMEP has compiled peace proposal scenarios complete with maps and figures on how many (and which) settlements would be evacuated according to several different peace scenarios including the Green Line, Camp David, Taba, Geneva, and four different Israeli separation barrier routes. I have been meaning to take a look at how far apart the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating proposals are for a while now and before I do that in this post, I do want to acknowledge that this analysis is based in large part on the maps and statistics painstakingly compiled by FMEP. I take no credit for the maps that will appear below and will attempt to provide links to the information available on FMEP's site when possible.

First off, to answer the question: "What stands in the way of Israeli-Palestinian peace."  Several things: Palestinian factionalism (the split between Hamas and Fateh) is a major obstacle but not an insurmountable one as Hamas has largely shown to be more than willing to cynically sit back and watch Fateh and the Palestinian Authority flounder in peace talks; the lack of direction in U.S. efforts to mediate a solution to the conflict, including the Obama administration's inability to forward any serious proposals or create a more productive agenda for what Israeli-Palestinian talks will include; and the entrenched, expanding Israeli settlement enterprise comprised of 500,00 Israelis beyond the 1967 Green Line living in nearly 150 settlements that comprise roughly 60% of the total area of the West Bank.

In future posts I will explore both Palestinian factionalism and U.S. mediation as they relate to the current state of affairs and the peace process, but today I will concentrate on that peculiar institution, the Israeli settlement project.

Based on longstanding policies and recent statements, it is relatively clear where both the Israeli and Palestinian administrations currently stand regarding the final borders of Israel and Palestine after a successful peace process. The Palestinian Liberation Organization, the negotiating arm of the Palestinian Authority (the PLO does not include Hamas), has repeatedly confirmed that it seeks a Palestinian state on the vast majority of the West Bank, but that it would accept equal land swaps. The PLO seeks a state containing 100% of the area of the West Bank, but is willing to entertain the notion that Israel keep several of its larger, more populous settlements in exchange for Israeli lands that would be annexed to the future Palestinian state. These swapped lands may include a "safe passage corridor" between the Gaza Strip and the southern West Bank, linking the two separated territories of a future Palestinian state. Thus, the Palestinians proposal is based most closely on the Geneva Initiative, an informal, unofficial document drafted by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators following the cancellation of the Taba peace talks in 2001. The Palestinian proposal/Geneva Initiative would divide the West Bank according to the FMEP map below:

Israel would retain the large Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and those close to the Green Line, effectively annexing 3.5% of the West Bank, which would be reconciled by ceding Israeli land equal to the annexed land to a future Palestine. The proposal would require the evacuation of over 100,000 Israeli settlers in 111 settlements. Israel would retain 34 settlements.

In contrast, the proposal described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is based largely on the same one Israel proposed at Camp David. Israel would retain large swaths of the Jordan Valley, most of its medium and large settlements in the West Bank, and a vast envelope of land around Jerusalem. The Palestinian state would be effectively divided into four statelets: Gaza, Nablus-Jenin, Ramallah-Jericho, and Hebron. This proposal is illustrated by the FMEP map below:

In this peace scenario, Israel would evacuate roughly 20,000 settlers from 34 settlements and cede 60% of the West Bank for a future Palestinian state. Below I have prepared a table comparing the current Israeli and Palestinian proposals against the full measure of the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank.

Land and control are just two pieces in the puzzle of finding a sustainable solution to the conflict. Other areas of contention are control over Jerusalem (and especially it's Old City), status and compensation of Palestinian refugees, natural resource rights, and mutual security.

Currently both sides have stated publicly and repeatedly that these two proposals are the bare minimum and most generous offer that their public could accept. The Israeli government maintains that it must retain a permanent military presence in the Jordan Valley, one of the most valuable agricultural areas available to the future Palestinian state, in order to provide early warning against attacks against Israel originating from the east (especially Iran). What is not clear with this assertion is why Israel would need to retain full control over the entire Valley (roughly 20% of the West Bank) in order to maintain an early warning capability. The Geneva Initiative proposed that Israel would be allowed to lease land in 10 year arrangements from the Palestinian Authority to build and maintain early warning radar stations staffed with needed military personnel. The leased areas would be very small, comprising only the necessary equipment to staff and support these stations. When Benjamin Netanyahu asserted two days prior to the start of indirect talks between the Israelis and Palestinians that Israel would need to retain the Jordan Valley, he presented a condition that the Palestinian Authority simply could not accept in a possible peace deal.

One major point to remember is that the conflict is not simply about land, but about control and domination. Again and again, I find one thing that Israeli delegations do not seem to understand is that if a peace deal is going to be concluded, the Israeli government will need to relinquish control of Palestinian areas in the West Bank and end a relationship where the Israeli military dominates the lives of Palestinians. Peace will require the Israeli military to step back and secure its own borders, while allowing the Palestinians freedom inside their newly established borders. Israel will simply not be able to control access between Gaza and Egypt or the West Bank and Jordan if peace is to be established.

The PLO and the vast majority of Palestinians want first and foremost a Palestinian state with full sovereignty over its borders. Palestinians seek to make their own economic and political decisions, establish diplomatic and trade relations with countries on their own terms free of Israeli influence, and provide security within their own borders. The Oslo paradigm which created semi-autonomous Palestinian areas and allowed Palestinians to wave their flag and sing their anthem while being militarily dominated and subjugated by Israel will not produce the kind of sustainable peace needed to increase regional security, promote economic development, and save lives - both Israeli and Palestinian. To make peace, Israel needs to acknowledge that the Palestinians must have a legitimate, fully sovereign state alongside their own.

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