Friday, May 16, 2008

Is it about borders?

Border: A part that forms the outer edge of something... The line or frontier area separating political divisions.

The Bush administration would like Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a border so that everything else - Jerusalem, settlements, the "occupation," refugees, whatever - can then fall into place. This presupposes that the Palestinians see their conflict with Israel as primarily a border dispute.

Would it were so.

A 1921 British Mandate map showed Palestine's borders already divided between a Jewish homeland west of the Jordan (today Israel, the West Bank and Gaza), and an area to the east closed to Jewish settlement (today Jordan).

The Arab response to that map was: This isn't about borders.

In 1937 the Peel Commission offered another set of borders. Transjordan would, of course, remain in Arab hands, and virtually all of what was left west of the Jordan would also be Arab. The Jews would be given land from Tel Aviv running northward along the coastal plain and parts of Galilee. The Arabs said: It's not about borders.

A third map, proposed by the UN in 1947 as General Assembly Resolution 181 - the Partition Plan - divided Palestine west of the Jordan River (the eastern bank now being Transjordan): The Jews were to be given an indefensible, checkerboard territory, the biggest chunk of which consisted of the then arid Negev. Jerusalem, the epicenter of Jewish longing since 70 CE, would be internationalized; a tiny corridor would connect Israel's truncated parts. To get to Galilee, Jews would have to traverse Arab Palestine.

The Jews took the deal. The Arabs said: It's not about borders.

On May 15, 1948 - 60 years ago today - the Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi, Syrian and Lebanese armies, along with Palestinian irregulars, sought to throttle the birth of Israel. Their failure to do so created the 1949 Armistice Lines. The West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem were all in Arab hands. There was no "occupation."

The Jews said: Now, can we live in peace? The Arabs said: It's not about borders.

TODAY, 41 years ago, Egyptian troops moved into the Sinai as Gamal Abdel Nasser declared "total war." The Syrians, for their part, promised "annihilation." Even King Hussein figured the time was ripe to strike. But, instead of destroying Israel, the Arabs lost more territory. The heartland of Jewish civilization, Judea and Samaria, was now in Israel's hands, as was Jerusalem's Temple Mount.
Even so, the Jews said: Let's trade land for peace.
In August 1967, Arab leaders assembled in Khartoum gave their reply: No peace. No negotiations. No recognition.

Ten years later, with the election of Menachem Begin, the courageous Anwar Sadat came to the Knesset with a message: "We really and truly welcome you to live among us in peace and security." Egypt and Israel then agreed on a border and signed a peace treaty.
The Arabs ostracized Cairo and Sadat was assassinated. The peace never really blossomed, but the border holds.

THEN IN 1993, Yitzhak Rabin took an astonishing strategic risk, turning over parts of the West Bank to a newly-created Palestinian Authority. Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Jericho, Tulkarm and Kalkilya all came under full Palestinian jurisdiction. Other territory was placed under the PA's civil control, and the PA took charge of Gaza's Arab population centers.
The sight of green PA license plates became commonplace throughout Israel. Checkpoints were minimized. The international community poured money into the Palestinian areas.

At last, the Palestinians had the parameters of a state-in-waiting - a political horizon. The parties still had tough issues to tackle, but the reality on the ground had dramatically improved.

In 2000, Ehud Barak offered at Camp David his vision of a viable Palestinian state. Yasser Arafat's "counter-offer" was the Aksa intifada, an orgy of suicide bombings nationwide and drive-by shootings in the West Bank that would claim over 1,000 Israeli lives. Clearly for Arafat, the issue wasn't borders.

For Israelis to now take the idea of a "shelf-agreement" about borders seriously, the Palestinians would have to declare - once and for all - that their dispute with us really is about borders. And that they accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
If they do that, the rest will fall into place.

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