The idea of a land swap with the objective of fixing agreed-upon borders between Israel and a Palestinian state was proposed during the 2000 Camp David negotiations.
The concept was introduced mainly to find a way out of the contradiction between the need to adhere to the legal borders of 1967 and the Israeli demand to take into consideration the reality created by the presence of Israeli settlements in occupied territory. At the time, the land swap idea related particularly to settlements adjacent to the 1967 borders, which include a relatively large number of Jewish settlers and infrastructure.
The Palestinian delegation, which was headed by the late Yasser Arafat, was willing to consider the idea as long as it allowed Palestinians to regain territory from the western side of the border that was equal in quantity and quality, a formula that has since been postulated a number of times.
The argument on the Palestinian side was that this would guarantee that the Palestinian state would be composed of the same amount of territory as if it were based on the 1967 areas. In other words, on the one hand there was no concession on territory, but on the other, there was a willingness to be creative in order to overcome obstacles.
The Palestinian position at Camp David was approved in a subsequent meeting of the Palestinian Central Council, which is empowered to endorse such decisions. It thus became a legally acceptable avenue for Palestinian negotiators to pursue.
At the time, this did not seem very controversial. But with time, the failure of the peace process and the continued and ceaseless expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied territory, many voices have now turned against the idea.
The main argument against the concept of a land swap that is gaining prominence among Palestinians is that it has been used by Israel to legitimize its illegal settlement expansion by arguing to the international community that such territory will be swapped anyway. It is partly through such means that the country has escaped international censure for its illegal practices in occupied territory.
Hence, the argument runs, while the idea was meaningful during negotiations and as a way out of obstacles to certain issues, it cannot remain valid forever absent a comprehensive negotiations approach. Moreover, continued settlement expansion lessens the practical possibility of a land swap.
For these reasons there have been serious suggestions within Palestinian leadership circles to take the idea of a land swap off the table, or at least insist that even if it was valid in the context of Camp David negotiations, that does not necessarily make the concept constructive indefinitely.
The more ideas to overcome obstacles in negotiations deviate from the stipulations of international legality, the less chance there is for the parties to reach agreement. Either we agree that the basis of negotiations has to be international legality or the balance of power alone will determine the outcome.
It is the balance of power that has led us to the distortion of reality we now see blocking chances of a two-state solution. That’s why the time factor is a critical one. The reality created over time might render impossible, unacceptable or impractical what was once possible.