Sunday, January 23, 2011

Settlements and Boundaries

A draft resolution is circulating in the UN Security Council that would condemn Israel for continuing construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And a group of former U.S. diplomats is urging President Obama not to veto the resolution. The draft resolution, as now written, states that "Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace."

On the surface the resolution might not seem ominous, but if the U.S. joins with others in condemning Israel, it will be the first time our country will have allowed such a resolution to go through the Security Council. Israel would indeed be standing alone against the rest of the world.

To me the resolution is hypocritical, since settlement construction is not a major obstacle to lasting peace. Let me explain why I believe this is so.

Since 2000 virtually everyone has recognized that the "1967 borders" will not be the final borders of any future Palestinian state. Such borders are not required by UN Resolution 242, passed after the Six-Day War. And the different peace proposals floated over the past decade have recognized that the final borders will be altered slightly, allowing Israel to incorporate a number of the settlements into its final boundaries and providing borders that are more secure.

But aren't the sheer number of settlements being built creating a major barrier to peace? That is, isn't Israel creating a greater problem by continuing to build throughout the West Bank--making it even more difficult to define final borders? A new study by The Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy would suggest that the answer is no. The report, "Imagining the Border: Options for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Issue," suggests the settlement problem is not the issue many are making it out to be. Annexing just 4.73% of the pre-1967 West Bank would allow Israel to incorporate 80% of these settlers into the country without forcing them to relocate. And by ceding a comparable amount of land to the Palestinians, Israel could provide opportunity for Palestinian expansion in the crowded Gaza Strip and as well as in other areas of the West Bank. The study provides specific maps detailing three different options that could be the basis for such a settlement.

So instead of pushing to condemn Israel for expanding settlements that will almost certainly become part of Israel anyway, wouldn't it be more sensible for the Palestinian Authority to resume negotiations to resolve these final boundary issues? Sadly, in the Middle East decisions don't always follow common sense.

If you want to be better informed on what's possible, I urge you to follow the link above and download the report. You will be impressed by its common-sense approach to the issue of establishing boundaries that could be acceptable to both sides. Other issue wold still remain, but this report represents the kind of approach the Palestinians and Israelis ought to be taking to resolving these issues. Let's hope the UN resolution fails and that negotiations again become an option.

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