H.D.S. Greenway

In Mideast, peace map is in sight

By H.D.S. Greenway
Globe Columnist / March 1, 2011

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CONVENTIONAL WISDOM has it that with the Arab world in turmoil, this is a time for Israel to batten down the hatches, and put any talk of peace with the Palestinians on ice for awhile. But there are Israeli voices, both in and out of government, who say this is exactly the time, with the old Arab order changing, to lance the Palestinian boil and go for a two-state solution.

Three trend lines argue for urgency: growing regional radicalism, Palestinian population growth, and the ever-increasing range of rocketry available to Israel’s enemies. Of course these trends might also argue for doing nothing. But to institutionalize peace between Arabs and Israel has to be in Israel’s long-range advantage, giving Egypt and Jordan a real stake in the Israeli relationship.

The good news is that majorities in both Israel and the West Bank favor peace and a two-state solution, polls show. And leaders on both sides have agreed in principle to land swaps to allow some Jewish settlements to stay inside Israel. These poll numbers decrease when you get to the specifics, but in general both peoples are for it.

The Palestinians will insist on an equal, acre-for-acre swap. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, in a move for which he has not been given enough credit, has said Israel need not annex the Jordan River Valley, which goes beyond other Likud Party positions. This makes an equal land swap possible without too much disruption. Of course, Israel would have to be assured that the Jordan-West Bank border would not be a tunnel-ridden sieve like the Egyptian-Gaza border. That might necessitate stationing Israeli border guards within a Palestinian state. But border controls are not an insurmountable obstacle.

Israel wants to leave as many Jewish settlers in place as possible, rather than go through the social and political agony of removing them. Palestinians care more about the equality of the swap: getting good land back for what they give up.

Enter David Makovsky, former editor of the Jerusalem Post and now director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Project on the Middle East Peace Process. In a report entitled “Imagining the Border,’’ Makovsky offers three detailed maps of possible land swaps that are all within the parameters of what former Israeli and Palestinian leaders have already agreed upon in previous negotiations.

Makovsky writes that, contrary to what many people think, Jewish settlements are not “evenly distributed throughout the West Bank or take up such large amounts of land that they preclude a two-state solution.’’ This is because the greatest concentrations of settlers are clustered near the old 1967 border.

According to Makovsky’s maps, Israel could keep between 70 and 80 percent of the Jewish settlers in place. Yes, moving the rest would be painful, but not so painful as to cause “something approaching a civil war in Israel.’’ Palestinians could have their contiguous state on the West Bank, and avoid being chopped up into separate little enclaves.

Of course there are huge remaining issues — Jerusalem’s holy places, the right of return — but previous negotiations have come up with formulas for solving these problems. Gaza could be left for another day.

Makovsky writes that Netanyahu has said: “We recognize that another people share this land with us,’’ and has called for an historic compromise that would leave “both peoples to live in peace, security and dignity.’’ But are Israel and the Palestinians ready for it?

Since all else has failed, the time may be coming for President Obama to present his own peace plan, perhaps making a dramatic trip to Jerusalem, a la Anwar Sadat. He could take the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan as well as whoever emerges as Egypt’s leader, to say: Here is what both sides have been asking for — peace and security for Israel, dignity and sovereignty for the Palestinians. And if a deal were made, could Syria be far behind?

Makovsky’s cartography shows how a deal could be made equitable. What’s lacking is the political will to implement it, and that’s one thing Makovsky’s research cannot provide.

H.D.S. Greenway’s column appears regularly in the Globe.