Where did the idea of “land swaps” come from?

land for peace

Land for Piece (Peace)

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.

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15 Responses to Where did the idea of “land swaps” come from?

  1. reality says:

    which other country in the entire world has given land swaps? Even “great” britain still retains the Falklands not to mention Ireland. Why should we swap lands? which lands will the palestinians give us? oh I forgot land swaps is just Israel giving land & not recieving any . Stupid idea!!I really don’t understand why the lefties still live here. They are so ashamed & all consumed by the thought of us “conquering’land which wasn’t ours -or anyone elses. Why don’t they live in France or Sudan for that matter (people are leaving there in droves so theres plenty of room for their fancy villas!)

    • anneinpt says:

      Do you know, you raise an excellent point. In all the talk about land “swaps” we’ve forgotten that the word “swap” means giving something in return for something similar. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that the Palis wouldn’t be giving Israel anything tangible in return for valuable land. Well spotted!

    • Jay says:

      What gives you the idea that “israel” has not received any land?!

      • anneinpt says:

        Why do you put Israel into quote marks Jay? Do you not consider it a real country?

        As to your question, no one is saying that Israel has not received any land – though it never received it as a gift. Every inch has been fought for and Jewish blood spilled for it. Israel possesses a certain amount (not a lot) of land, some it holds from 1948 and before, some it captured in 1967. My post addresses the generally accepted rule – which is disputed by Dore Gold and whose opinion I agree with – that Israel has to “swap” land for peace. Swapping implies receiving something in return. Receiving a meaningless promise which can be broken at a moment’s notice (witness the instability of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt since the Arab “spring”) in return fro something valuable and tangible like land is not a fair swap.

        So tell me, which land has Israel received from the Palestinians in return for peace?

  2. Earl says:

    New ideas need to be brought to the table.

    Here’s one:The ummah abandons absolutely and unequivocally its dar al-Islam v. dar al-harb worldview wherein the moon god demands the “reversion” of the Jewish state into dar al-Islam.

    And, until that happens, Israel just hoves to Bibi’s comments to the Congress, and simply ignores the lunatic “peace process”. Oh, and advances Norman Grief’s thesis on the illegality of Great Britain’s actions after the San Remo conventions.

    @ reality

    I think the historical comparable that you are searching for is the Sudeten Germans… yes, it sucks to lose a war.

  3. DavidinPT says:

    I for one would be willing to swap them Umm El Fahm for some decent real estate elsewhere. Isn’t this Avigdor Lieberman’s policy. It also solves the so-called demographic problem. It only leaves the issue of securing the Wadi Ara (Irron Valley) Road leading from the coast to the Galilee…..

  4. reality says:

    well we can swap ummel fahm & the rest & they can go to Gaza as thats what they want anyway . Then there’s nodemographic problem -alternatively if they like living in the north they can continue to lebanon -I’m sure that hizbollah will open their arms (including their neshek /arms) for them!

  5. Osirak says:

    If Netanyahu doesn’t want to do a swap that might let him stay in East Jerusalem, then fine: the 1967 lines it is, or the experiment of giving Jews a homeland can be declared a failure and the whole place given back. Some folk can’t see an escape route when it’s offered: OK, let them fry.

    • anneinpt says:

      Your comment makes no sense. If Netanyahu doesn’t want to do a swap the Palestinians have a problem, not the Israelis. What gives you the right to declare the Jewish homeland an experiment that should be declared a failure? It is a spectacular success and if the Palestinians can’t come to terms with that, then it is their problem not Israel’s.

      As for letting “them” fry – maybe you hope the Jews will walk into the ovens again. Well, sorry to disappoint you. Not going to happen.

      Your antisemitc comment shall stay up for all the world to see.

  6. Simon says:

    Out of curiosity- does anyone here see a problem with Israel acquiring land through war? This is the crux of the matter. Israel is signatory to the 4th Geneva convention which outlaws the annexation of land by military force or the movement of one’s own population into land conquered militarily. Britain’s invasion of Ireland and acquisition of the Falklands pre-date GCIV by centuries, which does not necessarily negate the grievance of the Irish Republicans nor the Argentinians, however, under international law, it does make it different from the Israel-Palestine case. Gold is wrong in stating that “it was only an armistice line demarcating where Arab armies had been stopped when they invaded the nascent state of Israel in 1948” and therefore irrelevant. Firstly- that line is the internationally recognised boundary of Israel. It is that same mechanism of international recognition that established the State of Israel and therefore should be regarded equally so here. However, even if Gold were somehow correct in stating that that worldwide recognition of that line should not be recognised, then one would have to revert to the previously recognised border of Israel- the original border- a significantly smaller land mass altogether.

    And in case you’re still wondering- you are right- “swap” does mean getting something in return. In this case it would mean the Palestinians getting land from Israel proper in return for the land Israeli government militarily colonised (beyond the Green Line) in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

    I guess I’m curious as to how Israeli citizens would justify the seizure, settlement and colonisation of land by military force when that is in clear contravention of the last sixty years of international law. I’ve heard religious fundamentalist attempts to claim a covenant with god, but they’re somewhere between irrational and idiotic- I’m more interested in reasoned ideas and look forward to your response.

    Thanks,

    Simon.

    • anneinpt says:

      does anyone here see a problem with Israel acquiring land through war? This is the crux of the matter.

      If you see no problem with the Arabs acquiring Israeli land through war – which they did in 1948, seizing the West Bank and Jerusalem – then I do not see any problem with Israel doing the same, especially since the 1967 war was defensive and its aim was not to acquire territory. As proof of that, immediately after the ceasefire was declared, Israel offered the territory back to the Arabs in exchange for peace. Israel got as its reply the infamous 3 Noes of Khartoum.

      Israel is signatory to the 4th Geneva convention which outlaws the annexation of land by military force or the movement of one’s own population into land conquered militarily.

      Here’s what the Jewish Virtual Library has to say:

      Israel rejects the interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention applying it to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, stating that those territories were captured in 1967 as a result of a defensive war against countries which had illegally occupied them since 1948.

      More importantly, your interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, as so many people, is wrong.

      Fourth Geneva Convention, Section on Occupied Territories and transfer of population states:

      Art. 49. Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.

      Nevertheless, the Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand. Such evacuations may not involve the displacement of protected persons outside the bounds of the occupied territory except when for material reasons it is impossible to avoid such displacement. Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.

      The Occupying Power undertaking such transfers or evacuations shall ensure, to the greatest practicable extent, that proper accommodation is provided to receive the protected persons, that the removals are effected in satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition, and that members of the same family are not separated.

      The Protecting Power shall be informed of any transfers and evacuations as soon as they have taken place.

      The Occupying Power shall not detain protected persons in an area particularly exposed to the dangers of war unless the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand.

      The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

      Note that these words do not mention citizens of the Occupying Power voluntarily moving to the occupied territories – which is what Israeli settlers did. No one forced them.

      And all this is assuming that the territory in question is occupied in the first place, and not Israeli territory liberated from its Arab occupiers of 1948.

      • Simon says:

        Thanks for your response!

        Firstly, while I’m not sure pre-emptive strikes as seen in the 1967 war can be legally classed as defensive, it’s somewhat irrelevant because defensive or offensive- the annexation of land acquired through military force is illegal. States have used ‘defensive needs’ for centuries to justify attacks and invasions, while others have used ‘defensive needs’ legitimately. ‘Defensive’ is subjective by its nature and thus is in no way a legally justifiable defence for forced annexation. Given that essentially the entire world views Israel to be in contravention of GCIV (while the US will not vote against Israel in the UN, it does recognise the pre-1967 war borders as the territorial limit of Israel), do you think, on the balance of probabilities, that Israel rejects the application of GCIV primarily because to adopt it would admit Israel and its expansion policies are in contravention of international law, or conversely, that the rest of the world is wrong?

        In terms of Article 49, the Israeli settlements have forced the displacement of thousands of Palestinians. The settlements are built on prime Palestinian land- it would be irrational to believe that it was all completely empty, unused and disregarded by the local population. If the army/settlers/settlements drove out the population, then the population has been displaced and therefore Article 49 becomes applicable.

        You are right, however, regarding the movement of citizens of the occupying power freely moving into occupied territory by their own volition not being defined by Article 49. However, militarily acquiring the land belong to another people and then settling your own citizen (freely or forcibly) in that land is, by almost any standard, colonisation and widely considered one of the most grievous contraventions of international peace.

        “And all this is assuming that the territory in question is occupied in the first place, and not Israeli territory liberated from its Arab occupiers of 1948.”

        How exactly is the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Israeli territory liberated from Arab occupiers? Yes, Arab armies invaded in opposition to the then two-state settlement plan, but in what sense are the areas recognised in UN Resolution 181 as Arab-Palestine a part of Israel? They were not a part of Israel prior to the allied-Arab invasion in practical terms or under UNRES181. Even if one is to assume that the Arab occupation of the West Bank, Gaze and East Jerusalem were actually hostile and against the wishes of the Palestinians, the ‘liberation’ of these areas by Israel would not give Israel rightful claim to the land in the same way that the US-led coalition has no rightful claim to annex Kuwait after liberating it from Iraqi occupation.

        How would you define the territorial boundaries of the state of Israel?

        Thanks.

        Simon.

        • anneinpt says:

          Simon, I’m going to answer part of your questions here and for the rest, I would refer you to my reply to you on the Ariel thread

          the annexation of land acquired through military force is illegal.

          Israel hasn’t annexed the land.

          do you think, on the balance of probabilities, that Israel rejects the application of GCIV primarily because to adopt it would admit Israel and its expansion policies are in contravention of international law, or conversely, that the rest of the world is wrong?

          The rest of the world is wrong. And hypocritical. They apply GCIV to Israel alone amongst all the nations. Read the Legality of the Settlements for details.

          In terms of Article 49, the Israeli settlements have forced the displacement of thousands of Palestinians.

          Nonsense. Israeli settlements were built on empty land. You are mixing up two different events: the fleeing of the Arab residents of Palestine (which became Israel) in 1947-8, and the liberation of Judea and Samaria in 1967.

          The settlements are built on prime Palestinian land- it would be irrational to believe that it was all completely empty, unused and disregarded by the local population.

          LOL! You have obviously never been to the West Bank. The land is “prime” only in the context of security in that in dominates the high ground. The land is very hard to farm, hence the majority of the settlements are urban, with the occasional vineyard or olive grove.

          How exactly is the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Israeli territory liberated from Arab occupiers?

          I refer you to my reply to you on the Ariel thread. It is too time-consuming to write the whole answer all over again.

          How would you define the territorial boundaries of the state of Israel?

          Watch this video and read some of the links in my Resources list in the right sidebar.

  7. Simon says:

    Thanks for your reply!

    As suggested, we’ll continue in the other thread as they do cross over.

    All the best.

    Simon.

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