The corridor is undervalued

The concept of land swaps along the green line between Israel and a future Palestinian state appears to be a byproduct of Palestinian adherence to the narrative of the 1967 green line as the border of a Palestinian state. Those Israelis who accept the 1967 border as the basis for a final status territorial agreement, yet who acknowledge that it will be impossible to remove the better part of the settlers who live in settlement blocs or even in individual settlements near the green line, appear to have persuaded the PLO leadership that land swaps can allow Israel to hold onto these settlements while giving the Palestinians the equivalent of the land mass within the 1967 borders–if not, in all cases, the actual green line itself.

Palestinians never tire of pointing out that agreement to the 1967 borders constitutes a huge concession on their part: they are accepting a state on only 22 or 23 percent of the original mandatory area of Palestine that they claimed when the conflict began. Accordingly, say PLO negotiators, Palestinian agreement to swaps constitutes yet another concession.

When Israeli-Palestinian final status talks began around ten years ago, the Barak government did not readily accept the Palestinian territorial narrative; it began by offering the PLO more or less half the West Bank along with all of the Gaza Strip. Territorial swaps were not an issue. UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 was cited: it grants Israel "secure and recognized boundaries" and does not mention the green line. Slowly, over the ensuing months and years, in a display of negotiating skill that generally put the Israeli side to shame, PLO negotiators wore away at their Israeli counterparts as well as the international community on this issue. Today, even the current right-wing coalition in Jerusalem could conceivably accept the swap principle–if it ever enters negotiations with the PLO.

This is quite remarkable. There is nothing sacred about the 1967 line, which is, after all, an armistice line that separated Israel and Jordan (West Bank) and Israel and Egypt (Gaza Strip) and is not an international border.

Even that growing sector of the Israeli polity that accepts the 1967 line and the swaps principle as the basis for a future final status agreement has great difficulty drawing the necessary lines on the map, for two reasons. On the one hand, Israeli settlement blocs have to be attached to Israel in a fashion that provides them some form of tactical security, particularly with regard to their link to the rest of Israel; Ariel is an obvious case in point. Yet adding security buffers to settlement blocs increases the total percentage of land that is annexed. Herein lies the second dilemma: finding enough empty Israeli land to offer the PLO in return in keeping with the one-on-one swap principle.

Does it have to be empty Israeli land? Some Israelis have suggested redrawing the green line so as to place within Palestinian territory certain villages and towns populated by Arab citizens of Israel and located adjacent to the green line on the Israeli side. This idea has gained popularity as the leadership of the Palestinian community inside Israel adopts increasingly radical policy positions that reject the Jewish nature of the state of Israel and positions itself as a possible Palestinian nationalist element in Israel even after a two-state solution. Perhaps for this reason, the PLO rejects this idea. Moreover, any attempt to include Israeli Arab villages as part of land swaps or even to cede them unilaterally would almost certainly encounter both international condemnation and appeals to the Israel High Court of Justice.

Finally, there is the corridor issue as an element of land swaps. Israel pledged, in the Oslo accords, to treat the West Bank and Gaza as "a single territorial unit". But it never pledged specifically to grant the Palestinian state an ex-territorial land corridor to link Gaza and the West Bank across some 40 km. of Israeli territory. Moreover, that the West Bank and Gaza no longer function as a single political unit is the fault of Palestinians, not Israelis.

Yet, a corridor is absolutely vital to the integrity of a future Palestinian state. Were Israel to offer to remove all the settlements, thereby obviating the need for swaps, but to reject the corridor principle, the PLO would be in a quandary because the resultant state would not hold together. Accordingly, in the course of peace negotiations over the years Israel has undervalued the corridor as a factor in land swaps. It is "worth" all the settlement blocs together.