The nine months of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have led nowhere. They were broken off because of the dubious Fatah- Hamas deal. In reality, the deal is not the reason for the deadlock but the result of it.
The biggest obstacle to serious progress for a two-state solution has been the inability to determine a border between the two states.
Before the crisis, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) demanded that, if negotiations were renewed, the first three months must focus on the demarcation of a border.
Immediately, alarm bells went off in Jerusalem – “how does he dare to ask for a border at the beginning of negotiations?” However, it is not exactly the beginning: permanent-status negotiations with the Palestinians, actually with Abu Mazen himself, began in April 1995 (I was the Israeli chief negotiator) with a three-year timeline. We are 16 years late.
Abu Mazen, who bears his share of the blame for the delays, has, this time, put his finger on a critical point: Israel’s lack of readiness to define the border between the two states makes a two-state solution impossible. Without a border, there are not two states. Furthermore, the ongoing, massive construction of settlement housing makes such a border irrelevant.
In today’s reality – in between the sea and the Jordan River – there is one state with many Palestinians islands of autonomy in between settlements – 55% of the population is Jewish, 45% is Arab.
There are two lines in which we live today – the Jordan River, which leaves us in occupation of 2.5 million Palestinians, and the Green Line, which is accepted as the dividing line by all of the international community.
In between the two lines, there is chaos and desperation. The Palestinians see the IDF on their eastern and western borders, 350,000 settlers who consider themselves masters of the land, the separation wall, which controls their movements, and the humiliating passages at checkpoints.
The result of not having a border endangers our very identity as a Jewish democracy. In the interim period, it creates growing instability in the “Wild- West-Bank” and hostility among Palestinians.
For now, it makes a two-state solution impossible and offers the worst conditions for neighborly relations, once it finally happens.
It is, therefore, the government that should demand a border with Palestine, secure and recognized by the international community. By establishing a border, we will finally make a decision about our own identity.
There are two considerations in determining our border: • Israel’s Jewish-democratic identity.
Democracy means equal rights for all citizens – a clear Jewish majority with equal rights for the Arab minority. This means a border close to the 1967 lines, including an annexation of settlement blocs through land swaps (75% of the settlers to Israel, which means 4% of the West Bank – so as not to annex Palestinians to Israel).
• The international community – the whole world, including the United States – sees the West Bank as occupied land.
Thus, also from this point of view, a border close to the 1967 line is the only realistic option for an internationally recognized border.
Every Israeli leader knows this, including Binyamin Netanyahu. The reason for not defining it as our policy is of a political nature, a fear of intimidation by the extreme Right and the settlers. They occupy not only the West Bank but also the Likud central committee. Coalition considerations are preferred over historic and strategic ones. A partnership with Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel is more important than relations with Secretary of State John Kerry and Abbas.
Ultimately, we will have an eastern border more or less along the 1967 lines. The question is only if it will be imposed on us or if we it will be determined by free will and negotiations.
Once Israel has a border on the east, as we have with Egypt in the south and in the north with Lebanon, it will have important repercussions. We will be a different and better country.
A border agreed upon with the Palestinians will allow us to insist on security arrangements and, if needed, it will allow us to act in self-defense (this is not the case for an occupier according to international law).
Such a border would be recognized by the international community and by international law. Israel will, again, become a respected country in the family of nations for its immense success story within sovereign Israel. That image today is badly tainted by the international perception of occupation. A two-state solution will enormously affect our economy as a result of greater trade, investment and tourism.
An agreed-upon border, based on the 1967 lines, will allow for normalization of relations with many Arab countries, as proposed by the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. Regional legitimacy will gradually lead to regional economic cooperation.
Economies today are of a more regional and international nature rather than of a national character. A smaller Israel will have a more prosperous economy.
An established border, along with an agreement on Jerusalem as a shared capital, will, for the first time in our history, lead to international recognition of Israel with Jerusalem as our capital, including by the United States which still has its embassy in Tel Aviv. More important, the eastern border established for the twostate solution will ensure our Jewish and democratic identity. A binational state would be the end of our Zionist dream.
Moreover, there are even more important domestic effects of having a border.
We will regain the moral high ground.
Ending the occupation is no less a gain for Israel than it is for Palestine. Running the lives and destinies of another people has corrupted our moral fabric. A border will, one hopes, foster a more modest youth, focusing on the necessities of their own lives, in which there is much to be proud of.
The decision on a border will be accompanied by an extreme social-political polarization. Afterward, we will be more cohesive, enabling us to focus on our real human and social priorities, not on land: education, healthcare, social equity, affordable living, caring for the needy and bridging social gaps.
A recognized border will put an end to living according to two legal systems – the Israeli law of the Knesset for sovereign Israel and military law for the West Bank. A democracy must be based on one legal system for all. A border will ensure our democracy with equal rights for all citizens.
A homeland of the Jewish people requires first and foremost a Jewish, democratic majority and to live according to Jewish humanitarian and universal values.
It will not come about through the theocratic legislation that Netanyahu is proposing.
In the borderless Israel, we live beyond our means with regard to our morality, our core values and the law. It is essential for Israel to live and thrive within our own four walls, to continue to develop the success story that began in 1948, the ingathering of immigrants, and the development of a modern economy, along with the flourishing of our Hebrew culture. Not everything is perfect in our country, but it is ours. It is our opportunity to offer the younger generation tremendous opportunities, to let them lead our creative and innovative society rather than police our neighbors.
A society needs limits, borders and order to feel confident and cohesive. The limits are set by social agreements, law and physical borders.
The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.