We seem to take for granted nowadays that any future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will consist of some combination of a return by Israel to the 1967 borders – which are actually the 1949 armistice lines – adjusted for Israel’s security needs to include land beyond the 1967 lines, compensating the Palestinians with “mutually agreed land swaps”.
Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, debunks the whole idea of “land swaps” in a very interesting article in the Weekly Standard: Land Swaps and the 1967 Lines, which altogether makes for fascinating reading. Some extracts (but read the whole article):
When President Barak Obama first made his controversial reference to the 1967 lines as the basis for future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on May 19, 2011, he introduced one main caveat that stuck out: the idea that there would be “mutually agreed swaps” of land between the two sides. He added that both sides were entitled to “secure and recognized borders.” But the inclusion of land swaps also raised many questions.
…Resolution 242 made clear that Israel was not expected to withdraw from all the territories that came into its possession, meaning that Israel was not required to withdraw from 100 percent of the West Bank.
Given this background, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin made clear in his last Knesset address in October 1995 that Israel would never withdraw to the 1967 lines. He stressed that Israel would have to retain control of the Jordan Valley, the great eastern, geographic barrier which provided for its security for decades since the Six Day War. He didn’t say a word about land swaps. For neither Resolution 242 nor any subsequent signed agreements with the Palestinians stipulated that Israel would have to pay for any West Bank land it would retain by handing over its own sovereign land in exchange.
…The Palestinians argued that when Israel signed a peace agreement with Egypt, it agreed to withdraw from 100 percent of the Sinai Peninsula. So they asked how could PLO chairman Yasser Arafat be given less than what Egyptian president Anwar Sadat received. As a result, Israeli academics involved in these backchannel talks accepted the principle that the Palestinians would obtain 100 percent of the territory, just like the Egyptians, despite the language of Resolution 242, and they proposed giving Israeli land to the Palestinians as compensation for any West Bank land retained by Israel. his idea appeared in the 1995 Beilin-Abu Mazen paper, which was neither signed nor embraced by the Israeli or the Palestinian leaderships. Indeed, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) subsequently denied in May 1999 that any agreement of this sort existed.
In this paragraph above, I bolded a sentence which stood out for me: how dangerous Israel’s leftist academics can be for Israel’s diplomatic and security needs, no matter how good their intentions.
There is a huge difference between Egypt and the Palestinians. Egypt was the first Arab state to make peace, and in recognition of that fact, Prime Minister Menachem Begin gave Sadat all of Sinai. Moreover, the Israeli-Egyptian border had been a recognized international boundary since the time of the Ottoman Empire. The pre-1967 Israeli boundary with the West Bank was not a real international boundary; it was only an armistice line demarcating where Arab armies had been stopped when they invaded the nascent state of Israel in 1948.
In July 2000 at the Camp David Summit, the Clinton administration raised the land swap idea that had been proposed by Israeli academics, but neither Camp David nor the subsequent negotiating effort at Taba succeeded. Israel’s foreign minister at the time, Shlomo Ben-Ami, admitted in an interview in Haaretz on September 14, 2001: “I’m not sure that the whole idea of a land swap is feasible.” In short, when the idea was actually tested in high-stakes negotiations, the land swap idea proved to be far more difficult to implement as the basis for a final agreement.
… But to his credit, Clinton also stipulated: “These are my ideas. If they are not accepted, they are off the table, they go with me when I leave office.” The Clinton team informed the incoming Bush administration about this point. Notably, land swaps were not part of the 2003 Roadmap for Peace or in the April 14, 2004 letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It was Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who resurrected the land swap idea in 2008 as part of newly proposed Israeli concessions that went even further than Israel’s positions at Camp David and Taba. It came up in these years in other Israeli-Palestinian contacts, as well. But Mahmoud Abbas was only willing to talk about a land swap based on 1.9 percent of the territory, which related to the size of the areas of Jewish settlement, but which did not even touch on Israel’s security needs. So the land swap idea still proved to be unworkable.
The final clincher, which should be obvious to everyone involved in the “peace process” is this:
The land swap question points to a deeper dilemma in U.S.-Israel relations. What is the standing of ideas from failed negotiations in the past that appear in the diplomatic record? President Obama told AIPAC on May 22 that the 1967 lines with land swaps “has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. administrations.” Just because an idea was discussed in the past, does that make it part of the diplomatic agenda in the future, even if the idea was never part of any legally binding, signed agreements?
This seems to be the permanent problem with all the talks and peace processing and incessant wordiness of the diplomatic efforts between Israel and its Arab neighbours: they keep rehashing ideas which have been proven to be impractical, unworkable, and in any case rejected by one side or the other or both.
New ideas need to be brought to the table. Until then we, and especially the rest of the world community, need to accept the fact that real peace will not be coming to our region any time soon. Meanwhile the status quo needs to be “managed” to keep the lid on any potential outbreaks of violence. Perhaps if expectations were not raised so high on the Arab side of the equation – as much by Israel’s leftist academics as by international organizations like the UN – the Quartet – a proper peace in the region would be more forthcoming.