Borderline Views: The Obama and Kerry map

What is required is an innovative way of thinking about borders and their relationship to independence and citizenship.

Map of the Middle East 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Map of the Middle East 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
President Barack Obama has attempted to simplify the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict; in advance of Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Israel this week, he has urged both sides to guarantee the single most important objective for the other. An independent state with clearly defined borders for the Palestinians, physical security and safety for Israel. The details, such as settlements, he argues, can come later.
In one sense this is a naïve statement. The assumption that the eventual demarcation of borders can be worked out without paying attention to the details is faulty. The location and dispersion of settlements throughout the West Bank has a major impact on the way in which borders are demarcated. One only has to look at the interim maps which accompanied the Oslo Agreements back in the 1990s to understand what a significant role the settlements played in preventing the creation of two distinct and separate territorial units, each of which constituted a compact and contiguous piece of territory.
The Oslo map looks more like a piece of Swiss cheese, full of enclaves and exclaves, with bypass roads linking the Jewish settlements to each other and effectively cutting off any form of territorial contiguity between the Palestinian areas of autonomy. The division of the West Bank, at that time, into Areas A, B and C, each of which had different levels of autonomy and self rule, were a recipe for political instability, as indeed they proved to be.
The Palestinians only agreed to sign on to the Oslo maps because at the time, this was seen as being a first stage in a five-year transition period of negotiations aimed at arriving at a final map which would satisfy the sovereign needs of the Palestinians and the security needs of Israel.
Since that time, there have been numerous attempts at map-drawing. Various versions of borders have been proposed at countless “track II” discussions, by geographers, cartographers and diplomats. Government ministers, each of whom has had aspirations of being the ultimate “peace maker,” have proposed new contours for the future borders of a two-state solution. In reality, they are not vastly different from each other.
They all use the Green Line as a base from which they try to deviate so as to incorporate as many of the settlements as possible, especially those in relative proximity to the Green Line. During the past decade, some of these cartographic scenarios have also included the proposal for land swaps, with Israel annexing settlement areas inside the West Bank, in return for which the Palestinians would receive land inside Israel which is unsettled and, in this way, maintain the same proportions of land for Israel and the West bank which existed prior to 1967.
But since Oslo, the settlement project has doubled in numbers. Existing settlements have grown to the size of small townships, while many new settlements have been established, including the hilltop squatter communities which have been dispersed throughout the region and which make it even more difficult than before to create contiguous, uninterrupted territories.
The construction of the Separation/Security Barrier/Wall/Fence has been the only attempt to actually implement a border on the ground and although it can be removed far more quickly than it was ever established, its course indicates the political thinking of Israeli leaders during the past decade concerning the ultimate route of a border.
Anyone who crosses this line on a regular basis can testify to the fact that it has all the characteristics of an international border separating two states. Documents are scrutinized, Palestinians refused entry and trucks checked for the transportation of goods which are forbidden or require customs payments.
It is no surprise that the new Economy and Trade minister, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, has suggested that the separation barrier should ultimately be removed and that Palestinians should eventually be allowed back into the Israeli workforce. This is, in his worldview, the only way to prevent the two-state solution, to which he is totally opposed, from eventually becoming a reality.
For Bennett and the new right-wing coalition government, any talk of borders has to cease. In their view Israel has to return to a situation in which the entire territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is a single entity, never to be divided.
Ironically, this is a territorial solution which is also supported by the more radical Palestinian groups who see the future in terms of a single binational state of Jews and Arabs in which all are equal and which is not defined by its Jewish or Arab national status. The far Right (continued occupation) and the radical Left (a binational state) share the same basic criteria – namely, that we should not be drawing borders and that we should be relating to the entire territory as a single political and administrative unit. Despite the geographic similarities however, the contrasting sets of power relations are clear for all. Under a Bennett solution, there would be first- and second-class citizens and the state would retain its formal Jewish status, while under the binational scenario, all would be equal and there would no longer be a State of Israel defined by its Jewish identity.
What Bennett and his supporters on the Right constantly fail to realize is that, by the abolition of borders, and the continued construction of settlements throughout the West Bank, they are the people who, more than any others, are bringing about the one-state scenario and the end to the Jewish state.
No less than right-wing prime minister and warrior Ariel Sharon eventually came to this understanding. As a result he forced through the painful evacuation of Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip and established the Kadima party with the intention of moving ahead with similar territorial withdrawals and evacuations in the West Bank. He did not change his right-wing beliefs, nor did he intrinsically believe in the legitimacy of a Palestinian state, despite his public statements acknowledging two states.
But he did understand, as a person for whom security was so important, that Israel’s long-term security was threatened as much, if not more, by the demographics than it was by the missiles and the foreign armies.
To implement a classic version of the two-state solution, the recognition of an international border along the Green Line, the Separation Barrier or any other single line would necessitate the forced evacuation of tens, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of settlers. This is simply not going to happen. No Israeli government has the ability to implement such a scenario in the face of the massive opposition it will entail. There will always be settlements on the wrong side of the border, even those borders which have been drawn to include the major settlement blocs close to the Green Line.
But the ultimate removal of borders will eventually bring about one of two equally unacceptable scenarios for most Israelis – either apartheid and institutionalized discrimination or a binational state.
What is required is an innovative way of thinking about borders and their relationship to independence and citizenship.
Obama and Kerry have their hearts in the right place but they make an extremely complex situation sound too simplistic. They are concerned for both Israel’s security and for Palestinians’ right to independence. But unless there is a clear acceptance from both sides – especially Israel – as to what this entails it, like all previous attempts at reaching a solution, will come to nought.
The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. Editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics, he heads the Israeli participation in the EU FP7 project examining the future status of borders in Europe and the neighboring regions. The views expressed are his alone.