Not Only Territory, But Viability

On paper, the headlines sounded promising, even stirring. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, it was reported, told Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas at their meeting in Jericho that he would push for the establishment of a Palestinian state as "fast as possible" on “the equivalent to 100 percent of the territories conquered in 1967.” The Palestinians, according to the report, would cede just 5% of the West Bank in return for territorial swaps. In other words, Israel would withdraw from 95.6 % of the combined West Bank and Gaza –” although that figure does not include East Jerusalem, which Israel does not consider occupied.

It looked like another “generous offer,” one the Palestinians could not possibly refuse. The problem is, it was much too generous for the Israelis to accept. A few hours after the report appeared, the Prime Minister’s Office denied even the existence of the proposal. “We do not know of any plan as described in the [Ha’aretz] article,” the PMO said. “We would like to clarify that such a plan has not been considered, nor is it being raised for discussion in any forum.”

So much for that. But the proposal itself is useful to examine if only because it presents a “best case” scenario. It appears to relinquish almost all the occupied territory to the Palestinians; it appears to be the maximum that Israel could possibly offer the Palestinians. If it can be shown as nothing more than a sophisticated attempt to expand Israeli control to the Jordan River, with no chance of ending the conflict with the Palestinians, it will provide the best illustration of the futility of basing any peace process on the mere transfer of territory rather than viability. The devil, as we all know, is in the details. Let’s see what this 100% plan hides, even if it not really a plan.

At issue is not a Palestinian state on the equivalent of 100% of the Occupied Territories (that is, we should note, only 22% of historic Palestine). The issue is, as the road map specifies, whether a Palestinian state is truly sovereign and viable, no matter on how much of the territories it arises. I would argue that even the 5% of the West Bank that Israel would retain under the purported plan can prevent the establishment of such a state. What details make the difference between a just and lasting peace and apartheid?

Sovereignty: The basis for negotiations, says Olmert, “will continue to be the road map, which is acceptable to both sides." This is true in general, but with some major caveats. Phase II of the road map is the Palestinians’ nightmare, and they have constantly pressed to have it removed. This phase calls for the establishment of a “transitional” Palestinian state with “provisional borders.” If all is quiet, they fear, and Israel can claim that a Palestinian state exists and that the Occupation has ended, who could guarantee that the road map process would continue into Phase III, where the thorny final status details are to be negotiated and a real Palestinian state would emerge? Their fears are justified –” and this may be the “catch.” Israel considers its “14 reservations” as integral parts of the road map. Reservation # 5 states: The provisional state will have provisional borders and certain aspects of sovereignty, be fully demilitarized…, be without the authority to undertake defense alliances or military cooperation, and Israeli control over the entry and exit of all persons and cargo, as well as of its air space and electromagnetic spectrum.”

Read that again and try to square that reservation with the notion of Palestinian sovereignty. Tzipi Livni has worked for months on what she is calling “The Israeli Initiative for a Two-State Solution” based precisely on replacing Phase I of the road map (which calls for a freeze on Israeli settlement building) with this problematic Phase II. Rice has said that the Bush Administration will work towards a provisional Palestinian state, leaving “the details” to the next administration.

A state has no sovereignty without borders. In additional to the problem of provisionality, does Olmert intend to grant the Palestinians an unsupervised border with Jordan? If Israel insists on controlling the borders, or if the Jordan River is part of the 5% the Palestinians must cede, there is no Palestinian state even if they receive all the territory.

Viability: Israel may indeed relinquish 95% of the West Bank but still remain in complete control over a Palestinian Bantustan with no viable economy. If it insists on controlling the borders, denying the Palestinians free movement of goods and people, the Palestinian state is not viable. If the 5% the Palestinians must cede includes a corridor across the West Bank, or if Israel insists on keeping the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement with its “E-1″ corridor to Jerusalem, thus destroying the territorial continuity of a Palestinians state, it is not viable. If it includes Israeli control of all the water resources, it is not viable. If Jerusalem is not fully integrated into the Palestinian state politically, geographically and economically –” and I would bet that the core of East Jerusalem falls outside the 95% –” then there is no viable Palestinian state. According to the World Bank Jerusalem accounts for up to 40% of the Palestinian economy because of tourism, their largest potential industry.

The difference between a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian state and a Bantustan is a few percentage points of strategic territory. It’s clear that Israel could relinquish 95% of the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem and still maintain complete control. The very conception of a territorial-based “solution” is flawed. It does not meet the Palestinians’ right to a sovereign and viable state, and it merely perpetuates Israeli control. A workable solution requires an approach based upon a commitment to a viable Palestinian state. That requires addressing the issues outlined above.

In the meantime, Israel’s repeated advancement of territorial-based plans, some more “generous” and some less, all have the same aim: to perpetuate the settlements, an Israeli greater” Jerusalem and control of the entire country. Until that matrix of control is broken and a real Palestinian state be allowed to emerge –” if that is still possible given the Israeli “facts on the ground” –” we will have to carefully monitor each proposal to ascertain if it will truly end the conflict or will merely substitute for the Occupation a sophisticated regime of apartheid. Israel’s ongoing settlement construction and its commitment to retaining strategic parts of the West Bank and “greater” Jerusalem justify that suspicion of Israel’s intentions.