Take Land Swaps Off the Table

The territorial exchanges Israel once offered the Palestinians in return for peace were never obligatory and are no longer practical.

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A few words uttered in English by an Arab prime minister excited – perhaps even electrified – the few who still believe the conflict in the Middle East can be resolved with the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River.

Speaking on behalf of the Arab League, the prime minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, said in Washington last month that Israel should return to the June 4, 1967 borders with the option of "comparable and mutual agreed minor swaps of the land." Two of the three leaders who believe in the two-state solution, United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, were thrilled. Not just a step forward, Kerry said, but a big step forward. Not just positive news, said Livni, following his lead, but very positive. Only their third friend, the leader of the cult of failure that never learns from its mistakes, President Shimon Peres, remained uncharacteristically silent.

Nobody bothered asking the two esteemed ministers where such good news was hiding here. The Arab Peace Initiative, the Arab League's proposed solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, would have some value only if it were more moderate than the Palestinian position. Otherwise, we would find ourselves in the same bad situation we got into when U.S. President Barack Obama, in his inexperience, set too high a bar for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas regarding the construction freeze. Abbas could not be less holy than the pope, and the talks broke down.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s position on the issue known as “territorial exchanges” has been that the Palestinian state must encompass 6,205 square kilometers. The Qatari statement on this principle, which includes six conditional words and a thirteen-word sentence, may come close to the Palestinian position, but stops some distance from it. So what’s the great accomplishment here that had those ministers’ bureaus all aflutter?

At any rate, there is an important lesson for us to learn from the Qatari proposal: Any Israeli concession quickly becomes a fait accompli for the Arabs, which Israel is expected to honor indefinitely.

Territorial exchange was a concession that Israel presented to the Palestinians at a certain stage to convince them to agree to peace. It never occurred to late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to offer Yasser Arafat territory in exchange for keeping the expansive Jordan Valley under Israeli sovereignty, which was his intention. I can only imagine what Rabin's sarcastic response would have been if someone had told him Israel had to “compensate” the Palestinians for the Western Wall Plaza and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.

It was not just the Israeli position that Israel would not withdraw to the armistice lines or provide any compensation for the territory it won. In practice, it was the position of the international community. United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 demand that Israel withdraw from “territory,” not from “the territories.” The Arab and Soviet attempts to force Israel into a full withdrawal were rejected. Even people who think the resolutions apply to each front separately must admit that Israel has no obligation to render “compensation” at an Arab aggressor’s behest for territory that remains in its possession.

At a certain point, perhaps during the virtual negotiations left-wing politician Yossi Beilin held with Abbas in 1995 and perhaps during then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s talks at Camp David, Israel gave up that position and offered to “compensate” the Palestinians for the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the settlement blocs near the Green Line.

Many years later, Al Thani went to Washington with the “innovative” idea of minor territorial swaps, and now expects Israel to get excited and thank the Arab League for its supposed flexibility.

If it is not too late to do so, this is a good opportunity for Israel to take the concept of “territorial exchange” off the table. The repeated attempts to destroy Israel will be reflected in the permanent borders, if any are ever agreed on. The war of annihilation the Arabs began against the nascent State of Israel in 1947 forever wiped out the borders of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, and the repeated attempts to destroy Israel in 1967 forever wiped out the Green Line, or Israel's borders prior to that year. The demand for territorial compensation for a failed attempt to destroy Israel is absurd and immoral.

It is also impractical. Since the Six Day War, Judea and Samaria have been filled with thriving Jewish communities that constitute an irreversible fact, and “little Israel," the territory inside the Green Line, does not include land that will satisfy the Palestinian appetite for exchanges.

Therefore, even those who believe in the two-state solution must explain to their Arab interlocutors that insisting on territorial exchange makes it even more difficult for both sides to reach an agreement.

The author is the head of the Yesha Council.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani speak to the media following a meeting with members of the Arab League.Credit: Reuters

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