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Edition 3 Volume 2 - January 26, 2011

The politics of illusion  - As'ad Ghanem
It is "declarations" that are the politics of the PLO, not real achievements on the ground.

The border is not the heart of the conflict  - Yisrael Harel
Foregoing the right of return is harder for the Palestinians than territorial concession.

Settlements, borders and the Israeli plan  - Khalil Toufakji
Control of the land is an important component in drawing the borders of the Hebrew state.

A Palestinian state within the 1967 borders: settlements vs. sovereignty  - Philip C. Wilcox
The Israeli and Palestinian people must accept a border that addresses their basic needs.

The politics of illusion
 As'ad Ghanem

What is the alternative to politics as a mechanism to achieve concrete goals and interests of the group, the nation or the state? The natural and logical alternative for what is considered to be the legitimate leadership of a group is to move on two different levels: first, redefining the group's interests or targets, and second, redesigning the strategies for achieving those goals.

The Palestinian case represents a collapse of politics. Put differently, the PLO leadership insists on maintaining a politics of illusion that totally contradicts the facts on the ground. Worse, the PLO leadership declares that its aim is to achieve a political mission that totally contradicts previous declarations and understandings with the Israeli side. This is correct for the main topics that are related to a permanent solution of the Palestinian problem: refugees, Jerusalem, borders of the future Palestinian state and the whole package of what is considered by this leadership a "just solution for the Palestinian cause".

Here we shall concentrate on the question of the borders of the future Palestinian state. According to the declared objectives of the Arab Peace Initiative, which is endorsed by the PLO leadership, the goal is "Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon", along with the establishment of a "sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital". The Palestinian leadership has launched a public political and diplomatic campaign that aims to convince the international community to accept these goals and to recognize such a state.

These declarations and the effort to obtain international recognition for a Palestinian state are taking place under the shadow of three main facts. First, the current PLO leadership does not have the legitimacy to continue to represent Palestinian goals. Second, these declarations serve as an alternative to the real achievement of a viable Palestinian state due to official Israeli rejection. And third, the PLO leadership has totally failed to convince the Obama administration to put any real pressure on Israel in order to make a minor positive gesture such as freezing settlement-construction even for only three months.

Instead of taking hard decisions based on the conclusion that an independent Palestinian state is not a political option any more, that Oslo and the API are only lip-service to continued Israeli hegemony over the Palestinians, that US decisions concerning the future of the Israeli-Palestinian problem are totally biased, and that no US administration could serve as an honest broker, the PLO leadership chooses to continue with the politics of illusion. It presents a promising future for the Palestinians by totally misleading the Palestinian people--as if the demand for full Israeli withdrawal with East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state is still an achievable goal.

Instead of re-evaluating Palestinian goals and strategies, for example by reopening the 1948 file and seeking a one-state solution, the PLO leadership chooses to launch a campaign of illusions. It is trying to convince the Palestinian people that the current political path is an appropriate way to achieve its goals.

In contradiction to its declared objectives, the current PLO leadership undertook to negotiate with Israel over the establishment of a Palestinian state while agreeing at the same time that the major Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem continue to be part of Israel in the permanent solution. This means the PLO leadership is willing to accept "facts on the ground" in East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank and agrees to accommodate a position that is considered in Israel to enjoy consensus support by both the Jewish public and the leadership and elites: no return to the 1967 borders.

The PLO leadership is trying to convince the Palestinian people, the Arab world and many others of a false hope. It is agreeing to accept a truncated Palestinian state without Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in 1967 and without huge parts of East Jerusalem. It is "declarations" that are the politics of the PLO, not real achievements on the ground. The PLO leaders are convinced that publishing declarations and disseminating illusions will serve their goal of staying in power. Meanwhile, Palestinians will continue to suffer without a hope for a just solution to their problem.-Published 26/1/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Dr. As'ad Ghanem teaches at the School of Political Science, University of Haifa.

The border is not the heart of the conflict
 Yisrael Harel

Most people who deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including most Israelis, believe the heart of that conflict is territorial. Accordingly, what is known as the "peace process" is stuck due to disagreement between the two sides concerning the location of the future border. Even the Arab Peace Initiative--assuming it is for real and isn't simply a Saudi public-relations stunt that emerged, coincidentally, shortly after the 9/11 attacks in which many Saudis were involved--focuses on the question of borders. Indeed, it determines their location: "Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines", with East Jerusalem as the capital of a "sovereign independent Palestinian state".

Surprise, surprise: even though Israel has nearly internalized this Arab demand, this has not advanced negotiations at all. On the contrary, in the last two years, despite Israeli readiness for territorial compromises that come close to the API formula, including in Jerusalem and the Golan, the Palestinians have been boycotting the talks with Israel.

Prof. Anita Shapira, a renowned historian who specializes in the history of the socialist Zionist movements, recently analyzed the events that led up to the latest split in the Labor party. She noted that in the early 1990s, when Labor was one of the two big centrist parties, a member of the party who advocated a Palestinian state was considered a virtual traitor. Today, 20 years later, even Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu has formally committed to "two states for two peoples". And in the talks with PLO leader Yasser Arafat in 2000 at Camp David, Ehud Barak, the man who until last week led Labor--the party that caused Yossi Sarid to abandon its ranks over the Palestinian state issue--was prepared to deliver to the Palestinians sovereignty over East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount. Peace, it emerges, is more important to many Israelis than the holiest site of the Jewish people. Ever since, including just two weeks ago, Barak doesn't tire of repeating this formula, while no one on the "right" demands his removal from the Likud-led "rightist" government in Jerusalem.

Thus has Israel, whose senior leaders are prepared to establish a Palestinian state and divide Jerusalem, experienced a process of revolutionary ideological erosion. Yet, rather than causing Palestinian leaders to heighten their contacts with Israel in order to reach agreement, this erosion has distanced them. Their absence from negotiations over the past two years, at a time when Israel is more prepared than ever to delineate a border and despite the "revelations" of al-Jazeera, bears eloquent witness to this phenomenon.

For years I have argued that Israeli moderation, as expressed in the gradual ideological compromises made by both left- and right-wing governments that culminated in Netanyahu's dramatic "two states for two peoples" declaration, has generated among the Palestinians and the broader Arab world the perception that Israel's concessions are caused by terrorist attrition and that they reflect a loss of faith in the justice of Israel's cause. When Israelis lose a sense of justice, their struggle is weakened accordingly. That's why every display of Palestinian determination has generated greater Israeli flexibility. The current, two-year old Palestinian determination to boycott talks--the most extensive and clever in terms of its diplomatic management--will bring yet more Israeli flexibility, and so on and on.

It seems to me that the Palestinians understand Israel is very close to more concessions, including on the Golan Heights, that correspond geographically with the API. But if they agree to negotiate, they will be hard put to explain to the Americans, the Europeans and perhaps even the Saudis (assuming their plan is real and not a diversion) why they don't meet Israel's far-reaching concessions half-way. The explanation is that for them the border, meaning the extent of Israel's withdrawal, is not the heart of the conflict and of their resistance. Yet as long as Israel has not reached the bottom line of its territorial concessions--meaning the line the Palestinians have drawn--they can simply dig in behind their territorial claims.

The al-Jazeera leaks, if authentic, confirm this: at the last moment the Palestinians canceled what they had ostensibly agreed to and refused to sign a deal with the Olmert government. Worse, even if the documents are forged and PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas did not make the commitment attributed to him, why shouldn't he step forward as a leader and reply: while I did not make the commitment attributed to me, it is acceptable to me. That is how we could make peace.

Now that the Likud government is prepared to follow the path of the left, and in view of the sweeping denial by the Palestinian leadership regarding the al-Jazeera documents, the cat is out of the bag: it's not the border issue that focuses the Palestinians' attention, but the right of return, along with rejection of the Zionist founding principle whereby the state of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people.

Foregoing the right of return is harder for the Palestinians than territorial concessions, if only because they never had territory. Palestinian or Arab agreement that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people is not possible. That would oblige them to declare that the territory of the state of Israel is Jewish and not Arab land. And because they cannot embrace these two declarative concessions, they have broken off contact, despite the knowledge that they are on the verge of getting most of their territorial demands, including de facto and eventually de jure sovereignty in Jerusalem.-Published 26/1/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Yisrael Harel heads the Institute for Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem and writes a weekly political column in Haaretz. He founded the Yesha Council (Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District) and headed it for 15 years.

Settlements, borders and the Israeli plan
 Khalil Toufakji

Control of the land is an important component in drawing the borders of the Hebrew state--as such the establishment of settlements is fundamental. In June 1967, Israel attacked the Arab states in a war justified for security reasons that quickly resulted in the complete occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as other lands belonging to the Arab states.

The purpose was to open a new front for Israeli settlement. Immediately and up until the eighties, Israel planted settlements on the lands that it confiscated for "security reasons" and where the Jordanian military had created bases. Then it concentrated on legally establishing settlements as temporary posts with military value (as in the settlements of the Jordan Valley) and the Etzion bloc, thereby transforming conditions on the ground in the West Bank, including parts of Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Key to this was the law passed on June 28, 1967 that widened the borders of Jerusalem. The Likud government then further advanced these policies in the legislature, thereby controlling some 40 percent of the West Bank.

Even before the shooting stopped entirely, Israeli bulldozers were destroying Palestinian villages (like Yalo, Amwas and Beit Nuba) and part of the town of Qalqilia. Fifty-eight square kilometers were thus controlled in these no-mans-lands, and new settlements established there. Similarly, an entire neighborhood was destroyed in the city of Jerusalem, on which was built what is now called the Jewish Quarter. It was through these policies that Israel was able to change the borders of the land in its favor (in Jerusalem, Latroun, and the Gush Etzion area), along with the security area in the Jordan Valley, concentrating its settlements in those areas.

According to the Alon plan, other areas were to be returned to Jordan but over time and with changes in the political atmosphere and the Zionist vision, these became part of the strategic settlement project. The policy of Israel became to employ the borders of the West Bank that included the largest areas of land with the fewest number of people. In addition to this, Israel sought to reach a status quo with Jordan that created a political border of 10-15 kilometers deep the length of the Jordan valley, and the Dead Sea, Gush Etzion and the Latroun area. This policy advanced with the Likud government in 1977 that lay down new lines in the settlement project, planting settlements in the Palestinian hills that ultimately were intended to geographically destroy the prospects for a Palestinian state.

During this phase, the population of the settlements grew immensely. By the signing of the Wye River accords in 1998, the number of settlers had risen to 170,000. By 2010, the number had risen even higher to 328,000. Israeli bulldozers were turning over Palestinian ground at a faster rate for new settlements, implementing a settlement master plan. Israel took advantage of the agreements and invested in expansion, and drew new borders for the Israeli state. Barely had Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu returned from Washington when military orders confiscating more land signed and delivered. Knesset member Benny Eilon from the Moledet party called on the settlers to grab as much land as possible from Palestinians. Ariel Sharon said, "Everybody has to move; run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don't grab will go to them."

This process put in place 116 settlement outposts planned by Sharon when he was housing minister in 1990. In 2001, the decision was made to build the Separation Wall, which at times cut 500-900 meters inside the Green Line, seeking to sever Palestinian areas from Israeli areas. In that way, the maps that were created in Camp David and in Taba were overridden by facts on the ground and a new border. The removal of the settlements in the Gaza Strip and the north of the West Bank sped up the process of fulfilling the map envisioned by Ariel Sharon that would strengthen Israeli control over the Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank. Then came the creation of the police station as part of the E1 plan between the settlement of Maale Adumim and Jerusalem, as one more attempt to create facts on the ground before the start of final status talks. As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, "The settlement blocs in the West Bank will be in the hands of Israel and behind the wall, and this was made clear to the Americans, and that is our position, even if they have reservations."

The American letter of support of April 14, 2004 preempted final status, accepting the expansion of the settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, sketching the borders of the Palestinian state according to Israel plans. Here we see that the settlements and their expansion are integral to Israel. The Jordan valley remains under Israeli security, economic, and environmental control. Thus, Israel has drawn the borders of the Palestinian state the way it desires, and not according to the 1967 borders.-Published 26/01/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Khalil Toufakji is head of the maps department at the Arab Studies Society.

A Palestinian state within the 1967 borders: settlements vs. sovereignty
 Philip C. Wilcox

Today, few disagree that without massive withdrawals from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where over 500,000 settlers now live, there is no hope for a two-state peace. A majority of Israelis also agree that an end to the conflict, preservation of a democratic, Jewish Israel, and freedom and statehood for Palestinians, are impossible without a radical reversal of Israel's misbegotten settlement adventure.

Israel's 43-year national project of settling the territory occupied in 1967 was designed to create "facts on the ground" that would maintain Israeli control and thwart Palestinian self-determination. Today, even Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says he accepts the need for a two-state peace. But continuing aggressive settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in defiance of the United States and the international community, are clear evidence that Netanyahu and his government oppose a genuine two-state agreement, and still adamantly reject a shared Jerusalem.

Most governments today believe that international law, including UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and the Fourth Geneva Convention outlawing settlements, should inform an agreement on a two-state border. The roadmap, which was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 1515, Quartet positions, and statements by the Obama administration concur that the starting point for creating a two-state peace should focus on the 1967 border.

In the end, the Israeli and Palestinian people themselves must accept a border that addresses their basic needs. For Palestinians, this means freedom, sovereignty, and security in a viable, contiguous state, the end of settlements, and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. For Israel, it means peace within "secure and recognized borders", as set forth in Resolution 242, reconciliation with the Arab states and an increasingly estranged international community, and, for most Israelis, preserving a Jewish, democratic state.

Fortunately, it is not necessary to invent a solution, given the exhaustive work by Israeli and Palestinian experts on the elements of a comprehensive peace and a territorial solution. The first effort to address the contradiction between the 1967 borders and settlements came late in the Oslo talks when negotiators began discussing a compromise between total withdrawal to the 1967 border and a redefined border through land swaps.

The swap concept was also adopted in the late 2000 "Clinton parameters" and the Geneva accord of 2003. The latter was drafted by leading Israeli and Palestinian experts, and elaborated in 2009. It proposes Israeli annexation of two percent of the West Bank and East Jerusalem adjacent to the 1967 line containing about 350,000 setters in big bloc settlements. In return, Israel would evacuate about 150,000 other settlers and transfer to Palestine two percent of its land, of equal quality, next to the southern West Bank and Gaza. (The latter would especially appeal to land-starved Gazans, and could support reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, essential to an ultimate peace agreement.) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has endorsed land swaps on a 1:1 basis, and the Obama administration has concurred, in general.

Israeli withdrawal of many settlements near the 1967 line and dozens of others deeper in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, and annexations limited to large, dense settlements, such as Modiin Illit adjacent to central Israel, and in East Jerusalem, would restore a more contiguous and economically viable border interrupted only with a few enclaves attached to Israel with access roads. It would also allow a contiguous Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem that is a bottom line requirement. Another benefit would be restoration of critical farmland and water resources now controlled by settlements.

But even such a compromise, following the Geneva accord or some other plan, would demand a radical transformation of the status quo. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have long since proved that they cannot negotiate such a deal by themselves, given their crippling internal ideological and religious divisions and the unequal balance of power. Just as leadership by the US and the international community was necessary to create and sustain the new state of Israel in 1948, similar intervention and a US-led peace plan will be necessary to create a viable Palestinian state and rescue Israel from its self-destructive policies.

Israel's current leadership (which is dominated by the settler, religious and ideological right) as well as extreme Hamas elements would fiercely resist this, and detailed negotiations would still be necessary. But there is a chance that, with broad international, including Arab and UN support, and tough, determined, but empathetic US diplomacy, such a transformative US plan could galvanize majorities in Israel and Palestine to agree and oblige their leaders to make peace. This would require an unprecedented and politically-challenging change in US policy, restoring balance to the current lopsided American-Israeli alliance. But the alternative is tragic defeat for the national hopes of both Israelis and Palestinians, more instability in the region, and continued erosion of US national security.-Published 26/01/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Philip C. Wilcox, Jr. is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington, DC and served as US consul general in Jerusalem from 1988-1991.

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