In Case of Land Swap, Who Will Foot the Settlers' Bill?

The Israeli agricultural communities closest to the Green Line are keeping quiet in the face of continuing settlement expansion: But it is they that will pay the highest price.

Shaul Arieli
Shaul Arieli
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Shaul Arieli
Shaul Arieli

Since the Oslo accords, most discussions regarding a permanent agreement have paired the security issue with the border issue, while the Jerusalem issue has been coupled with the refugee dilemma. Dealing with the core issues as two pairs has allowed the two sides, as well as mediators, to build a kind of “balance chart,” regarding the demands over both pairs. Israel’s demands regarding security and refugees have been given special consideration, while the Palestinians have received more acquiescence toward their demands regarding the borders and Jerusalem.

The security plan drafted by General John Allen has been recognized for its efforts to both meet Israeli demands on issues that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has deemed essential at all costs, as well as win over Israeli and American public opinion. This U.S. initiative is meant to remove any opposition Netanyahu might have regarding the other core issues, in the hope that a permanent agreement can be reached.

It’s safe to assume that in return for agreeing to forego a significant portion of their sovereignty (demilitarized Palestinian state, installation of Israeli warning systems, allowing Israel to use their airspace and a temporary Israeli army presence in the Jordan River Valley), the Palestinians will demand compensation when it comes to the border issue. This, theoretically, would be easier for Israel to handle, as it would not undermine Israeli sovereignty. Nonetheless, this can be expected to cause political shock waves.

If the Americans want to foster progress in the negotiations, they will refrain from asking the Palestinians to give up their political victory of November 2012 - recognition of a Palestinian state with 1967 borders by 138 nations - and agree that those borders will not serve as a basis for territory swaps. The Americans will also be asked to determine the scope and quality of land swaps. Such decisions are meant to do away with negotiations on the land swap ratios, by instead adopting the ratio agreed upon by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Annapolis in 2008: a ratio of 1:1. This ratio will cause Netanyahu considerable trouble with his own party and with his coalition partner, Habayit Hayehudi. Both regard annexing land without compensating the Palestinians as the farthest they are willing to go, given their basic opposition to the creations of a Palestinian state.

In addition to the political repercussions, there will be practical ones as well,although the only ones the public seems to be aware of are the number of settlements that Israel will annex. That is no accident. Settler representatives in the Knesset and the government have been actively trying to enlarge the settlement blocs by rapid construction, and have been frightening the public about the social and economic cost of evacuation.

In contrast, the regional councils within Israel, which are expected to give up their land to a Palestinian state, have kept silent for years. Regional council leaders are burying their heads in the sand, ignoring the current building trends in the settlements, even during this round of negotiations. They know that construction within the settlement blocs will add to the amount of land Israel will be forced to hand over to Palestine. This will be a severe blow to the agricultural nature of the kibbutzim and moshavim within the jurisdiction of the regional councils.

The fact that Netanyahu has never agreed to land swaps is no guarantee that this will not happen. It is sad that the Israeli agricultural communities closest to the Green Line are keeping quiet, despite the fact that they bear a heavier burden than others, and that they will pay the highest price if the negotiations fail and the situation deteriorates. While they maintain their silence the price they will have to pay in return for an agreement is getting steeper and steeper all the time.

Kibbutz Yavne.Credit: Limor Edry

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