Pro & Con: Should the 1967 borders guide Israeli-Palestinian peace plan?

Yes.

But the details matter: no conditions, no ‘swaps,’ no settlements.

By Mustafa Barghouthi

President Barack Obama was right to call for a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. But he should have stopped there. Instead, he added a damaging proviso about “mutually agreed swaps” of land.

Conditions and stipulations trouble Palestinians greatly. Israel used the Oslo Accords not to finalize a peace deal with the Palestinians but to expand settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — talking peace while seizing our land. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was notorious for accepting what American Presidents asked of him. Yet in the next breath he would note his caveats.

Prime Minister Netanyahu imitated Sharon’s approach two years ago — and again last Tuesday in the U.S. Congress — while reluctantly voicing support for a two-state solution. He said yes to a Palestinian state while simultaneously stripping it of meaningful sovereignty. Israel would maintain major settlement blocs, retain East Jerusalem and a military presence in the Jordan Valley, refuse the return of any Palestinian refugees to stolen homes and land, and ensure that a Palestinian “state” is a nonentity without real sovereignty.

Obama’s political opponents and even some of his ostensible allies heavily criticized him by suggesting he was calling for the 1967 borders. In fact, he was merely restating long-standing U.S. policy that an agreement should be based on the 1967 borders, with land “swaps” (itself a euphemism for forcing a bad deal on Palestinian negotiators). Unfortunately he retreated even from this within a few days because of criticism from Israel and its defenders. In his address to AIPAC he went back to President Bush’s position that borders will have to take into consideration new realities on the ground, which means acceptance of illegal Israeli settlement expansion.

Our best West Bank land and aquifers would go to Israeli settlements in exchange for sub-standard land elsewhere. Already, Israel uses 80 percent of West Bank water resources and on a per capita basis Israeli settlers use approximately 48 times more water than Palestinians. The current unjust water distribution is likely to be made permanent if Israel keeps settlements, all of which are illegal under international law.

Israel’s retention of settlement blocs and a military presence in the Jordan Valley will make our state noncontiguous and nonviable. Our state would be little more than disconnected Bantustans. When the white South African government tried to foist such a plan on the world it was seen as repugnant. Palestinians are surely the holders of the same rights as black South Africans and can no more be expected to accept apartheid conditions than South Africans who rejected inferior rights.

Human Rights Watch recently lent credence to our apartheid concerns with a report detailing Israel’s “two-tier” legal system in the occupied West Bank. Such discrimination in favor of settlers and against Palestinians ought to be regarded as reprehensible just as it eventually was viewed in the Jim Crow South. Tragically, it is visible every day in the West Bank.

Israeli threats to annex — by dint of brute force — West Bank land as a response to our nonviolent legal efforts this September at the United Nations are troubling. This would, however, highlight the apartheid nature of their policies as our “bantustanized” existence would become more visible. Denied statehood, our cause will eventually be transformed from pursuit of two states to a struggle within one state for one person, one vote.

It would be far wiser for Israel to recognize our state on the 1967 borders — and the rights provided us under international law — come September.

Mustafa Barghouthi, a doctor and a member of the Palestinian parliament, was a candidate for president in 2005. He is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party.

No.

Borders compromise Israel’s security; put Old City in Palestine.

By Harold Kirtz

In his recent speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Barack Obama proposed that the final borders for a Palestinian state should be based on the lines that existed prior to the June 1967 Middle East war, but adjusted by mutually-agreed land swaps.

This declaration has created considerable discussion and consternation. But a careful reading shows that the president’s comments are consistent with a speech to Congress given in the same week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stating that some of the current settlements would be outside of Israel’s final borders.

The key point made by both is that the final borders should be the result of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

As an observer of the region, I see several problems with using only the 1967 borders, as some have argued for.

First, Israel would be in too vulnerable a position vis-a-vis its Arab neighbors, including a new Palestinian state. The experience of Israel being attacked by thousands of rockets after withdrawing unilaterally without any negotiations from both southern Lebanon and the Gaza strip is an example of this vulnerability. Adjustments for security must be made.

While that vulnerability can never be eliminated, polls of Israelis show that they are willing to take certain risks for a real peace.

So the key factor is — will the Palestinians ever be willing to enter a real peace with Israel? Israel has made many proposals in the past; all of them have been rejected by the Palestinians in one way or another.

Second, I have never been in favor of using the 1967 borders because of the impact on Jerusalem. The 1967 borders would place Jerusalem’s Old City squarely within the Palestinian state.

That would be a mistake. Too many Jewish sites and institutions are in the Old City or immediately surrounding it. Many of those were desecrated or destroyed by the Jordanians when they controlled the West Bank area, including the Old City, between 1949 and 1967. The Israelis have now restored or rebuilt many.

As an American Jew, I am proud of what Israel has done to allow other religions to practice their faith and preserve their places of worship. The Jordanians were never so ecumenical. For that reason, Israel should never give up control of the Old City.

Third, the heart of Tel Aviv is only 10 to 15 miles from the 1967 border and Jerusalem abuts that border. Many predominately Jewish suburbs have grown up around those cities. Those areas should not be given up by Israel either for both security and demographic reasons.

Regarding the mutually agreed land swaps stated by both the president and the prime minister, various proposals have been developed to permit Israel to retain much of this built-up area, while having the Palestinian state receive other land that is currently within the borders of Israel. These land swaps would permit the Palestinian state to have the approximate amount of land that is accounted for by the 1967 borders.

Negotiations between the two sides would allow the Israelis to best protect themselves, while allowing the Palestinians to develop a viable state.

Despite the attempts of Israel’s detractors to argue that Israel is the problem, Israel has been willing, ever since immediately offering to give back the lands taken in the Six-Day War in exchange for a peace agreement, to live peacefully with the Palestinians.

But it is up to the Palestinians to demonstrate conclusively that they are willing to live with a permanent Jewish state on their border. That is the only way that any of this will work.

Harold Kirtz is president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.