Difficult Truths on Borders

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An agreement on borders is essential to peace, but both Israel and Palestine will have to acknowledge some hard facts

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A Palestinian boy awaits the arrival of prisoners freed from Israeli jails near the borders between Rafah and Egypt in the Gaza Strip / Reuters

For Palestinians, a two-state solution is the only realistic way to achieve independence and realize the dream of a sovereign, viable Palestinian state. For Israelis, a two-state solution is an existential imperative, less the emerging Arab majority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River force Israel to choose between its Jewish and democratic characters.

9-11 Ten Years LaterThe question of borders lies at the heart of the two-state paradigm. Borders are the key ingredient and the most imminent manifestation of sovereignty. You simply don't have two states if you don't have borders between them. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are issues that touch on the very delicate identity of the two peoples -- particularly the plight of Palestinian refugees or the status of Jerusalem's holy places. But the question of borders is the only one that actually brings about a two-state reality.

For the past eight years I have worked tirelessly to help educate stakeholders on all sides about the question of borders and its possible solutions. My experience has shown me that, whatever side of this story you're on, understanding and appreciating the other's narrative is crucial. It does not mean you embrace it. It does mean that you're wise enough to know that comprehending what drives the other side is an essential part of effectively engaging the issue and, by extension, securing your interests in the context of a peace agreement.

I am not one who thinks that the truth -- or in this case, the solution -- resides in the exact middle between two competing sides. However, I do believe that, in order to resolve the issue of borders, both sides will need to accept some simple but difficult notions.

Palestinians will need to realize that there is nothing holy about the 1967 lines in and of themselves, and that while they will likely serve as basis for an agreement, some modest but meaningful adjustments to them are needed in order to allow Israel to minimize the number of settlers that will need to be evacuated. Indeed, the Palestinian leadership has done its part in proposing adjustments to the 1967 lines to answer this Israeli need. A little bit more flexibility regarding some key settlements would be extremely useful.

Israelis, on their part, will need to realize that the Palestinian "Historic Compromise'" -- acceptance of a state on only 22 percent of historical Palestine -- offers them an opportunity to end the conflict on extremely favorable terms. Accepting the principle that the permanent and recognized borders between Israel and Palestine will be based on the 1967 lines with equal swaps to accommodate for Israeli and Palestinian needs do not harm any of Israel's real interests and provide it with unmatched opportunities for security and prosperity.

Some would argue that the gaps on the question of borders are too wide to be bridged. The Borders chapter of "Is Peace Possible?" allows you to look at what each side needs, see the realities on the ground, and make a decision for yourself.

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Dan Rothem is a Senior Research Consultant for the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. More

Dan Rothem is a Senior Research Consultant for the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Using publicly available information, personal research and data obtained through collaborations with NGOs and Israel's policy and security community, Dan has overseen the development of an extensive map database relating to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem.
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