Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Conflict 101: The Border Issue

In part 2 we look at the issue of establishing borders

Israel’s borders have not been defined. The peace agreement in 1979 with the Egyptians established its first recognized border with a neighbor, a line consistent with the line agreed to by the Ottomans and Britain in 1906. Large sections of the Israel-Jordan border were redrawn following the peace treaty between the two countries but Jordan refused to demarcate boundaries in the Palestinian areas of the Jordan Valley. Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 did not lead to a recognized border either. When Israel withdrew to an internationally endorsed boundary, the UN insisted on calling it the “Blue Line,” saying that a line of withdrawal could only become a border if both sides recognized it as such. Lebanon never agreed to negotiate the issue.

The future borders of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement present their own unique issues, the timeline of reaching a comprehensive boarder process being the most significant. Both parties may decide that certain areas should be made “security zones” whose permanent status will be decided after a certain period; this is the approach in the 2003 Road-map initiative offered by the Quartet. However, both parties have voiced their desire to only sign a deal that addresses everything in the Camp David mindset of “nothing is agreed unless everything is agreed.” Seeing as the possibility of this issue being wrapped up with the rest of the issues is next to nil, border decisions may have be made in phases contingent upon other items in the final agreement, a scenario not easily accepted by either side.

For Israel, an objective would be to ensure that the country’s final lines are defensible against any kind of attack. Given that leaders of the Palestinian side openly call for the destruction of Israel, the defensible aspect of the border issue is all that more important. Even the UN Security Council accepts this concept in Resolution 242, which says that states have the right “to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats of acts of force.” However, those who apply 242 to this conflict often overlook the region’s geography, which exhibits a lack of geographic features conducive for that purpose. For example, from the hills of Ramallah or plateaus on the Golan Heights, Israel is 100% indefensible from rocket fire. Any solution that gives these lands to a Palestinian authority must be conditional on a security arrangement that prevents weapons from entering these areas. That a complete lack of regard on this issue is found in the various proposed solutions demonstrates that this issue is unrecognized outside the Israeli security community. Defensible borders are an issue for both sides, and thus far no proposal has adequately addressed either’s concerns.

Another facet of the border issue is now it is negotiated. Many have proposed a comprehensive agreement based on the concept of trading land for peace. The Palestinians would receive land taken in the 1967 War as part of a deal where they granted Israel’s right to exist and agreed to peaceful coexistence. In 1997, 56% of Israelis supported this concept. Today only 28% support it. The new Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has disregarded this concept as well. The new Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, favors a nationalistic solution in which Arab Israeli towns would be traded for Israeli West Bank settlements. This approach has been labeled racist and has generated outrage for Israel’s Arab community. Their reaction has not so much out of a feeling of insult but rather that they prefer to remain in Israel. Any street poll of Arab Israelis will tell you that they prefer to remain Israeli citizens to the option of living under a Palestinian or Arab government. Significant push back is to be expected if this idea progresses.

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