A PALESTINIAN VIEW
The only basis for compromise
by Ghassan Khatib
The green line between what is internationally recognized as Israel and what is occupied Palestinian territory is very important vis-a-vis the success of negotiations and a peaceful end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Certain influential elements on both sides have historically tended to ignore the green line both in theory and practice. Many Israelis, including the current Israeli government, would like to move final borders as far east as they possibly can. For that reason they downplay the significance of the green line. This corresponds with the desire of many Palestinians who also ignore the green line and want to push the borders as far west as possible.
Only Palestinians and Israelis willing to stick to international legality and keen on a compromise solution rather than an absolute solution are promoting the green line. Without the green line, such people emphasize, finding a compromise will be extremely difficult, because there is no other blueprint on which to base a territorial compromise.
Thatís why the fate of the two-state solution is strongly connected to the green line. Without the green line, the parties will simply fail to agree on another basis for negotiations over two states and consequently a future territorial compromise will depend solely on the balance of power, a recipe for endless conflict.
The Palestinians were encouraged by the statement of President George W. Bush at the recent press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, in which Bush referred to the green line and to the need that any changes to that line be agreed by the two sides. The problem is that Israel has, in practical terms, been erasing the green line in different ways. One is through settlement building and expansions, whereby an extension to Israel is created across the green line in Palestinian territory. Another is through the construction of the wall, which is both undermining the green line and consequently undermining the basis of the two-state solution that is a prerequisite for peace.
There is a great burden of responsibility in this regard on the shoulders of the international community. The green line is the only legal indicator of borders; two states divided by this line is the only internationally accepted vision of a solution to the conflict. The international community must act with greater weight and seriousness to specific Israeli practices that are undermining this line and are thus violations of international law.
In spite of their unquestionable rights on the western side of the green line, the majority of Palestinians are willing to accept that line as a territorial compromise. Palestinian Jerusalemites, for example, who mostly live either outside Palestine or on the eastern side of the green line, have unequivocal and inalienable rights of ownership to 70 percent of the properties in what is now known as West Jerusalem. Yet Palestinians are willing to accept the green line as a compromise solution if the other side is willing to end its control over the areas to the east of the line to allow for an independent Palestinian state.- Published 6/5/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Far from the heart of the problem
by Yossi Alpher
All my inquiries have failed to produce an authoritative answer to the question why US President George W. Bush, in his remarks in the Rose Garden on May 26 alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, opened up a Pandoraís box of mysterious distinctions between the 1949 lines and the 1967 lines. At the end of the day there is almost no difference between the two lines as the basis for peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians--negotiations that in any case are not on the agenda.
The 1949 and 1967 lines are essentially the same armistice line, in sharp contrast with the status of an international border. A few demilitarized zones or no-manís lands that existed in 1949 but not in 1967 were divided between Israelis and Jordanians or Egyptians in perfectly legal and legitimate acts that remain valid. Those that were not partitioned, like the isolated Israeli enclave of Mount Scopus, were no different in 1949 than on June 4, 1967. All of Israelís land and border dealings were with Jordan and Egypt, occupying powers, not with the Palestinians, who had no legal standing at the time.
Palestinians who profess to see in President Bushís mention of the 1949 lines an innovative American endorsement of the green line as a basis for agreed border alterations are referred to the ďminor alterationsĒ remark by Nixonís secretary of state, William Rogers, in the late 1960s, and of course to Bushís own endorsement of the 242 formula, which is based on the 1967 lines, in his letter to PM Sharon of April 14, 2004.
Staunch defenders of Israelís position who fear that Bushís mention of the 1949 lines will somehow legitimate extreme Palestinian territorial and other demands going back to UNGA resolutions 181 and 194 from the 1947-1949 period can relax. Surely we all understand by now that Bushís periodic rhetorical gestures to the parties are just that--attempts to postpone any really meaningful entry by the administration into the process. By the by, the American president is also trivializing the process. In April 2004, Bush wanted to help Sharon gain Israeli government and Knesset approval for disengagement, so he spoke out against the return of Palestinian refugees and in favor of Israel annexing the settlement blocs--as if Sharon was getting an American quid pro quo in return for leaving Gaza. In May 2005, Bush wanted to enhance Abbasí status, so he emphasized alternative aspects and issues and seemingly left Sharon without a quid pro quo and Abbas with an achievement.
Further, if we take Bush at his word, he stated that the 1949 lines are the basis for agreed changes of the border between the sides, not the basis for an agreement. Indeed, there are some indications that it was actually Israel that first asked the president to mention the 1949 lines--in his April 14, 2004 letter--apparently because it saw no significant difference in the Palestinian case but valued the precedent vis-a-vis Syria, where repeated failed negotiations have shown that the difference really is meaningful and works in Israelís favor.
If all goes well, Israel will soon embark on a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Because this is by definition a one-sided act, Israel alone will determine the borders of its disengagement. The Sharon government has poorly-argued pretensions to make this a political act with finality and to claim that after withdrawal Gaza is no longer Israelís responsibility. But these pretensions have nothing to do with the distinction between the 1949 and 1967 lines, say, in northern Gaza, particularly after the PLO agreed to the existing lines in the 1994 Gaza-Jericho agreement. Palestinians who argue that mention of the 1949 lines somehow opens up new possibilities to extend the territory of Gaza northward from Erez are not reading either Bush or Sharon accurately. To Sharonís credit, in rebuffing that claim he has also not bought into the argument put forth by the settlers of the northern Gaza Strip that they are located in no-manís land and not in the Strip--a position he could theoretically take were he to try to ďadoptĒ the 1948 or 1949 or even June 4, 1967 lines.
Israel cannot set Gaza adrift politically and economically without attaching it to the outside world and to the West Bank. In other words, the issues at this point are political and not geographic. Whether Sharon likes it or not, Gaza will remain on the agenda of eventual final status talks between Israel and the PLO/PA. Whether the Palestinians like it or not, Bushís periodic official remarks about the conflict and its resolution, including those that ostensibly contradict one another--like mention of the 1949 lines alongside mention of UNSCR 242, which enshrines the 1967 lines--are far from engaging the heart of the issue.
True, if and when Bush really does commit his administration to dealing with the conflict, heíll have some explaining and some clarifying to do. But thatís the least of our worries.- Published 6/5/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A new armistice line
an interview with Samih Al Abed
bitterlemons: What exactly are the differences between the 1949 armistice lines and the 1967 lines? US President George W. Bush recently emphasized the former.
Abed:Armistice lines are not internationally recognized border lines, they are temporary ceasefire lines. There were changes to the armistice lines in 1949 and 1952 in agreements between Israel and Jordan. An armistice line remains a temporary line until final negotiations decide internationally recognized borders, which will happen when two parties present an agreement to the UN and the international community accepts it. This did not happen in 1949 or in 1952, and changes to the armistice lines were simply bilateral agreements between Jordan and Israel.
I think the reason this is being brought up now is to tell the world that the wall Israel is building is another armistice line. If you listen to what the Israelis and other states are saying, that the wall will not be a final border but is only temporary, it sounds like just another armistice line.
So this is one way of reinterpreting the route of the wall as a new armistice line with the final border to be settled in negotiations. How long negotiations will take and when they will start is another matter. But this is all, in my opinion, in order to make the wall acceptable as a new armistice line.
bitterlemons: What would the political significance be if the wall became a new armistice line?
Abed:Politically it would mean we could not do anything about the wall until final status negotiations. It will be recognized by the rest of the world as a temporary line or an armistice line and that will serve to neutralize the finding of the International Court of Justice that the wall is illegal and should be removed.
bitterlemons: What effect will that have on final status negotiations, then? Will this be the new line everybody will talk about?
Abed:When you create new facts on the ground you make it difficult for negotiations to succeed, in this case, to remove that new line and go back to the 1967 line. In addition, look at the problems in removing a few settlers here and there. What about the settlement blocs? Negotiations are being hampered at every turn.
bitterlemons: How do the 1949 armistice lines affect the Gaza withdrawal?
Abed:This is another part of this new concept of unilateralism that the Israelis are trying to adopt for the whole process. The withdrawal from Gaza is a unilateral act, meaning Israel will take what it wants, and at the same time remain as a partner in what is left.
This unilateralism is also evidenced by this new armistice line they are drawing around Gaza and the West Bank. They will say this is not a final border, it is still up to final negotiations but the time is not right for such negotiations.
bitterlemons: In terms of land, the 1949 armistice lines include demilitarized zones. What is their significance?
Abed:If you look back and see the demilitarized zones especially around Jerusalem and Latroun and also around Gaza, there is a difference between the armistice line and the demilitarized zone. In Gaza this difference is about two kilometers north of the Erez Crossing.
bitterlemons: So, in the Gaza case, if Bush is talking about the 1949 armistice line, and the actual line is two kilometers north of Erez, this would be an advantage for the Palestinian side?
Abed:It would be an advantage on one side and a disadvantage on the other. In the south east of the Gaza border there are two towns that should be part of Israel.
bitterlemons: Why bring in the 1949 lines at all. It sounds like it just confuses matters?
Abed:It does confuse matters, because everybody was talking about the 1967 border. But, as I say, I think this has to do with the wall and the 2004 Bush-Sharon understandings that talk about settlement blocs and Jerusalem. There are three dimensions: the first is about these Bush-Sharon understandings; secondly, itís about the wall and third, emphasizing the 1949 armistice lines sends the signal that the border is a matter for negotiations and not a matter of legality or illegality.- Published 6/5/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Samih Al Abed is Palestinian deputy minister of planning and was previously in charge of preparing maps for Palestinian negotiators.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
Neither significant nor helpful
an interview with Ruth Lapidoth
bitterlemons: Letís begin by clarifying the difference between an armistice line and an international border.
Lapidoth: There is a huge difference. An armistice line by definition is only a military line and is supposed to be provisional. The 1949 armistice agreements insist they do not create a political border but a military line that the armed forces should not cross. Our armistice lines are more stable than usual because they were instituted in pursuance of Security Council resolutions of November 4 and 16, 1948.
bitterlemons: Which has more validity at the negotiating table, an international border or an armistice line?
Lapidoth: An international border--but only a valid one. The problem with Israel is we have a valid international border with Jordan and Egypt, whereas with Syria and Lebanon only an armistice line was agreed. With Lebanon the two coincide--international border and armistice line. With Syria they do not coincide. With Palestine there has never been an international border but only armistice lines agreed by Israel and Jordan and Egypt.
bitterlemons: Now to the differences between the 1949 and 1967 lines. What is a no-manís land? And how valid is the cancellation of no-manís lands by Israel, Jordan and Egypt many years ago?
Lapidoth: No-manís land means an area without a sovereign, or, in our context, the area between the lines of the two armies. All the armistice agreements with our neighbors state that no civilian may cross the area between the lines. When states move from a ceasefire to an armistice they try to divide among themselves the no-mans land.
The second term we have to deal with is demilitarized zone, where the two parties have agreed to limit or completely prohibit the positioning of armed forces and fortifications.
We had demilitarized zones, for example, in the north with Syria, and in the south with Egypt at Uja al-Hafir. All four armistice agreements [with Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon] also established limitation of forces zones or defensive areas.
bitterlemons: And with the Palestinian territories?
Lapidoth: The armistice agreement with Egypt stated that in the north of the Gaza Strip Israeli forces had to withdraw, but Egyptian forces could not advance, though this was not called a demilitarized zone.
In the West Bank, between the ceasefire lines of 1948 and the armistice lines of 1949 all the no-manís land was divided, except at Latroun and Jerusalem. Jordanian and Iraqi forces withdrew from the Little Triangle and Wadi Ara. There may have been something additional that I donít know of because according to the agreement the parties could change the lines by common consent. In 1951, for example, the parties divided the demilitarized zone near government house in Jerusalem; the new line separating Jordanians and Israelis was called the civilian line. It was created in the mixed-armistice commission and accepted by both parties.
As far as I know there is no other difference between the lines of 1949 and June 4, 1967.
bitterlemons: Can you speculate why President Bush mentioned the 1949 lines?
Lapidoth: In the areas of Gaza and the West Bank I donít see any reason. In the case of Syria it gives us an advantage, since we claim the 1949 lines and they claim 1967. Bush may have mentioned 1949 due to the influence of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice [which uses the 1949 line as a point of reference].
bitterlemons: Some Palestinians have expressed a preference for the 1949 lines as a basis for negotiation.
Lapidoth: I really donít know why. The 1949 line doesnít give them an advantage in negotiations. The Palestinians were not a party to the armistice agreements, so this weakens their position. Donít forget that with regard to 1949 all four agreements state clearly these are only military lines and they have no political validity whatsoever.
So this is not particularly significant and not helpful to either side. The green line has survival power for a military line because there is nothing else and never was between Israel and Palestine. But all four armistice lines are ďwithout prejudice to claims and rights of the partiesĒ. They are only military lines that prevent the passage of armed forces.- Published 6/6/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Ruth Lapidoth is professor emeritus of the Hebrew University and professor at the law school of the College of Management in Rishon Letzion.
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