Saturday, April 23, 2011

1967 Borders: Disruptive Innovation

Suddenly, it seems a forgone conclusion that the White House will be presenting a plan of some sort in advance of Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to a joint session of Congress in May. For those of us who have been advocating for something along these lines, this should be welcome news. But all of the preliminary reports I've seen suggest a plan that is no plan: "Israel's acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders; Palestinian acceptance that there would be no right to return to Israeli land; Jerusalem as the capital of both states; and the protection of Israel's security needs."

The problem with this formulation is twofold. First, it may seem important, even radical, that the administration would commit to a Palestinian state in the 1967 border, but nobody really expects the border to be the same as the one in 1967. The old border is only an agreed benchmark that will be used for a land swap. And thanks to Secretary Rice, this benchmark was already the basis for the many hours of negotiation between Olmert and Abbas throughout much of 2008. The 1967 border per se is not a contentious issue anymore. What is contentious are the number and forms of settlement that would remain in place, that is, what swap would be effected.

The administration knows very well that the Palestinian position foresees, at most, Israel's annexation of various Jerusalem suburbs, and thickly populated towns along the Israeli border, such as the Etzion bloc. This would leave about 62% of Israeli settlers in place. Israel, for its part, wants to see Ariel, Efrat, and Maale Adumim remain in place. (Here we have the difference between the Abbas map, which saw Israel swapping for 1.9 percent of the land, and the Olmert map, which foresaw a swap of somewhere between 5.5 and 6 percent.)

Click to enlarge
You may think the difference is trivial, but it is not. This is where even parties negotiating in good faith got stuck, as I pointed out recently. If Ariel remains in place, we would continue to have a finger protruding into the area between Nablus and Ramallah. If Maale Adumim remains in place, we would have a similar obstacle between Ramallah and Bethlehem. Efrat, which hems Bethlehem in from the south, seems the least intrusive settlement, and the most likely to be negotiated; but it is also the smallest and least important from the Israeli point of view.

Yes, it is time to look forward, not backward. So many opportunities come with a peace deal. Why not engineer a swap that disrupts the lives of as few people as possible? Here is where the border and the second problem, the refugee issue, intersect for Palestinians in ways Israelis tend to gloss over.

WHEN YOU SAY to Palestinians "let's disrupt as few lives as possible" they grow understandably furious. For the creation of Israel has disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for three generations, and the occupation has felt like something beyond disruption. It is a little like saying to them that there are two classes of human beings, people whose lives you try not to disrupt, and people who must simply take this kind of thing for granted. The Abbas offer already seems to Palestinians an extraordinary concession.

It is one thing, they say, to finesse the language around the Palestinian "right of return," so that all Palestinian refugees would, in effect, be resettled and compensated in a Palestinian state, not within the boundaries of Israel proper. It is quite another thing for Palestinians to make this concession, which they consider a grand, historical compromise, and then be told that Israeli towns that almost everyone now considers a mistake should be left to disrupt the development of Palestinian urban centers.

Israelis usually respond at such a moment, look, hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries also had their lives disrupted. Israel resettled them. Why not acknowledge that there was injustice in the past and get on with things? But it is precisely the effort to get on that seems impossible if the land fingers in question are not removed. The fact is, Jordan has already resettled at least as many Palestinians as Israelis resettled Middle Eastern Jews. The real challenge is to allow the Palestinians state to grow and thrive in its earliest stages. Does it make sense to interrupt the geographical contiguity, economic integration, and security systems of what will be, in effect, suburban centers for the sake of people who could easily be resettled in Israel proper, just as Palestinians are being resettled in Palestine?

THE POINT IS, opposition to new territorial concessions beyond Abbas's map (such as the ones Olmert sought) are going to be opposed not only by Hamas but also by Palestinian professionals and business elites who are looking forward to the responsibility of making a Palestinian state work. They may, as Salam Fayyad suggested, agree that if Jews want to live in these parts of the ancient land so much they are welcome to become Palestinian citizens. But Abbas will have as much trouble allowing Ariel to stay as Olmert would have had removing it.

And here is where the administration's plan comes in, or it is of no use at all. It must do more than provide a basis for further negotiation, as if the Netanyahu government has any desire to negotiate in the spirit Olmert did. The administration must innovate, state where the border will be, or at least the principles of mutual economic growth that will determine where it should be. Otherwise, the Obama plan will only reinforce the pathos of the deadlock rather than provide a way out of it.

A final note. When I talk to Israeli friends along these lines, many will express fury of their own, that Palestinians are now relying on mounting international pressure to get their way rather than negotiate. One feels that Israeli politics are changing, subtly, as the prospect of facing Palestinians who are enjoying a kind of world backing has begun to sink in. There is no end of talk about "September," about which more in my next post.


Anonymous said...

I'm all for making a deal with Abbas - but I think you need to address the elephant in the room, namely Hamas's impending rejection of any peace deal. This does not, however, invalidate efforts to draw up a plan with Fatah by any means, but it necessarily complicates things.
I hope that someone could please intelligently map out how we would progress from a peace deal with Abbas and Fatah to actual implementation in Gaza - The only solution I would see would be a ramped up cast-lead type war, except this time with it being clear internationally and domestically that Hamas is the last obstacle to peace, Israel would be able to increase the scope of the war to effectively root out Hamas - There would, however, probably be catastrophic loss of life...Any other ideas?

Potter said...

I think you are right about Obama offering no plan and calling it a plan- so far from what they are letting out anyway.

What sticks out for me in this piece is 1) the claim from the right in Israel about Palestine being a "Judenrein" if Fayyad's offer to allow settlers to stay is not real or impossible to implement. I agree, though, about the principle that it would be disruptive and feel to some Palestinians unacceptable and even humiliating (especially after the history of incidents and warring which might continue) to have those settlements remain. 2) More importantly, what has been glaringly missing underlying this new plan or effort is Israel's sincere desire or recognized need to see the development of a thriving Palestinian state because this would improve Israel's situation all around (local security, relations in the Arab neighborhood, and international relations) That dawn does not seem to have arrived. Netanyahu does not appear to be negotiating in the spirit of Olmert but dancing because a gun is pointed at his head ( or feet) trying to preempt international recognition of a Palestinian state this Fall. This proves that the move towards UN recognition is necessary.

Netanyahu is not a leader. And I have my doubts, about Obama's ability to show the boldness necessary here.


To Anonymous above. Hamas has said that they would accept any agreement that Palestinians approve of in a referendum. You don't get rid of Hamas; that is up to the Palestinian people if they so choose. And certainly you don't root them out through a "cast lead type" war again with ostensibly (see Goldstone "reconsideration") those horrific unintended casualties and destruction. Cast Lead was a moral disaster for Israel too. Are lessons ever learned??

Anonymous said...

While I agree that it is possible that Hamas would accept a referendum of the palestinian people (Re: Haniyeh's statement in December), I think it is also important to look at Hamas's overall body of work with regards to how they view power (Re: Their refusal to even hold elections due to their knowledge that they would probably have to cede leadership, and the content of their charter, which is steeped in "no peace with Israel - ever" themes).

Hamas draws legitimacy from continuing conflict with Israel, not a sustainable peace deal - If they see that a referendum would result in passing the peace deal (and thus resulting in their delegitimization) there is a good chance that they would find an excuse not to allow it. So what then Potter?

You could hope, as I do to, that Gazan residents realize Hamas at that point will really be the only obstacle to peace and a beginning of a robust Palestinian economy, and revolt. This wishful thinking, however, is colored by the recent arab riots - Which were as unpredictable as they were awesome - Sure, it could happen in Gaza, but it could also take 40 years - and that is not a luxury the Palestinian people or Israel has.

So in the event of Hamas not accepting a peace deal, I don't see another solution other than armed conflict - It's nice to say war is terrible and should never happen again, but it is also naive - Most of us are probably championing what is happening in Libya right now - but guess what, a lot of people are dying...Sometimes that is a an inevitable price. I hate war too, but if it would be in order to annihilate what would be the final obstacle to peace, I would support it (unlike the first cast-lead).

Unless, as I previously asked, you, or anyone else, has a better idea? And be pragmatic this time Potter - no one would argue that Hamas would 100 % accept peace, so please address reality, as opposed to what we would all dream for.

Potter said...

Hamas draws legitimacy from continuing conflict with Israel, not a sustainable peace deal -

So? Doesn't that mean a sustainable peace deal is needed?

If they see that a referendum would result in passing the peace deal (and thus resulting in their delegitimization) there is a good chance that they would find an excuse not to allow it. So what then Potter?

Yes, by this reasoning, let's continue supporting the reasons that there can be no peace deal. I just don't understand people who reason this way. What then?

You are running way down the road with all the negative possibilities which are excuses that don't recognize how things can and will deteriorate for Israel without a peace deal. A deal is needed first. But okay say Hamas does not allow a referendum and the West Bank has one. Do you think Hamas will not see civil unrest- maybe a lot of it especially with what is going on in the other Arab countries? The key is a just deal.

Hamas has legitimacy so long as the occupation continues. And they can hold whatever extreme position they like or need to ( plus supporting armed resistance) until then but I don't think they can after occupation. And please don't tell me Gaza is not occupied.

Anonymous said...

Well first of all, just to make things clear, this whole discussion is obviously based on the assumption of a deal happening between Abbas and Israel - something that I unequivocally support - Until then I agree that Israel is in the wrong (unfortunately Netanyahu likes to hide behind Hamas-Fatah nonreconcilliation as a reason not to come to the table, but that is bullshit - really he just wants to be able to create more facts on the ground so every couple years when he is forced to come to the table, he can offer less and less)
You also seem to be used to arguing against right wingers who vehemently oppose a peace deal - this is not the argument potter, and we're actually more allied than you would think.

But I think you suffer from a somewhat short-sighted view of things, and also a naive conception of the nature of populist revolutions.

It seems that you think that once the "i"'s are dotted and the "t"'s crossed on an Abbas-Israel peace deal, all of the conflict that has consumed the region for the last 100 years will magically come to a halting stop. Will it be a huge step? yes ... Will there also be immense complications? Undoubtedly. It is those complications that I seek to address - One of the main ones being the very real possibility that Hamas becomes completely non-compliant.

Now that it seems you have accepted that as a possibility, you assume that obviously due to the fact that Hamas will not share the Gazan populace's real interests, there will consequently be "civil unrest". This would be great, but as I mentioned above, it is wishful thinking colored by the recent Arab revolts that lets you assume that there is a great chance that this "civil unrest" will lead to regime change without outside influence.

The Arab countries' leaders who are facing revolt right now have not shared the populace's interest for many years.
Qaddafi - Around 40 years
Saleh - Around 30 years
Mubarak - Around 20
Ben Ali - Around 15

In Libya, the revolting population would have been massacred if it were not for outside influence, and it is still unclear if Qaddafi can be internally removed despite overwhelming unpopularity. So let me put it this way - I admire the civil unrest sentiment, and hope that it does happen, but if you think for a second that there is a good chance that that alone will lead to Hamas regime change, I believe you are sadly mistaken.

Unfortunately, outside influence will probably be needed - which, once again, goes back to my original question - Do you, or anyone else, have an intelligent suggestion on how we could proceed in the very possible event of Hamas non-compliance - This is not trying to find "every negative possibility" to discourage a peace deal, Potter - This is about dealing with very real outcomes of said peace deal in a responsible manner - If you simply do not have an answer, it's fine to admit it ... maybe someone else (or Mr. Avishai) does.

Potter said...

If the UN accepts Palestine- Israel borders as the 1967 line and there is no peace deal - this could be a real outcome- what then? This is outside influence. What could follow is isolation of Israel that takes many forms- and it would hurt.

I don't think Hamas compliance or non-compliance is primary. A peace deal supported by the international community, including the Arab League would be pretty powerful. Hamas said they would abide by what is negotiated by Abbas and approved by the people. If Hamas wants to hold power it must deal too. But I would risk that people on both sides want a new day and would go for it.

There will be a lot of adjusting to a peace deal- which also may evolve further. I am not naive to think that there will not be fanatics-those for whom no just deal would work. I am not naive to think there will not be a need within to clamp down on those forces. A peace deal would be just a beginning. People need time to change their personal chemistry and mental grooves. Walls need to come down and hands need to be extended.

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puertas metalicas said...

So, I do not actually consider this may have success.