carnegie logo

Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next »

ISRAEL: On settlements, blocs and borders [Updated]


Barring a breakthrough proving that the former settlement freeze was a stroke-of-genius gamble, for now it seems to have frozen peace talks more than anything else. Genius or not, the now-thawed freeze presents quite a quandary.

But in the past you negotiated with us during construction, says Israel. Yes, well. We're not repeating that mistake, the Palestinians say.

One possible solution to the moratorium mess is for Israel to limit construction to the settlement blocs, large, populated areas in the West Bank it believes it can retain under most scenarios. 

The Palestinians reject this. No freeze, no talks.

Settlements and borders are among the final-status "biggies," along with Jerusalem and refugees. Israel has insisted security comes first and will dictate everything else. This position got a temporary boost when a shooting attack killed four Israelis in the West Bank the day before talks were relaunched in Washington. If the blocs are on the table, Israel may consider now what has always been saved for "later" -- borders.

Israeli Minister Dan Meridor, who raised the subject toward the end of the moratorium, said it didn't make sense for Israel to build in places it wasn't going to keep, neither was it logical to refrain from building in places it would. This requires deciding what it wants to, and can, keep.

UnfreezeEven in Israel, the blocs are a vague issue to many.

Peace Now counts six: Maaleh Adumim (about 23 square miles), Givat Zeev (9.5 square miles), Gush Etzion (27.7 square miles), Modiin Ilit (4.3 square miles), Ariel (31 square miles) and Karnei Shomron (30 square miles).

When the barrier went up, Israel called it a "security fence." Dictated by security (and occasionally the supreme court), it could be undone any time, officials said, repeating that its purpose was to keep suicide bombers out, not mark the border. But, nowadays, even officials call it the "separation fence."

Of the tens of thousands (today more than 100,000) of settlers who found themselves on the east -- and wrong -- side of the fence, some were quick to take the hint.

Like Beni Raz. The settler from Karnei Shomron was active in the "One Home" initiative advocating early voluntary evacuation. With lawmakers, he pushed for an "evacuation-compensation" bill to help settlers willing to move back inside the Green Line get on with their lives instead of languishing as bargaining chips until an agreement was reached. This fizzled.

Now, Raz said, the idea was "more relevant than ever." The government should tell people the truth and help those secretly slated for evacuation with timely compensation. Everyone will benefit, he says, including the peace process and the government.

Don't talk to us about blocs, said veteran settlement leader Benny Katzover last Sunday as construction resumed. What they really meant was that from 100,000 to 150,000 settlers would be uprooted, he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to sign off on what many see as the practical parameters for an agreement -- the 1967 borders as a baseline, with a 1:1 landswap in return for what Israel would keep and annex (that's unpopulated land Israel would give, not be to confused with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's notion of a population swap). Israel's potential for swap is limited (4% of the West Bank, max), according to Shaul Arieli, peace and security expert and mapmaker. The informal "accord" of the Geneva Initiative (recently running the Partner Campaign) includes a map suggesting a landswap of 147 kilometers, about 91 miles (link in Hebrew). Ariel and its environs weren't included, a key difference between this and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's reported offer.

The reported letter of assurances -- which the U.S. has denied offering Prime Minister Netanyahu and which Netanyahu is said to have rejected -- contains some carrots. But an Israeli rejection of the incentives the U.S. is reportedly offering in return for extending the freeze could activate a stick, speculates David Makovsky, in the form of the U.S. explicitly adopting the Palestinian position that the 1967 borders be the baseline for talks.

Israel rejects returning to the 1967 borders. Not (only) because of the settlements but for security (also a leading factor in determining the settlements' location). Withdrawing to these lines would undermine Israel's security, states the Defensible Borders project. An animated clip illustrates what they define as Israel's critical security needs for a viable peace, including retaining control of the Jordan Valley, key areas of the mountain ridge dominating Israel's coastal plain, airspace over the West Bank and key traffic arteries.

It's all about space and time, says former government spokeswoman Miri Eisin*, a retired colonel who guides helicopter tours for journalists on the topic of borders for the Israel Project. Scarcity of the first affords very little warning time, she says, around 400 feet or so above where Israeli and Palestinian towns are separated by only 800 meters -- and the fence.  Space and time, she repeats.

[*A previous version of this post said Miri Eisin is a government spokeswoman. She held that post in the past.]

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Photos: Balloons celebrating the end of the construction freeze, in Revava, West Bank; lots of journalists and one cement mixer, renewing West Bank construction at Kiryat Netafim. Credit: Batsheva Sobelman

Video: "Israel's Critical Security Needs," from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Credit: YouTube

Comments () | Archives (15)

@tim clarke
i should like to know the last time you were in the west bank,also any-body and ever-body can and will when it suits them all of a sudden become a palestinian,it seems to me that you spout more hate than interest,and have no idea of our history or country,still i expect it gives you some-thing to do and makes you feel as though you know what your talking about when infact you dont.
israel is my country/home.
and you have no idea of the people or the problems.
thank you.

To Dean Blake............

I can concede that Israel allows for other religions the right to practice their faiths but this "right" has been seriously and completely undermined by the denial of the right to the Palestinians to maintain ownership of their property. I'm referring not just to the outright expropriation of Palestinian land in 1948 (with the resulting refusal to allow the Palestinians back, denial of the "Right of Return") but also in the aftermath of the '67 War. Once again, the Palestinians were driven from land they occupied in Jordan to make way for the settlements(an issue the UN acknowledged as an illegal activity and of course in writing this I'm telling things you already know). This is why I have stated previously(and specifically in response to the "Eretz Yisrael" claim of Jehudah Ben Israel) that God certainly does not play favorites where land is concerned!

All these peace talks seem predestined to fail because neither side is willing to risk that vital next step forward.

The process here is not unlike trying to cross a fast-flowing river via a series of untested stepping stones. How do we know if the next stone is stable enough to land upon safely. Will it wobble? Will it collapse under our weight and cast us headlong into the raging torrent?

Is this why, in the Israeli/Palestinian context, very little real movement has been perceived in decades, no leap of faith, no taking of chances, no venturing into uncharted waters? Indeed, even to consider proceeding in such a manner is most unlikely, no matter what pressing circumstances are prevailing at the time.

The situation has always been too fluid, too fragile for risk-taking of this sort. When it comes to making peace, so much of the future is conditional upon what we do in the present, as, indeed, is the present determined by what has happened in the past. If the jump is made and our stone offers little or no support, there may be no future left other than that of a watery grave or a long exhausting swim back to the safety of the riverbank.

It seems we must first somehow future-proof our progress in this matter if we wish to overcome so formidable an obstacle.

It appears that, for all our concerns over the stability of various stepping stones toward peace, we have failed to realise that it may be well within our power to reduce the flow of the river to almost that of a trickle. In which case, we can cross anytime and at leisure; our path then being little impeded by the onrushing tide of human affairs.

REPLY TO Manuel Alderete: there is religious tolerance inside Israel, the Jews are tolerant of other religions, the same can not be said of Muslims who see their religion as the replacement theology for other people of the book subjecting them to aspecial oppressive taxes, religious interference and oppression and restrictions on Jewish education, language and worship; and are totally intolerant of Hinduism and other religions. There can not be other than a separation of Jews because our religion calls for separation from 'wickedness'. Muslim polygomy, tribal female genital excision, vindictive Sharia law, jihad rather than peace, hallal rather than higher kosher food standards create irreconcialable conflict in daily living between Jews and others, and this is the short list.

The Palestinians are not in 'bantu' stands, their backs are up against Arab friendly Jordan and Gaza is up against friendly Egypt, while the Jews have their backs up against the sea. they can do business and communication with them if they want. If there were peace, continuity of terrirtory would be meaningless. Look at the border between Netherlands and Belgium; convoluted as a snake with 'bubbles within bubbles' of the other's territory. It took 40 years to settle their border after WWII.

Reply to Tim Clark - keep up your namecalling.

I love how they have a video of the propaganda accompanying this story.

Muslims/arabs have 52 countries with Mecca as a capital..
Now they are trying to steal Israel-Thailand and India..

White South Africans use to say Black Africans will cut their heads and will throw them out to sea if they get a chance to do so and beside Blacks have the whole continent and we just have a tiny part of it so what's a big deal, we know that did not happened even after indiscriminate killing of Blacks during apartheid which Israel haven't come close to doing it to Palestinians, today S. Africa is a modern biracial country with fast growing economy!
I say let Israel annex West Bank since under no circumstances they will evacuated and make all shall be citizens of one nation with equal right, therefore no foreign nation have any right to interfere or initiate any attack against this new state, win win for all!

Max: Very cute. Since 1979 more than half the Jews of Iran have left. It was that good there. Only the Bahai's have a better deal in Iran.

Also it is so easy to be a Copt in Egypt, a Shiite in Saudi Arabia or Oman, or a Hindu in Pakistan.

But of course that is just propaganda, right? From the Zionist (like Ricky said) media.

Stefano: Right. In 1967 when Nasser moved his troops into the Sinai, closed the Tiran Straits and threatened to drive the Jews into the sea, Israel had no desire peace. Johnson reneged on US promises to keep the Straits open, the UN removed all the peace keepers from the Sinai and the Syrians shelled the kibbutzim from the Golan Heights and it was the Arabs who only wanted peace.

You might think you have an understanding of history, but you come across as a paranoid conspiracy weirdo. Ol Ricky, would be proud of you. That the USA might have her own reasons to be in Iraq or Afganistan escapes you, it is only the evil Zionists that pull the strings. You probable believe that Prescott Bush was Jewish.

This is a standard Israeli tactic: offer a settlement 'freeze' and then quietly resume building and hope nobody notices.
I don't think withdrawing to the '67 borders would guarantee peace but Israel should do it because it's the right thing to do.

All Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal as explicitly declared by the UN already.Therefore, they should be dismanteld and removed immediately.All Israeli settlers in such military fortresses are war criminals and should be dragged to the Hague for their war crimes against innocent indigenous Palestinians.Very few people know that all Israeli settlers in the West Bank are actually orthodox Jewish extremists who are fully armed,well trained and even encouraged by Netanyahu government to kill as many Palestinians as they can everyday to intimidate indigenous Palestinians and force them out into refuge somewhere else.

S_toren supplies us with a lot of claims, for example: "In truth, we all know that Jews can't live as a minority amongst Moslems without being delegated to a very secondary status." I would advice S toren to talk to members of the jewish community in Iran. Apparently they disagree.

A lot of claims about the cause of the poverty among Palestinians. It's all the fault of Arafat and Abu Mazen. The Israeli disposession, occupation, violence, economic strangle are apparently no factors.

The goal of any sane person is indeed to abolish the Jewish state: abolish its racist character. Ofcourse supports of this apartheid's regime want to make you believe that it's abolishment equals the murder or expulsion of its jewish population. Similar ploys were used in South Africa to maintain its racist policies.

The fact that what's on the table now: a discussion about whether Israel should temporarily pretend it stops dispossessing more Palestinians to establish colonies on Palestinian land for Jews only. All this as a precondition to start negotiations with the former Palestinian president (his term ended early this year), who, in contradiction to Palestine's constitution, abolished the democratically elected parliament (who's term would end late this year).
What more do people need to see the absurd stranglehold Israel has on how people in the West perceive the situation.

Just a reminder, since it is so rarely mentioned. Israel is militarily occupying the West Bank, and this occupation is largely considered illegal since the Palestinians did not initiate or to any significant extant participate in the Arab reaction to Israel's preemptive strike in 1967.

Despite what most American media might omit, the Geneva conventions are quite clear: settling occupied territory is illegal and forbidden. The settlers are criminals and every settler (which also means exclusively Jewish) home in the West Bank is illegal.

Why can't that place be one single country? Palestine-Israel.?
Have religious tolerance, a shared capitol, a more authentic democracy...and make lots and lots of money there.

The UN and the British Mandate screwed this whole thing up in the first place. Dump the West as a babysitter.

What's being touted as a "Palestinian state" is nothing more than an Indian Reservation system, fragmented and incongruous to any geographical unity. Look at the map.

Since at least the 1960s, both America-first nationalistic professional diplomats and 1960s-to-present progressives, radicals, and populists continue to agree on the following: Zionist Israel has never desired a real or just peace with the native inhabitants, the Palestinians. It wants more and more land, resources, aid, donations, non-Jewish labor, support, sympathy, political power, and ultimately, domination. It uses many strategies and tactics over generations to facilitate such. American democracy and people do pay a very high price for these Zionist goals and means; witness Iraq, Afghanistan, US aid to Israel, and minority control over American foreign policy, as just a few of the costs. Such is nothing less than embarrassing, shameless, and pathetic.

It would be refreshing to see a journalist question what exactly the "palestinians" "need" a state for. If it is to have self determination, then are continous borders so neccessary? Can both Israel and "palestine"exist as a series of cantons connected by roads under joint control? Can Jews live a s a minority in a Moslem majority "palestine" just as Moslems live in a Jwish majority Israel?

In truth, we all know that Jews can't live as a minority amongst Moslems without being delegated to a very secondary status. That the Moslems have proved in over 40 nations. They prove it to their Christian neighbours too, from Morocco to Malaysia. Fifteen years of the PA has not improved anyone's lot hre. Excluding cronies of Arafat and now Abu Mazen, most of the wealth has gone to too few. Freedom of the press is more precarious today then before Arafat came from Tunis with an army of terrorists in tow.

So to talk about borders when Abu Mazen and Fayaad speak of destroying Israel is a bit premature ... or perhaps immature. Doesn't take a genius to see that the PA's plan is to implement Israel's destruction in a number of stages, one after the other. Their goal is to abolish the Jewish State and expel the Jews.

So why is Israel helping them to do it?


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Recent News
Introducing World Now |  September 23, 2011, 8:48 am »



About the Contributors