Transcript for 'Is Peace Possible?' Chapter 1: Borders

The text for the first installment in our four-part series on the key barriers to peace in the Middle East

Ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require drawing borders between Israel and a new state of Palestine. The challenge is to find a solution that addresses the needs of each side. So what are the principles, values, and considerations that drive Israeli and Palestinian thinking on the borders issues when they come to the negotiating table?
9-11 Ten Years LaterThe 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.

All of these considerations raise two questions: How much land does Israel have available to swap that meets all the conditions? And is that amount sufficient to exchange for the major Israeli population centers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem?

Here's a calculation by one Israeli researcher, who added up all the land in Israel proper that meets these Israeli conditions, and arrived at a total of 315 square kilometers, which is the equivalent of 5.1 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And indeed, 5.1 percent would be more than enough to compensate Palestine for Israel's annexing the major Israeli settlements and population centers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Shortly, you'll see a few scenarios that play out on these lines.

Now that we understand the concept of land swaps, let's look at the most recent round of serious negotiations -- the "Annapolis Process" initiated by President George W. Bush in 2008, and led by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Let's first look at Olmert's offer. Olmert proposed to annex 5.9 percent of Palestinian territory, which would bring 85 percent of the 500,000 Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem into Israel's new borders. Olmert did not offer 1:1 swaps -- though he did come closer to that ratio than any other Israeli leader before him.

The Palestinian offer, as made by President Abbas in 2009 allowed 62 percent of Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be included within Israel's new borders.

So if you look at the two offers side by side, you can see the gaps between the two camps. The bulk of the disagreements focus on two areas: the Ariel bloc in the north, and the Jerusalem envelope in the center. Let's take a closer look.

This is a focus on the Jerusalem envelope area. The blue represents the land that Olmert proposed to annex to Israel. The green represents the areas that Abbas offered for annexation. The final arrangement will likely fall somewhere in between these two proposals. Here is a focus on the Ariel bloc. Again, the areas in blue are what Olmert proposed to annex, and the areas in green are what Abbas offered.

Ariel is important to Israel because it has a sizable population of 18,000. On the other hand, an Israeli annexation of Ariel would violate two of the Palestinian's core considerations - Ariel is not adjacent to the 1967 lines, and Ariel's annexation by Israel would impede the contiguity of the Palestinian state. Ariel illustrates the subjectivity involved in meeting each side's conditions, which often comes down to a conflict between Israeli demographic concerns and Palestinian demands relating to viability and contiguity. Those are the border-related conflicts that need to be resolved at the negotiating table.

So what could a resolution look like? A number of respected academics, civil-society groups, and think tanks, have proposed maps that fall between the Israeli and Palestinian proposals. In presenting these, we're not endorsing any of them as THE solution, but rather attempting to illustrate multiple options for bridging the gap on borders.

First we'll look at the Geneva Initiative - a civil society effort of prominent Israelis and Palestinians who gathered in 2003 to draft a model for what a final accord could look like. It has a 2.2 percent swap, which is only marginally higher than Abbas's offer in 2009, but because it annexes the large settlements of Maaleh Adumim and Giv'at Ze'ev, it is able to include 71 percent of Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem within Israel's new borders -- which is almost 50,000 more than Abbas's 2009 proposal allows. Like all the proposals we'll be showcasing, this one has 1:1 swaps. You'll also notice that they all fall below the 5.1 percent ceiling of Israel's land swap capacity presented earlier.

Next we'll look at a proposal from the Baker Institute, an academic center at Rice University run by former Secretary of State James Baker. They convened a working group of former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and officials, and produced a set of three maps. Here is the Baker Institute's 4 percent swap map, which is able to include 76 percent of Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by taking a broader swathe of the Maaleh Adumim area and Etzion Bloc. You'll notice that neither Geneva nor any of the Baker maps annexes Ariel, largely for the reasons we outlined earlier.

David Makovsky, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recently produced a series of maps that do include Ariel. Here is his 3.7 percent swap map, which is able to include 81 percent of Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Even though this map annexes less territory than the Baker 4 percent map, it is able to include almost 25,000 more Israelis by including Ariel and some of its neighboring settlements. This also illustrates how deceiving it can be to evaluate maps just by their percentages -- in this case, a lower percentage actually includes more Israelis by being more geographically intrusive into the West Bank.

After exploring the concept of land swaps, evaluating whether they could work in practice, and examining previous proposals and potential solutions to bridge the gaps, let's return to the question we asked at the beginning of this presentation: Is it possible to draw a border between Israel and a viable, contiguous state of Palestine, based on the 1967 lines that includes within Israel's new borders the vast majority of Israelis who currently live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem?

See the video here for 'Is Peace Possible?' Chapter 1: Borders.