Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Modest Proposal Towards Peace in the Mideast

I believe that if there’s ever going to be a stable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, it will be based on something close to the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps. And mutually agreeable will be something close to the stated Palestinian position that if Israel wants them to consent to Israeli annexation of land on the Palestinian side of the 1967 border or Green Line, they need to get as much and as good land on the Israeli side of the Green Line.

In 2008, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made what I think was a brave and sincere effort to make a deal on something close to those terms. It failed. The explanation of current Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was that the Palestinians just weren’t really interested in peace. This doesn’t hold up on close examination. Olmert wasn’t actually able or willing to offer the Palestinians as much land as he wanted them to give up, and the land he was offering included a fair amount of desert that was clearly less desirable than the settlement real estate he wanted them to surrender.

The Israeli argument was that, yes, it wasn’t exactly an even trade, but the Palestinians should have stretched the distance get an agreement. But why should they make the sacrifice if the Israelis wouldn’t? Israel had much more land to spare than the Palestinians, and much of the Israeli need for the land was driven by the understandable desire not to move Israeli settlements that resulted from deliberate Israeli policy to plant them in occupied territories that international law did not allow them to annex.

The earlier Camp David land swap proposal, also described by Netanyahu as generous, was even more unfavorable to the Palestinians.

Looking at a map from Palileaks that claims to show one version of the Olmert proposal, you can see the challenge. Several of the settlements are some distance east of the Green Line, creating narrow, vulnerable peninsulas that if they are to be annexed to Israel, and even these narrow salient must be paid for by giving up other Israeli land elsewhere if the exchange is to be equitable.

Evacuating them is a political challenge for the Israelis since the settlers are citizens, and can be expected to vote against it, and vote hard.

I have a cunning plan. Bear with me.

A little background first. Most of the land in question is publicly owned, and leased for 49 or 98 year terms.

The settlement blocks closest to the Green Line can be solved with a straightforward land swap. For the peninsulas, a more creative solution is required.

They would be transferred to Palestine, but control would be immediately leased to Canada or some other tolerant liberal democracy for 20 years At the end of that time full sovereignty would revert to Palestine.

Current residents could retain their current citizenships, and continue to lease on the current terms. They could freely transfer their leases for whatever price they could negotiate. Palestinians could lease land in the peninsulas on the same terms offered to Israelis.

A set share of revenue from land leases and sales would go to Palestine, which would therefore have an incentive not to let attacks hurt property values.

The lease to Canada would require free passage for Palestinians across the peninsulas at an agreed number of points, perhaps by underpass or overpass.

The settlers would probably wish to sell their leaseholds at some point, unless Palestine was clearly developing into a well run and tolerant democracy. However, they'd have two decades to find a buyer, so they wouldn't need to accept a fire sale price.

Palestine would get the assurance that they'd get the land eventually, that it wouldn't be controlled by israel in the meantime, and they''d get lease revenue for20 years.

Israel would lose the headache of defending vulnerable salients, would not have to find land to swap to retain them, and would not have to face the same political pain and expense they would have from an immediate settler evacuation.

I do see one potential problem: as the lease term for the peninsulas neared an end, there might be a great deal of pressure from the peninsular inhabitants to extend it.

1 comment:

Steve Muhlberger said...

Palestinian leaders would be unlikely to regard Canada under the current govt as an honest broker. Mr Pearson, he dead.