The disagreement between moderate leftists and rightists in Israel focuses on a single question: Is there a border that will satisfy the Palestinians sufficiently for them to agree to live in peace side by side with Israel?
The left believes there is one, and continues to search for that magic spot. The right thinks it's an impossible task, that the Palestinians can never be satisfied and will always demand "more," in the words of former finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Palestinian opposition to the disengagement plan gives weight to Netanyahu's view. The Palestinian Authority has not yet taken control of the territories being evacuated by Israel in the Gaza Strip, and it is already asking for more.
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has adopted the argument that Israel is continuing to occupy Palestinian lands in the northern and eastern Gaza Strip. When PA Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan first made this claim to Vice Premier Shimon Peres a few weeks ago, the Israelis were surprised, but tried to ignore it. When Abu Mazen speaks about it, the demand becomes the official Palestinian position.
The territorial claim is not just a public relations exercise. It has consequences: The Palestinians are refusing to discuss upgrading the Erez crossing on the grounds that it is located in occupied territory. Tomorrow, someone will shell Moshav Nativ Ha'asarah, which lies within the disputed area, and claim the action is part of a just war of liberation - "the Nativ Ha'asarah Intifada."
These are the facts as determined by Shaul Arieli, who helped draw up the maps for the Geneva Accord: The 1949 cease-fire line, according to the Rhodes agreement between Egypt and Israel, was different from the current border of the Gaza Strip. However, a territorial exchange agreement was signed a year after Rhodes. Israel received the area in the northern Gaza Strip, where Erez and Nativ Ha'asarah are located today, in exchange for a larger parcel in the eastern Strip (which on maps looks like a hump). This altered border remained in effect until 1967, and United Nations soldiers were deployed along it. It appeared in the maps that were part of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, without any complaints from the Palestinians. It also appeared on the official Palestinian maps used in the Geneva Accord talks.
Now Abbas wants to return to the original 1949 boundary. He has ignored the fact that all of the peace agreements and UN decisions were based on the status that existed on the ground before the 1967 War and not on the Rhodes agreement. For him, the point is that he can show that the Israeli occupation in Gaza is not ending with the completion of the disengagement. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has refused to listen: he forbade Cabinet Minister Haim Ramon from sending a letter to Dahlan containing a promise to discuss the Palestinian claim at a later date in exchange for renewing the talks on the border crossings.
The Palestinian recalcitrance over this groundless claim reinforces the right-wing claim that there is no Palestinian partner for peace, that the Palestinians are incurably greedy extortionists, that all they want is to hurt Israel, to nibble away at its territory and its international standing. Abbas has declared that he wants to return to the bargaining table over the final status of the territories, but his behavior scores points for the unilateral solutions crowd and shows that the Palestinians have not learned anything from their stubbornness at Camp David. Just as Israel finds it hard to let go of its occupier mentality, they find it hard to shake off the victim mentality.
The Palestinians should back off from the impossible position they have taken. If they need their equivalent of Shaba Farms (a small piece of territory on Israel's northern border that Lebanon claims is under illegal Israeli occupation), so they can prove that the occupation is not over, they have a huge farm on the West Bank. And if Israel is convinced of the justice of its position, then it should call for a formal examination of the borders by an international body rather than ignoring the issue. It would be a real pity if we had to have a "Nativ Ha'asarah Intifada" before such a step is taken.
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