Time to reach a border agreement

An agreement on borders will be a personal boon for Netanyahu, as a politician and a statesman.

Beit El in the West Bank 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Beit El in the West Bank 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 made.
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 Tuesday.
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 Israel.
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.
That analysis, which views a border agreement as consisting solely of an Israeli concession and a Palestinian gain, is superficial and, as such, flawed.
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 manifest.
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 programs.
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 international community.
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.
But 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 the interim.
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 and translator.