The incredible shrinking Palestine
Israel is whittling away at Palestinians' land again, but it
needs the U.S. to sharpen the knife.
By Sandy Tolan,
-- -- THE HISTORY of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be glimpsed through a series of
First is the sepia-toned map of Palestine under the British
Mandate, circa 1936. On its surface it suggests one unified
country where Arab and Jew can live together between the Jordan
River and the Mediterranean Sea. This is the map that some
Palestinians still place on their walls: A whole Palestine,
representing the dream of an independent, secular, democratic
and Arab-majority state. Many Israelis still see this map as
representing their dreams too: Eretz Yisrael, the whole Jewish
Second is the United Nations partition map of November 1947,
which divided Palestine into two states — one for Arabs (who
were to get 44% of the territory) and one for Jews (who were
given 54.5%), with Jerusalem and Bethlehem under international
stewardship. For Zionists, it was a triumph born of the
Holocaust and the belief in much of the world that Jews needed
and deserved a haven.
For Arabs, who were the majority population, it was a disaster.
Why, they asked, should their homeland become the solution to
the Jewish tragedy in Europe? They fought the partition, and in
the 1948 war that followed, 700,000 Palestinians fled or were
driven out and became refugees.
After Israel's 1948 War of Independence, a third map emerged,
based on additional territory captured by Israel. Palestinians
lived in the West Bank and Gaza, under Jordanian and Egyptian
rule, on 22% of old Palestine — or outside of the historic
territory entirely, often in U.N. refugee camps set up in
neighboring Arab countries.
The fourth map was drawn after Israel's stunning victory in the
1967 Middle East War. It showed yet more territory — the West
Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai peninsula — under
Israeli occupation. Soon dozens of little dots, representing
Israeli settlements, would be added to each of these areas. (In
the early 1980s, Israel withdrew from the Sinai, and last year
Now comes the new Israeli prime minister to Washington, carrying
yet another map. When Ehud Olmert meets with President Bush on
Tuesday, he will present a new page for the Middle East atlas,
in which, according to recent reports, Israel will have pulled
up stakes from some of the occupied West Bank but will still
control large portions of it. Palestinians would end up with
less than 20% of their original dream for the whole of
Olmert will try to convince the White House that in the absence
of a "partner for peace," this Israeli plan to draw its final
borders, and to wall off his people from the Palestinians, is in
the best interests of peace and stability in the region.
Yet the implementation of Olmert's unilateral "convergence" plan
could have the opposite effect. By annexing West Bank lands
(including the giant, densely populated settlements in
Palestinian territory outside Jerusalem), claiming Jerusalem's
Old City and its holy sites exclusively as Israel's own, drawing
a new "security border" along the Jordan Valley and, according
to David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy, keeping the military occupation in place in the West
Bank at least for the time being, convergence would essentially
kill the Palestinian dream of self-determination. Given the
history of the last six decades, this plan is unlikely to lead
to peace or stability.
U.S. officials should be especially careful not to embrace a
unilateral and incendiary "solution," especially at a moment
when it is too early to be sure which direction the Hamas-run
Palestinian government will take. Many observers hope that the
more moderate elements in the government of Palestinian
Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh will prevail, that talks
can be restarted and that Hamas may ultimately accept Israel's
right to exist.
In a May 4 speech to the Israeli Knesset, Olmert presented his
plan as a compromise of the historic Zionist dream to possess
the entirety of a Jewish homeland. Part of the convergence plan
calls for dismantling Israeli settlements where about a quarter
of the 240,000 West Bank settlers live. "Only a person in whose
soul Eretz Yisrael burns knows the pain of letting go of our
ancestral heritage," Olmert declared in presenting his Cabinet
to the parliament.
Yet "convergence" doesn't just represent the end of the dream of
Eretz Yisrael; it also represents an abandonment of what for
nearly four decades has been the central hope for many
Palestinians and Israelis seeking coexistence: U.N. Resolution
242, which was adopted in 1967 after the Six-Day War and called
for Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in the war
in exchange for, essentially, Arab recognition of Israel. This
became the basis for the "two-state solution."
For Yasser Arafat, the late Palestine Liberation Organization
leader, accepting the existence of Israel , and the 78% of
historic Palestine that it held, was a monumental compromise.
But convergence would leave the Palestinians with less land yet
again — certainly less than in any deal based on Resolution 242
and the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
Under convergence, according to a report by Makovsky, Israel
would retain 8% of the West Bank for expansion of three large
settlement blocs, and more land for a "security border" in the
Jordan Valley. At least 60,000 settlers would be removed from
more remote settlements in the occupied territories to the large
settlement blocs on the other side of the "security barrier"
that Israel has been building (but still on the West Bank).
Palestinians in the remaining portion of the West Bank would
live between the "security border" and the "security barrier."
The convergence plan also would deny the Palestinians' dream of
having East Jerusalem, including the Old City's Haram al Sharif,
the third holiest site in Islam, as the capital of their state.
Although returning some parts of East Jerusalem to Arab
ownership, a fixed border along Olmert's lines would divide
neighborhoods and families, and Israel would retain control over
the Old City, including its holy sites. These are red lines for
both Palestinians and Muslims worldwide and a central reason for
the collapse of the talks at Camp David.
Given its details, it is hard to understand how convergence
could lead to long-term peace and stability, to say nothing of
fairness. Western diplomats have already begun expressing
concerns that a unilateral solution will not last. "The Israelis
want to build a wall and imagine that there are no people behind
it," Marc Otte, the European Union's special representative for
the Mideast peace process, told the Israeli paper Haaretz. "That
is an illusion. Everything will come back to them. You cannot
lock the door and throw away the key." Even Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has frequently criticized
Hamas, has warned that convergence would lead to war within a
U.S. backing would be essential to implementing Olmert's plan,
and essential to that would be Olmert's ability to convince the
American government that he has "no partner for peace." This
claim has proved convenient for Olmert as he seeks to draw his
own map unilaterally. But U.S. officials should not be lulled
into accepting a unilateral "solution" that seems destined to
prolong the conflict.
SANDY TOLAN'S most recent book is "The
Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East
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