Blueprint for Land Swaps

There are two approaches: one calls for offering areas populated in part by Arab citizens of Israel - the 'Umm al-Fahm first' plan - while the other holds that only unpopulated areas should be transferred to the PA.

Gideon Biger.
Gideon Biger
The Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.
The Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.Credit: Reuters
Gideon Biger.
Gideon Biger

In the peace agreement to be signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel will have to transfer territories to PA sovereignty in return for territories that Israel seeks to attach. In his speech, U.S. President Barack Obama explicitly laid down the principle of a 1:1 land swap. At present, there appears to be no agreement among Israeli policy makers about the character of the territories - the settlement blocs - that Israel seeks to incorporate. Everyone is demarcating the line as he sees fit.

It should be borne in mind that although the public ostensibly agrees that Jerusalem is not in dispute, it appears that if Israel wants to retain the neighborhoods that lie across the 1967 Green Line - Ramat Eshkol, Gilo, Ramot, French Hill, Pisgat Ze'ev, Har Homa and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City - it will have to pay with territory from pre-1967 Israel.

Without getting into the question of what Israel will want to attach, it makes sense to examine what Israel can give in return for the land it wishes to keep. There are two approaches. One calls for offering areas populated in part by Arab citizens of Israel - the "Umm al-Fahm first" plan - while the other holds that only unpopulated areas should be transferred to the PA.

The area of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria, including East Jerusalem, that was unilaterally annexed to Israel covers around 6,000 square kilometers. It follows that each percentage point of the West Bank comes to 60 square kilometers, or 60,000 dunams (15,000 acres ). In choosing unpopulated areas on the 1967 lines, it is best to select land that the Palestinians will be able to portray as an achievement and the Israelis as a minimal loss. It is important not to adversely affect built-up areas of Jewish or Arab communities, in order to preserve the national consensus.

However, agricultural areas or untilled areas within settlements near the 1967 lines can be transferred. Care should also be taken not to transfer areas of great strategic, security, religious or historical importance; areas with crucial civilian infrastructure such as the National Water Carrier, the national power grid and the Trans-Israel Highway; and areas containing vital resources. On the other hand, consideration should be given to areas with the potential to expand Palestinian settlements and build new settlement blocs for the Palestinians.

In the light of the above, it would appear possible to transfer the following areas to the Palestinian state in a land swap: In the area next to the Gaza Strip, 25,800 dunams in segments along the current line, to a distance of a few hundred meters eastward. In Judea and Samaria, two large blocs and a number of small areas. The two large blocs are in the Rosh Ha'ayin-Budrus region (40,300 dunams ) and in the southeast Hebron Hills (56,250 dunams ). The small areas are Nahal Bezek/Tirat Zvi, 7,150 dunams; the Jalameh/Ram On/Zbuba region, 3,240 dunams; east of Umm al-Fahm, 1,875 dunams; east of Metzer/Bir Sika, 1,870 dunams; east of Ibtin/Bahan, 825 dunams; east of Taibeh, 4,650 dunams; the Nehusha/Adulam region, 2,650 dunams; the Shomriya region, 3,225 dunams; Yatir Forest region, 12,150 dunams.

All told, then, around 134,000 dunams bordering Judea and Samaria can be transferred to the Palestinian state. Along with the territory next to the Gaza Strip, it will be possible to transfer about 160 square kilometers, an area equivalent to 2.5 percent of the West Bank.

The area of the Israeli neighborhoods in Jerusalem that lie across the 1967 lines is around 40 square kilometers. It follows that the area of the settlement blocs cannot exceed 120 square kilometers. That territory can include Gush Etzion - without the city of Efrat - Beitar Ilit, Ma'aleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Har Adar, Modi'in Ilit, Alfei Menashe, Elkana and Beit Aryeh - but no more. Every demand for another piece of territory will mean forgoing one on this list. Accordingly, the country's leaders will have to decide which settlement blocs are vital to attach to Israel.

The writer teaches at Tel Aviv University's Department of Geography and Human Environment.

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