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Map making seems to be an increasingly popular pastime in the Middle East these
days. The Palestinians claim they prepared a mapped vision of the
two-state solution, but that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu refuses to look
at it. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is reportedly preparing maps that will
give Palestinians an interim state on land they already control, but no
more. Now a leading Washington think tank has unveiled a series of maps
detailing proposals for borders.
The central question in all this
cartography is what to do about nearly 300,000 Israelis living in some 120 West
Bank settlements. Documents released Sunday by Al-Jazeera show Israelis and
Palestinians may have made more progress toward an agreement – at least with the
prior Israeli government – than previously known, but the reality is that the
peace talks are comatose, and each side is conditioning their resumption on
terms it knows are unacceptable to the other.
Washington Watch: Will Israel become a wedge issue? Washington Watch: Settlements are excuse, not obstacle
President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to meet with Netanyahu until all settlement
construction is frozen, which Netanyahu has rejected by sanctioning a new
The Al-Jazeera documents revealed that Abbas is much more
flexible on that issue in private than in public, and that may land him in big
trouble with the Palestinian public to which he has made unrealistically
maximalist promises, not only on settlements but also on refugees, borders,
Jerusalem and security.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has
published a report by senior fellow David Makovsky detailing three scenarios for
redrawing borders that would allow Israel to retain the maximum number of
settlers in a minimum number of settlements, along with 1:1 land swaps that
would give Palestinians the equivalent of 100% of the West
“Territory is not the only issue on the peace agenda,” said
Makovsky, “but a breakthrough on this issue may open the door to progress on the
He estimated it could cost nearly $1 million per family to
relocate settlers inside Israel’s new borders based on the 2005 Gaza withdrawal
and on a family size of 5.3 (more for smaller families).
Any West Bank
withdrawal will be more complex and more traumatic than the one in Gaza that saw
radical rabbis ordering their followers to resist and soldiers to disobey their
In September 2005 Israel evacuated 8,500 settlers from Gaza,
plus another 500 from the northern West Bank at a cost of $2 billion. Five and a
half years later, an estimated 70% still do not have permanent
West Bank evacuation for civilians will cost between $11 billion
and $24 billion, depending on the extent of the land swap and the number of
people affected. The cost for the army and overall redeployment will be billions
GUESS WHO’S expected to foot the bill. The American taxpayer. That
could create a problem. Current US law prohibits spending American aid beyond
the 1967 border; it was written specifically to prevent using foreign aid for
Netanyahu recently forced the US to withdraw an offer of
$3.5 billion in advanced stealth planes and other equipment in return for a
90-day settlement freeze, when he insisted on deal-killing
conditions. Meanwhile, senior US diplomats are in Israel discussing
security needs in the event of a peace agreement.
Makovsky briefed top
Israeli, Palestinian and American officials on the report, but declined to
characterize their responses.
The WINEP scenarios envision removing most
West Bank settlements (77 to 88 out of 120), but only a minority of settlers
(60,000 to 94,000 out of 300,000). That’s because most settlers live in major
settlement blocs near the 1967 border, which are expected to be annexed to
Israel in any peace agreement.
In a land-for-land deal, each side gets
something tangible, said Makovsky. It is “not realistic” for Palestinians to
demand that all settlers be removed.
The Washington Institute report does
not deal with the nearly 200,000 Jews who live in east Jerusalem.
Congress may question why Americans taxpayers should help foot the bill to
remove settlements that every president has said never should have been built in
the first place.
On top of that, American taxpayers will be expected to
increase the hundreds of millions already going to help the Palestinians build
their state. Arab leaders will be expected to chip in, but so far they’ve been
more generous with pledges than checks.
I’m not arguing against
withdrawal. To the contrary, I think it is long overdue and in the vital
interest of Israel’s survival as a Jewish, democratic state. But it may
not be realistic to think Congress and the administration, facing unprecedented
budget shortfalls and intense pressure to curb spending, will serve as the new
ATM for an agreement.
The longer both the Palestinians and Israelis
delay, the higher the price of email@example.com