The Palestinians see the entire Israeli-Palestinian territory as their historic homeland, and accordingly believe that they are entitled to 100 percent of it. Over the past 75 years, however, they have seen their portion of the land recede -- from 100 percent down to 75 percent with the Peel Commission of 1936-37, to 44 percent with the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, and finally to 22 percent after the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War.
At the end of that war, Jordan controlled the West Bank, and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip. The 1949 armistice lines served as Israel's effective borders until 1967 -- on account of which they are known as the 1967 or Green Lines. After the 1967 War, Israel took control of both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In 1988, The Palestine Liberation Organization officially accepted a two-state solution to the conflict and relinquished its demand for control over all of historical Palestine; settling instead on a state within the 1967 lines -- one that would constitute only 22 percent of the land. Palestinians view this as their "historic compromise." Thus, Palestinians refuse to accept a state that would comprise less than 22 percent of historical Palestine. If you had to boil down the Palestinian negotiation position on borders, it would be this: A Palestinian state MUST comprise the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They demand, in other words, 100 percent of their 22 percent.
Israelis also believe they have a legitimate claim to the entirety of the land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. Many Israelis do not consider the 1967 lines as a basis for drawing a border. They view the 1967 lines as arbitrary armistice lines that separated the Israeli and Arab troops in 1949. Additionally, they ask, why should Israel have to return territory that it won in a defensive war?
Some Israelis also argue that borders based on the 1967 lines are not defensible -- despite the fact that they were the borders from which Israel successfully won the 1967 war. This issue is addressed in more depth in the Security chapter of this presentation.
When negotiating borders, one of the driving considerations for Israelis is demographic realities on the ground - specifically, Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank that were built since Israel took control in 1967. Here you can see an overview of the 12 largest settlements and Israeli population centers beyond the 1967 lines. In total, there are approximately half-a-million Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines. It is unlikely that any Israeli prime minister would have the political capacity, let alone the financial resources, to evacuate this many Israelis. If you boil down the Israeli negotiating position on borders, it would be this: Israel's borders with a future state of Palestine must include the vast majority of Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines.
Now we understand the challenge: How can a border be drawn that, on the one hand, allows the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and on the other hand, includes within Israel's new borders the vast majority of the half-million Israelis currently living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem? One possible answer is: Land Swaps.
Let's examine the concept of land swaps. Here is a hypothetical stretch of land along the 1967 lines. By annexing settlements all along the 1967 lines, Israel would be able to include within its new borders the vast majority of Israelis living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
But each annexation removes land from the new state of Palestine. And for the Palestinians, as we saw earlier, any such removal - on its own -- would be unacceptable. So for every piece of land that Israel annexes beyond the 1967 lines, the Palestinians could receive an equivalent piece of land from within Israel proper: a land swap. This allows the Palestinians to create a state that is equivalent in size to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Land swaps are an elegant concept, but will they work in practice?
First, let's consider the land that Israel can potentially incorporate from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel seeks to maximize the number of Israelis it can include in its new borders. But Palestinians need to have a viable and contiguous state, so they would only agree to swap land that is close to the 1967 lines; that doesn't have a Palestinian population; annexes the minimum land needed to include Israeli residents; and whose removal would not impede on Palestinian contiguity or daily life.
So is it possible for Israel to annex the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem while allowing for the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state?
Although Israeli settlements are widely spread across the West Bank, approximately 375,300 Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem reside close to the 1967 lines -- a population that accounts for 75 percent of all Israelis now living there. This means that minimal modifications to the 1967 lines can incorporate the vast majority of these people within Israel's new borders while still allowing for the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
Now let's look at the land that would be swapped from Israel to the future Palestinian state. Given legitimate security concerns, Israelis are not willing to give up land that is near Israel's "narrow waist" or near any vital infrastructure. Israelis also want to minimize any disruptions to their daily life. Nor do they want to swap land that has Jewish residents.
An additional question is whether the land swaps should be equal in size. Israelis believe that the land corridor linking the West Bank and Gaza should figure in the calculations, even though it would not be sovereign Palestinian territory, and thus the amount of land actually swapped need not be equal. Palestinians, however, are adamant about equal swaps -- that is what allows them to get the equivalent of 100 percent of their 22 percent. Not only do they want land that is equal in size, they also want land that is equal in quality. And they refuse to take land that is already populated -- either by Jews or Arabs.