For the past two months Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been engaged in
direct talks, addressing all of the core issues of a final-status arrangement,
such as borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem.
The two parties
agreed at the outset not to share with the media information about the talks,
and were supposed to refrain even from saying whether progress had been
Some information nevertheless has been leaked by the two sides to
local and international news organizations.
Most of the leaks have been
about differences between the two sides about the borders of the future
Palestinian state and attendant security arrangements. The latest such report,
which this time was based on Israeli sources, appeared in Ma’ariv on
The plurality of leaks in this vein would seem to indicate, at
the very least, that the issue of borders has been one of the primary focal
points of the negotiations until now.
That is good news for
In the past, Israel has resisted international pressure to reach
an agreement first on borders.
Traditionally, Israelis – and particularly
so right-wing politicians and pundits – have framed an agreement on borders as a
onesided Israeli concession to the Palestinians.
The argument was that
Israel would be giving up a precious bargaining chip, territory currently out of
the Palestinians’ control, without receiving in exchange a Palestinian
concession on, for example, the demand to resettle Palestinian refugees and
their descendants inside Israel in a final-status arrangement.
analysis, which views a border agreement as consisting solely of an Israeli
concession and a Palestinian gain, is superficial and, as such,
Israel has much to gain from having a final border with a
Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip clearly demarcated, though
not in the narrow quid pro quo sense of a Palestinian counter-concession, as has
traditionally been sought in negotiations.
Rather, the gains arising for
Israel from a border agreement will fall under the rubric of Israel’s standing
in the global community, and the alleviation of existing international pressures
as well as the threat of future sanctions.
No less importantly, an
agreement about borders will provide the Israeli public with a clear vision for
how to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, while helping to
frame a debate about the measures will be needed to make that vision
OVERWHELMINGLY, the international community currently considers
all Israeli settlements and neighborhoods beyond the Green Line to be
illegitimate, at the very least, if not entirely illegal. A border agreement
with the Palestinians, however, will immediately render every settlement and
neighborhood that lies on the Israeli side of the future border legitimate and
fully legal, removing one of the most painful thorns that has been stuck in the
side of Israel’s relations with the world for years.
This will finally
allow Israel to pursue construction and development in all areas that are to be
part of the sovereign State of Israel, be that in Efrat or Jerusalem’s Pisgat
Ze’ev neighborhood. Moreover, it will obviate the EU’s recently-issued
guidelines banning its member states from either dealing with or funding Israeli
entities beyond the Green Line, paving the way for Israel to join the EU’s
Horizon 2020 scientific research program and other similar in international
Domestically, a border agreement with the Palestinians will be
good for Israel as well. On the reasonable assumption that Israel’s future
borders will include all the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem as well as a
majority of the residents of the settlement in the West Bank, it will put at
ease a large swath of the Israeli population that currently lives in a state of
legal limbo, and open the door for many Israeli businesses based on the far side
of the Green Line to engage in international commerce, free of the threat of
sanctions and boycott.
As to those Israelis who live and/or own
businesses outside the future realm of the state, a border agreement will help
frame an internal debate (though subsequently a multi-lateral debate as well)
about their options for the future, and provide clarity about what kind of
choices they and the country have.
On the face of things, these options
will involve either relocation or, possibly, remaining in place while facing the
prospect of living under a foreign regime. Those painful and delicate decisions
ought to be made by the government as a product of dialogue with community
leaders, in tandem with dialogue with the Palestinians and the broader
A decision by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
to reach any agreement to partition the historic Land of Israel is certain to
meet stiff opposition from within his own party, and even more vehement
resistance from the religious right, which is theologically invested in
retaining Israeli sovereignty as an outgrowth of its own eschatology.
the long-term gains in store for Israel ought to outweigh partisan calculations
of that kind. Polls have consistently indicated that a majority the Israeli
public supports partitioning the land as a way of ensuring Israel’s continued
existence as a Jewish and democratic state, even if the public is not confident
of the Palestinians’ peaceful intentions.
LASTLY, AN agreement on borders
will be a personal boon for Netanyahu, as a politician and a statesman, putting
to rest international and local skepticism about his own intentions, and proving
him to be a leader with an actionable vision for Israel and the region. More
than four years have passed since Netanyahu first publicly endorsed the
two-state solution at his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, yet many have questioned the
sincerity of those statements given the lack of progress that has been made in
While the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to engage in
negotiations without preconditions until this past summer contributed decisively
to the deadlock, Netanyahu’s political choices in the past four years have, in
their own right, given rise to the suspicion that the Bar-Ilan speech was, to
borrow a current phrase, a “charm offensive,” in which the right words about
wanting peace were matched by the wrong kind of actions on the ground. An
agreement on borders can change that view of Netanyahu, as he sets Israel on a
positive course into the future.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer