'Israel should debate building on swappable land’

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.

Robert Wexler 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Robert Wexler 390
(photo credit: 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 Wednesday.
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.
Wexler 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.
The 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 was uninvited.
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 relationship.”
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 diplomatic action.
“What is striking to me is that Obama gave his speech laying out a program and then did nothing,” Danin said.
“[US Mideast 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.”