Haaretz features a terrific editorial and Ynetnews features a penetrating column by Sever Plocker on very similar topics. Each begins with Ehud Olmert’s recent fulminations about unilaterally marking Israel’s final borders along the route of the Separation Wall without consulting the Palestinians. Both say this concept is dead as a doornail. Plocker writes in There is no chance Israel can set unilateral borders:
There is an absurd, completely unfounded idea making the rounds in Israel’s political establishment, one that has even made its way to Washington: The notion that the Israel government can avoid the Palestinian Authority and unilaterally set its borders.
Recently the Kadima Party has adopted this idea, and acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has talked about it in the media. An Olmert-led government, he says, will give the Palestinians a limited chance to bring their claims back to the negotiating table. If they linger too long, or if they choose a “talks today, terror tomorrow” approach, Israel will take the initiative.
Israel will act alone, Olmert said threateningly, and following a “domestic dialogue” and “international dialogue” – exactly where the new border will run and exactly what parts of Judea and Samaria will be annexed to Israel.
Of course none of this will happen, nor could it ever happen.
Haaretz takes a slightly different approach to the same issue, but focusing on what Israel’s final borders should be. The editorial condemns the various Kadima proposals to appropriate large chunks of Palestinian territory beyond the Green Line (Jezreel Valley, Maale Adumim, etc.):
…There is broad public support for another move, and a major one. The obstacle on the path to carrying out another withdrawal is…the abstract term “settlement blocs,” which has gained too much weight in Israeli discourse and appears to reflect a new mistaken idee fixe. The number of “blocs,” as well as their size, changes constantly, and the appetite for annexing territory has not waned for a moment.
Avi Dichter, one of Kadima’s senior members, talks of the Hebron-Kiryat Arba bloc, the Karnei Shomron-Kedumim bloc, the Ofra-Beit El bloc and three other blocs that would not be evacuated. This is not a withdrawal and it is not even worth discussing: It is merely talk about ending the occupation without ending it.
The editorial writer makes the convincing argument that in Olmert’s proposed West Bank withdrawal Israel should not engage in half-measures by evacuating some settlements while leaving others behind that would only have to be evacuated at some later date. Israel needs to bite the bullet and accept the division of Jerusalem and it needs to return to 1967 borders, not the route of the Separation Wall:
Simple fairness requires presenting a withdrawal plan that does not remove people from their houses in dribs and drabs, but rather makes the 1967 borders its basis, along with those adjustments required by genuine necessity – not by “facts on the ground” established in error. There is no reason to postpone dividing Jerusalem, when every year that passes makes it an even harder demographic mixture to separate. There is no reason to annex the Jordan Valley, which is a vital land reserve for the Palestinian Authority. There is no reason to annex the entire Ma’aleh Adumim bloc, which cuts the West Bank into pieces and makes the division into two states a stingy pretense.
Sever Plocker amplifies on this idea by noting that in all previous instances in which Israel set its borders, without fail it always withdrew to 1949 or 1967 borders:
…From 1977 to 2005 Israel set borders in the south, east and north. In each case, with no exceptions, and whether the moves were made by Labor or Likud governments, several things stick out:
• Israel always pulls back to the 1949 Armistice Line or to the internationally recognized border that preceded the Six Day War.
• Israel has never left IDF soldiers or settlements behind. Settlements have been evacuated to the green line; after all, there is no sense evacuating them twice.
• Israel never had the audacity to set borders or unilaterally annex territories captured in 1967. The borders [were] sketched in agreement with Arab governments and the international community. We signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. The withdrawal from Lebanon was approved (to the last centimeter) by U.N. inspectors. Even the Gaza disengagement was certified by the Arab governments, over the objections of the Palestinian Authority.
If one wonders how Plocker accounts for the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, one should remember that he’s talking about areas in which Israel has “set borders” and it hasn’t yet done so to the east, that is Jerusalem and the Territories. One could argue that Plocker implies that there may have to be territorial adjustments to the East Jerusalem annexation.
Ynet’s columnist draws some sobering lessons from Israel’s past history regarding setting borders that reflects unfavorably on Olmert’s efforts to do so now:
What can we learn from these examples? We can discern a clear, razor-sharp message. There is no such thing as a permanent border without a permanent status agreement. Therefore, there is no way Israel will be able to unilaterally establish borders with the Palestinian Authority.
In order for such a border to get even minimal international recognition, it will have to take into consideration Palestinian needs and national aspirations, and they will have to agree to the process – and it doesn’t matter who their elected officials are at the time.
Plocker closes his analysis with a story about how Ariel Sharon’s decades-old routines were radically altered by his conversion to the idea that Israel needed to reduce its territorial ambitions in order to preserve itself as a Jewish state:
For years, Ariel Sharon walked around with a set of maps folded under his arm. He would pull them out to show whoever he happened to be talking to, which areas Israel needed to retain forever to maintain its security, ecological and geographic needs.
In 2004 Sharon stopped carrying around the maps. He understood, deep down, that Israel is not in a position that the Allies were in 1945 when they forced Nazi Germany to surrender.
Now, we are not a victorious empire that can create whatever borders it wants on the sands of the Middle East. We never got permission to do it in the past, and we won’t in the future.
Map purveyors are like dream merchants: They try to sell us expired hopes.