'Israel should debate building on swappable land’
LAST UPDATED: 02/02/2012 03:23
Robert Wexler, close confidante of Obama, hails Israel-US ties; former aide to Tony Blair says relationship between Netanyahu and White House not what it should be.
Former US Congressman Robert Wexler Photo: REUTERS
The internal Israeli debate on where to build houses and communities should
extend to inside the Green Line on areas that may be transferred to the
Palestinians in a future peace deal, Robert Wexler, considered one of US
President Barack Obama’s closest Jewish confidantes, said
Wexler, a former congressman from Florida, and currently the
president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, said the
Israeli public should debate whether to build on what has been discussed in the
past as “swappable land.”
Wexler, speaking on a panel on the
Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process at the 12th annual Herzliya Conference,
said that under the terms of what was discussed between former prime minister
Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, Israel
would likely be asked to “swap” some 4 percent of land within the pre-June 4,
1967, lines in exchange for retaining the large settlement blocks.
said in 2008 there was roughly 5.1% of “swappable land” contiguous with a future
Palestinian state that was empty. Because of construction since then, that
percentage is now only 4.5 %, he said.
“As we get closer to that 4%, the
Israeli public should debate what to do,” he said, hinting that construction in
those areas should be frozen to keep the land-swap option viable.
same type of situation exists in and around Jerusalem, Wexler said, adding that
the rate of construction in the capital now may prevent reaching any agreement
on the city in the future.
Wexler praised Obama for what he said was his
stalwart support of Israel.
Among the evidence he cited to support this
claim was the close security ties between the two countries; Obama’s speech at
the UN in September, which he said “single-handedly” thwarted the PA’s unilateral
statehood bid there; his intervention with Egypt in September preventing the
lynching of Israeli security guards at the embassy in Cairo; and the refusal of
the US to take part in a large naval maneuver with Turkey in 2009, after Israel
But Robert Danin, who headed Quartet envoy Tony Blair’s
office in Jerusalem from 2008 to 2010, and who for 20 years previously served in
the State Department and the White House in top Middle East positions, took a
less sanguine view.
Danin, now a fellow at Washington’s Council on
Foreign Relations, did not dispute the strong military and intelligence ties
between Israel and the US.
But, he said, that only tells part of the
story. The relationship between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office
is not what it could and should be, he said.
“That is a fact,” he
asserted. “And we should know how to fix it. It is in no one’s interest for it
to be this way.
When the region is in such flux, we need an improved
Danin said it was true that the US “bailed Israel out”
during the Cairo embassy crisis. But, he added, “The frustration the White House
feels is that you [Israel] know who to call when you need help, but do we know
who to call when we need help?” While Wexler said both Israel and the PA missed
a golden opportunity in May in not endorsing Obama’s speech calling for an
agreement based on the 1967 lines, with a mutually agreed land swap, Danin said
that part of the problem was that Obama did not follow up his speech with
“What is striking to me is that Obama gave his speech
laying out a program and then did nothing,” Danin said.
envoy George] Mitchell resigned three days later. A speech is not process, it is
not policy, it is a declaration.
There is too much ‘speachifiying,’ and
not enough activism.”