A matter of principle

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It is easy to conclude that neither Palestinians nor Israelis would choose the green line as their reference point, if offered the opportunity. Palestinians have rights to historic Palestine both east and west of the green line that no one can deny. Israelis, too, did not select this line, and if the choice was left to either side, a great majority from both publics would probably like to move the border a bit to the west, or a bit to the east.

But an international consensus has settled on this line as the demarcation for a two state solution. The outside world has accepted these borders and they have become part of the internationally sanctioned solution for this conflict. When the Israeli army exceeded those borders to the east during the War of 1967, the international community made itself heard in the form of United Nations Resolution 242, which considers the Israeli occupation to be an illegal occupation and reiterates the inadmissibility of acquiring land by force. This renders the Israeli acquisition of lands beyond the borders of 1967 explicitly illegal.

Opening this subject, i.e. that of the green line, for reconsideration or renegotiation would leave us in a situation whereby each side would do its utmost to pursue changes in its interest. That will not only make it extremely difficult to reach an agreement but, from a Palestinian point of view, will also weaken Resolution 242, which refers to the borders of 1967 and is crucial to backing up the Palestinian demand for an end to the Israeli occupation. If the 242 borders, i.e. the green line, are not the legal reference for talks, then negotiations over the borders between the two parties will lie at the mercy of the balance of powers, which definitely does not favor Palestinians.

For that reason, the Palestinian negotiating position has been and will remain defensive concerning this legal point: any flexibility over that principle, regardless of the minute amounts of land Palestinians are asked to give up, will certainly weaken the Palestinian position and remove a major defense mechanism that will ultimately lead to the collapse of the Palestinian political negotiations strategy.

In underscoring this point, it is worth noting the further flexibility shown at Camp David when, in an attempt to accommodate the reality but maintain the principle, the Palestinian leadership accepted to swap land inside the occupied territories for the same percentage of land in what is now Israel–under the condition, of course, that the swap be equal in quality and quantity.

For these reasons, all involved should be put on notice that Palestinians, who have already given up basic rights in property and land to the west of the green line, cannot afford any compromise on the borders of the green line. They have already made their historic compromise for the negotiations process. If they were to allow negotiations on the 1967 borders, they would be compromising the compromise and open the door to endless blackmailing and exploitation of the imbalance of powers. We cannot afford this.

The success of Palestinian adherence to this principle based on international legality can be seen in the worldwide acceptance for the concept of two states, represented in the June 24 speech of United States President George W. Bush, in which he stated that Israel should withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967. That speech then formed the basis of the internationally-supported roadmap plan to return Palestinians and Israelis to talks.

Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

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