In the coming days or weeks, the United States may reach agreement with Israel on an extension of the limited moratorium on settlement construction on the West Bank, and the terms of that extension may be sufficient to bring the Palestinian leadership to the table as well. J Street would welcome the resumption of direct talks, but our interest is less in reaching an agreement to keep talking or over the format of those talks than in finding a route to actually ending the conflict between the parties.
Therefore, we believe it is time for the Obama administration to adopt a bolder, more assertive approach in its efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict. The Administration should focus – with or without resuming direct negotiations and/or a 90-day extension of the moratorium – on delineating an agreed-upon border between the state of Israel and the state-to-be of Palestine, and on establishing security arrangements and that would accompany a two-state deal.
J Street supports long-standing American policy that both parties – Israel and the Palestinians – should comply with all of their internationally-recognized obligations. This includes prior Israeli commitments under the Road Map and other agreements both to stop all new settlement construction over the Green Line and to remove outposts, as well as Palestinian commitments to ensure security and prevent incitement.
However, the time has come for the United States to put forward a proposal to establish a border and security arrangements. With a border established, there will be no further need to negotiate over settlement construction. Both Israel and the Palestinians will be able to build where they please within their borders and not beyond.
Detailed security arrangements are necessary to guarantee a two-state deal and to address the full range of threats it faces (from Iran, from Hezbollah and from within Palestinian lands). Such a security plan will give Israelis the confidence that there is a U.S.-led international commitment to their long-term security as Israel pulls back from control of the territories. Finalizing arrangements on borders and security will then create a positive momentum toward addressing other final status issues.
Even if there is a new 90-day moratorium, it will pass quickly, and the Administration and the parties cannot afford to reach day 89 and suddenly find yet another impasse and crisis. Therefore, we suggest that the United States adopt a “borders and security first” strategy along the following lines:
If there is a resumption of talks, engage the parties in an exercise under American supervision to draw the actual border between the two states based on the following principles:
- The borders should create the new Palestinian state on the equivalent of 100 percent of the land beyond the 1967 Green Line with one-to-one land swaps.
- The borders should allow for many existing settlements, (which could account for as many as three-quarters of all settlers) to be part of Israel’s future recognized sovereign territory.
- The agreement on borders between the states should also address the border within Jerusalem with the exception of the Old City and its very immediate environs.
- If the sides are not able to reach agreement on borders within the 90-day period, or if “direct talks” do not in fact resume, the United States should present a proposal to both sides that adheres to the parameters presented above for a yes or no decision, with the support of the Quartet and other international stakeholders.
- Simultaneously, address and finalize the security arrangements between Israel and a demilitarized future Palestine, and at Palestine’s external international border crossings, allowing for the deployment of an international force to guarantee the agreed provisions. The US should take this occasion to reiterate its commitment to guaranteeing the long-term security of Israel.
- Once the border and security arrangements are agreed and in accordance with an agreed-upon timetable, Israel will withdraw from all of the territories designated for the Palestinian state and all other provisions will be implemented.
- In parallel with implementation of the border/security arrangements, negotiations will then continue (or resume) on all other outstanding final status issues.
A comprehensive regional deal will significantly reduce Iranian influence and its capacity to act as a spoiler in the region, posing the following choice for the regime in Tehran: either join the consensus for peace and recognition for Israel or be further isolated. The former option will open new horizons for negotiations with Iran while the latter would increase U.S. and regional leverage with Iran as the international community re-dedicates itself to preventing Iranian obstructionism and development of a nuclear weapons capacity.
The parties and outside experts are more than familiar with the options and trade-offs needed to establish a border and with it a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. This proposal puts the key question squarely before both the leadership and people on both sides and asks them to express their political willingness to actually achieve a viable solution – rather than continuing to put the spotlight on talks about talks and the conditions for entering into them.