The idea of a land swap with the objective of fixing agreed-upon borders between Israel and a Palestinian state was proposed during the 2000 Camp David negotiations.
The concept was introduced mainly to find a way out of the contradiction between the need to adhere to the legal borders of 1967 and the Israeli demand to take into consideration the reality created by the presence of Israeli settlements in occupied territory. At the time, the land swap idea related particularly to settlements adjacent to the 1967 borders, which include a relatively large number of Jewish settlers and infrastructure.
The Palestinian delegation, which was headed by the late Yasser Arafat, was willing to consider the idea as long as it allowed Palestinians to regain territory from the western side of the border that was equal in quantity and quality, a formula that has since been postulated a number of times.
The argument on the Palestinian side was that this would guarantee that the Palestinian state would be composed of the same amount of territory as if it were based on the 1967 areas. In other words, on the one hand there was no concession on territory, but on the other, there was a willingness to be creative in order to overcome obstacles.
The Palestinian position at Camp David was approved in a subsequent meeting of the Palestinian Central Council, which is empowered to endorse such decisions. It thus became a legally acceptable avenue for Palestinian negotiators to pursue.
At the time, this did not seem very controversial. But with time, the failure of the peace process and the continued and ceaseless expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied territory, many voices have now turned against the idea.
The main argument against the concept of a land swap that is gaining prominence among Palestinians is that it has been used by Israel to legitimize its illegal settlement expansion by arguing to the international community that such territory will be swapped anyway. It is partly through such means that the country has escaped international censure for its illegal practices in occupied territory.
Hence, the argument runs, while the idea was meaningful during negotiations and as a way out of obstacles to certain issues, it cannot remain valid forever absent a comprehensive negotiations approach. Moreover, continued settlement expansion lessens the practical possibility of a land swap.
For these reasons there have been serious suggestions within Palestinian leadership circles to take the idea of a land swap off the table, or at least insist that even if it was valid in the context of Camp David negotiations, that does not necessarily make the concept constructive indefinitely.
The more ideas to overcome obstacles in negotiations deviate from the stipulations of international legality, the less chance there is for the parties to reach agreement. Either we agree that the basis of negotiations has to be international legality or the balance of power alone will determine the outcome.
It is the balance of power that has led us to the distortion of reality we now see blocking chances of a two-state solution. That's why the time factor is a critical one. The reality created over time might render impossible, unacceptable or impractical what was once possible.- Published 1/2/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
The corridor is undervalued
by Yossi Alpher
The concept of land swaps along the green line between Israel and a future Palestinian state appears to be a byproduct of Palestinian adherence to the narrative of the 1967 green line as the border of a Palestinian state. Those Israelis who accept the 1967 border as the basis for a final status territorial agreement, yet who acknowledge that it will be impossible to remove the better part of the settlers who live in settlement blocs or even in individual settlements near the green line, appear to have persuaded the PLO leadership that land swaps can allow Israel to hold onto these settlements while giving the Palestinians the equivalent of the land mass within the 1967 borders--if not, in all cases, the actual green line itself.
Palestinians never tire of pointing out that agreement to the 1967 borders constitutes a huge concession on their part: they are accepting a state on only 22 or 23 percent of the original mandatory area of Palestine that they claimed when the conflict began. Accordingly, say PLO negotiators, Palestinian agreement to swaps constitutes yet another concession.
When Israeli-Palestinian final status talks began around ten years ago, the Barak government did not readily accept the Palestinian territorial narrative; it began by offering the PLO more or less half the West Bank along with all of the Gaza Strip. Territorial swaps were not an issue. UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 was cited: it grants Israel "secure and recognized boundaries" and does not mention the green line. Slowly, over the ensuing months and years, in a display of negotiating skill that generally put the Israeli side to shame, PLO negotiators wore away at their Israeli counterparts as well as the international community on this issue. Today, even the current right-wing coalition in Jerusalem could conceivably accept the swap principle--if it ever enters negotiations with the PLO.
This is quite remarkable. There is nothing sacred about the 1967 line, which is, after all, an armistice line that separated Israel and Jordan (West Bank) and Israel and Egypt (Gaza Strip) and is not an international border.
Even that growing sector of the Israeli polity that accepts the 1967 line and the swaps principle as the basis for a future final status agreement has great difficulty drawing the necessary lines on the map, for two reasons. On the one hand, Israeli settlement blocs have to be attached to Israel in a fashion that provides them some form of tactical security, particularly with regard to their link to the rest of Israel; Ariel is an obvious case in point. Yet adding security buffers to settlement blocs increases the total percentage of land that is annexed. Herein lies the second dilemma: finding enough empty Israeli land to offer the PLO in return in keeping with the one-on-one swap principle.
Does it have to be empty Israeli land? Some Israelis have suggested redrawing the green line so as to place within Palestinian territory certain villages and towns populated by Arab citizens of Israel and located adjacent to the green line on the Israeli side. This idea has gained popularity as the leadership of the Palestinian community inside Israel adopts increasingly radical policy positions that reject the Jewish nature of the state of Israel and positions itself as a possible Palestinian nationalist element in Israel even after a two-state solution. Perhaps for this reason, the PLO rejects this idea. Moreover, any attempt to include Israeli Arab villages as part of land swaps or even to cede them unilaterally would almost certainly encounter both international condemnation and appeals to the Israel High Court of Justice.
Finally, there is the corridor issue as an element of land swaps. Israel pledged, in the Oslo accords, to treat the West Bank and Gaza as "a single territorial unit". But it never pledged specifically to grant the Palestinian state an ex-territorial land corridor to link Gaza and the West Bank across some 40 km. of Israeli territory. Moreover, that the West Bank and Gaza no longer function as a single political unit is the fault of Palestinians, not Israelis.
Yet a corridor is absolutely vital to the integrity of a future Palestinian state. Were Israel to offer to remove all the settlements, thereby obviating the need for swaps, but to reject the corridor principle, the PLO would be in a quandary because the resultant state would not hold together. Accordingly, in the course of peace negotiations over the years Israel has undervalued the corridor as a factor in land swaps. It is "worth" all the settlement blocs together.- Published 1/2/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A dangerous concept
an interview with Bassam al-Salhi
bitterlemons: Some say the concept of land swaps is a creative way to resolve territorial problems in negotiations. Do you agree?
Al-Salhi: No. I think this idea is very dangerous. We need clear recognition of the borders of a Palestinian state, i.e., the whole area of 1967, including East Jerusalem. This is the law as embodied in many resolutions from the UN and negotiations must start from this point. Any land swap must not change this reality or the unity of the area of the Palestinian state.
However, what's happening is that Israel is making changes in areas of the West Bank using the idea of a land swap to legitimize its settlement blocs. Israel wants to open negotiations with the Palestinian side from this point. In other words, from the beginning, Israel is leaving those areas outside Palestinian territory. But the original idea, which in my opinion was anyway a mistake, was that the notion of a land swap should follow the establishment of borders, not come before.
bitterlemons: Why, during the Camp David negotiations, did the Palestinian side accept the notion in the first place?
Al-Salhi: I think this was a mistake. I think it came about because at the time there was one package solution and a land swap was a small component of this larger package to solve all issues. But now the other issues are not being discussed, and Israel is trying to isolate the idea of a land swap. This makes it dangerous. We need, first, recognition of the Palestinian borders, recognition of the issue of East Jerusalem and refugees, etc.
As a point under the file of settlements, maybe a land swap can be discussed, but to take it in isolation is dangerous because it means the facts Israel is creating on the ground in the form of settlements are successfully undermining the principle of the 1967 borders.
bitterlemons: What would you respond to those who will say that with the settlements where they are and some half a million people living in these settlements it is simply unrealistic to expect to move them?
Al-Salhi: We cannot start from this perspective. If we accept to do that, it means that the rights of the Palestinians, rights that are universal, are being undermined by force, the force Israel uses to change the reality on the ground. We have to start from international law.
International law recognizes that East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza are occupied territories, an occupation that must end to make way for a Palestinian state. It is not our responsibility to find a solution to the problems Israel has created for itself. These settlements should never have been built and they should not be allowed to affect our rights.
The current Israeli coalition government relies on the support of pro-settler groups and this is a very negative development in Israel. But this government didn't create the problem. Other governments are responsible for creating an atmosphere in which settlers have been allowed to flourish.
In this way, Israel is destroying chances of a two-state solution and implementing instead an apartheid system in the West Bank, in addition to inside Israel. It is becoming clearer and clearer that Palestinians, absent a two-state solution, must prepare to think about how to ensure their right to self-determination without a state of their own. The only alternative is in a democratic one-state solution for two nations.- Published 1/2/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Bassam al-Salhi is head of the Palestinian People's Party.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Nothing sacred about the green line
by David Newman
Just when there seemed to be a consensus inside Israel concerning a two-state solution to the conflict, we seem to be in danger of losing it altogether. The growing number of settlement-related facts on the ground, the harder it is to make a clean territorial cut, evacuate hundreds of thousands of settlers and demarcate a border of ethnic and national separation.
Drawing borders is a pre-requisite for implementation of a two-state solution. The two alternatives, a single bi-national state and continuation of occupation, do not require any form of territorial separation.
There are two options for the demarcation of borders. Either there is an automatic withdrawal to the green line (the armistice line separating Israel from the West Bank since the Rhodes agreements of 1949), or the green line serves as a point of origin from which necessary changes are made, reflecting the situation on the ground today and the many changes that have taken place during the 43 years since the Six-Day/June 1967 War.
Any such changes have to be part of a bilateral process of negotiation and boundary demarcation. They cannot be one-sided or imposed by one side (Israel) upon the other, as is the case with the separation barrier/fence. The latter has deviated from the green line in one direction only--inside the West Bank, effectively annexing territory to Israel in an attempt to retain Israeli settlement blocs under future Israeli control and sovereignty.
The green line has never been a very effective boundary, even in the pre-1967 era. It came into being as a result of pressure of time and the realities of a ceasefire following the 1948-49 War of Independence/Naqba. In the 43 years since 1967, it has remained a de jure administrative boundary between Israel and the West Bank, but it has been transgressed in many de facto ways, not least the blurring of the line in the center of Israel, the building of roads crossing the line and the construction of Israeli settlements inside the West Bank but in close proximity to the line itself. It is the latter that, Israel claims, should be annexed under a future peace agreement. A simple stroke of the cartographer's pen would effectively reduce the number of settlers and settlements that have to be evacuated under a peace agreement.
In principle, such annexations have been rejected by the Palestinian Authority. But this long-standing position has began to change in recent years, with the acceptance by some that the difficulties Israel would encounter in evacuating the entire settler population are of a magnitude that may deter it from implementing territorial withdrawal. As an alternative it would be acceptable to implement a process of territorial exchange between the two sides, through which Israeli territorial demands inside the West Bank would be compensated for by an equal amount of territory being transferred from inside Israel to the Palestinian state.
The basis for such a territorial exchange would be 1:1--a dunam for a dunam--so that the Palestinian state would end up with exactly the same amount of territory as that encompassed within the present boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Territorial exchange would only take place along the course of the green line, ensuring territorial contiguity for both sides, without any exclaves, enclaves or extra-territorial anomalies such as territorial corridors.
There are areas in close proximity to the green line inside Israel that could effectively be swapped. In particular the southern section of the green line, running from the Lakhish region and along the southern Hebron foothills, is an area of relatively little Israeli/Jewish settlement on both sides of the green line. Territorial exchange there would result in minimal dislocation for the region's residents, while at the same time enabling contiguous lands to be attached to the Palestinian State.
In the central and northern sections of the green line an exchange is more difficult to implement because of the greater population densities in close proximity to the existing boundary. But herein lies a much greater problem. It is precisely in the northern sections of the region where the towns and villages located near the green line are populated by Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. The idea that territorial exchange could take place in this area, to include such places as Um al-Fahm and Baqa al-Gharbiye, has been proposed by right wing groups in Israel who, while opposing in principle all notions of territorial withdrawal, have stated their support for territorial exchange only if it brought about the "silent" transfer of as many Arab citizens of Israel as possible to the future Palestinian state. This, they argue, would not require any dislocation since people would remain in their homes.
But it would result in an enforced change of citizenship for a population that has repeatedly expressed its intention to remain inside Israel and has rejected proposals aimed at transferring it to the Palestinian state. The proponents of such an argument point to the many incidents of boundary redrawing that took place in Europe following World War I, where populations underwent citizenship transfer against their will while remaining in situ in their villages and homes. Beyond the immorality of such a scenario, this would send the wrong message to the Arab citizens of Israel. After all, it is continually argued that they will be able to undergo greater integration into Israeli society and will no longer be perceived as constituting a fifth column inside Israel proper only if and when the Israel-Palestine conflict is finally resolved.
Leaving the populated areas aside, there is ample land available in other parts of the region for territorial exchanges of up to eight percent on either side of the line. The resulting border would be no more tortuous and meandering than the original green line and would take into account existing realities on the ground today. True, this would effectively legitimize some of the Israeli settlements retroactively. But if it were to enable the implementation of an agreement with greater ease, and if both sides were to feel that their territorial claims had not been unilaterally usurped by the other, then there is nothing sacred about the green line that renders it the only default boundary for a future Palestinian state.- Published 1/2/2010 © bitterlemons.org
David Newman is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.
To be unsubscribed from the mailing list, simply click on the link:
Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.
Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.