Crowdsourcing an Israeli-Palestinian Border

A new interactive tool allows you to decide how many Israeli settlers to annex and what constitutes a viable Palestinian state.

Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 7.30.01 AM copy.png
This interactive lets you create your own borders. (S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace/SAYA/Is Peace Possible?)

One day after the Palestinians successfully upgraded their state at the United Nations General Assembly, the Israeli government announced "preliminary zoning and planning preparations" for a plot of land just outside of Jerusalem known as E1. Many were quick to condemn the move as a significant blow to the already-gridlocked peace process, perhaps even more so than other settlement construction announcements, since construction in E1 would separate the major Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decried the plan as "an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution," while The New York Times declared that "If such a project were to go beyond blueprints, it could prevent the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state."

9-11 Ten Years Later

So does Israeli construction in E1 constitute a "fatal blow" to the creation of a viable Palestinian state? The answer is subjective, since there are no objective criteria for what actually constitutes a workable, realistic Palestinian state. "Building in E1 would not necessarily undermine the contiguity of a future Palestinian state," The Jerusalem Post editorialized, for example, saying that "an access road could easily allow Palestinian traffic from the south and north to pass east of Ma'aleh Adumim and continue northward or southward."

Over 500,000 Israelis currently live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in the territory that the Palestinians claim for their future state. Any realistic proposal for a final-status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians attempts to include the majority of these Israelis within Israel's new borders by annexing many of these neighborhoods and settlements into Israel. (The land annexed by Israel from the West Bank can be traded with the Palestinians for land from within Israel proper - a concept referred to as "land swaps.")

But since the location of many settlements were chosen precisely because they would prevent the emergence of a contiguous Palestinian state, their annexation would necessitate the creation of access roads, overpasses, "fingers,""umbilical chords," and "salamandering" around Palestinian cities to connect them to Israel. So even the most optimistic proposals involve some disruption of Palestinian contiguity (not to mention the fact that the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be territorially separated themselves).

So the real question is, how much contiguity is required for a viable Palestinian state? The conflict often boils down to drawing Israeli settlers into Israel's new borders at the expense of Palestinian contiguity. Minor annexations into the West Bank can be relatively easy to justify if it means drawing a large number of Israeli settlers into Israel's new borders. But how far is too far - and how many Israeli settlers are enough to justify deep annexations - are subjective questions.

There have been many attempts by various civil society groups, scholars, and negotiators to answer these questions by drawing their own proposed borders. A new tool created by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and SAYA/Design for Change, in collaboration with The Atlantic, allows you to answer the question for yourself.

For the better part of the past decade, the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace has, together with experts in the region, developed a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian territorial database. Using Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies, it has gathered and created a vast trove of data that allows precise and instant creation, analysis, and comparison of territorial scenarios - in particular, borders proposals for Israel and a future state of Palestine.

The system has been used in the past by top policymakers directly involved in Israeli-Palestinian final-status negotiations. And now, as part of The Atlantic's "Is Peace Possible" special report, we're bringing that capability to you. Constructed by SAYA, an architecture and design practice that specializes in "resolution planning" by applying planning, design, and visual tools for conflict resolution and policy-making in disputed areas, this new interactive website gives you the opportunity to construct you own border proposal to meet the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians. The challenge is to include as many Israelis as possible within Israel's new borders while still allowing for the creation of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state. Former negotiators as well asnumerous scholars and NGOs have tried their hands at this task; now it is your turn.

Users are presented with a map of the West Bank, and can pick which settlements they think should be included within Israel's borders as part of a final-status agreement. Hovering over each settlement will show its population numbers and how disruptive its annexation would be for Palestinian contiguity. (Users can also select settlements to include or exclude from a list of settlements, organized by population size or alphabetically.) Users can also see the most recent Israeli and Palestinian border proposals (as well as the route of Israeli security barrier and the Geneva Initiative's border proposal) grafted onto the map as a reference point in devising their own border.

For every settlement a user chooses to include within Israel, a ticker at the bottom of the page tabulates how many of the 500,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would be included or excluded from Israel's new borders. It also calculates how much land would be annexed - which is the amount of land that Israel would likely have to swap to Palestinians from within Israel proper. When users are satisfied with their Israeli annexations of the West Bank, they are shown scenarios of what land from Israel would be swapped to the new Palestinian state. Finally, the tool allows users to create a printable and savable version of the map they created, which can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, and across the web.

So would Israeli annexation of E1 - or any other settlement, for that matter - be a "fatal blow" to the two-state solution? Now you can be the judge of that. Click here to design your own border proposal, then post your maps in the comments section below. (Once you share it on Facebook or Twitter, you'll be given a link for your map that you can post below.)