Some readers (and J Street folks) were puzzled by the tone and content of my previous post. After all, what's the difference, I was asked, between settlements and settlement blocs? And if there will be land swaps between the Palestinian and Israeli states, what difference does it make precisely where the land is swapped? At the end of the day, Israel and Palestine will have the same proportion of historic Palestine (without the Hashemite kingdom of Trans-Jordan) as guaranteed by the 1967 lines. Can't I cut J Street a little slack here – in order to get a Palestinian state off the ground? Both the Palestinians and the Americans want to focus first on borders. Doesn't that mean that an agreement is closer on the border issue than on other core issues?
So let me briefly set matters straight.
Settlement blocs vs. settlements. The moral argument for keeping Jewish settlers where they are, even though their settlement beyond the green line is recognized as illegal, is simply – it is too hard too move them. That, of course, refers to the settlements themselves. But if they are going to stay where they are, the argument goes, their security and growth require that not only do they stay put, but they be situated in "blocs". I am not sure who first came up with the idea of bloc, but historically it may have been related to the Ezion bloc of settlements, which fell to the Arab fighters in the 47-8 war. The Ezion bloc was one of the first areas to be settled after the 1967 war. The fate of the that bloc is instructive; in the name of returning to settlements that had been captured, the Ezion bloc over the years has tripled in territory. The land on which the city of Efrat, for example, was built, has nothing to do with the original bloc of settlements – and yet it is now automatically included in the settlement bloc (except in the Geneva Initiative map.)
If the settlements are illegal, then settlement blocs are worse – because they are a naked attempt to maximize not only the settlements but the areas between the settlements and – this is important – break up the territorial contiguity of the Palestinians state. Defenders of Israel always like to say that, in terms of percentages, the settlement blocs constitute a relatively small part of the West Bank. Even if that were true, the issue is not how much territory but where it is located.
This is particularly true of the blocs around Jerusalem and the Ariel bloc in the north. No Palestinian mini-state could ever arise were the Ariel bloc annexed, or were the Maaleh Adumim bloc annexed – much less if there is contiguous Jewish settlement in the E1 project linking Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem
For a standard defense of annexing the five major settlement blocs, check out Mitchell Bard's explanation and map here. Bard writes
Would the incorporation of settlement blocs prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state? A look at a map shows that it would not. The total area of these communities is only about 1.5% of the West Bank. A kidney-shaped state linked to the Gaza Strip by a secure passage would be contiguous. Some argue that the E1 project linking Ma'ale Adumim to Jerusalem would cutoff east Jerusalem, but even that is not necessarily true as Israel has proposed constructing a four-lane underpass to guarantee free passage between the West Bank and the Arab sections of Jerusalem.
Please look at the Bard's map, which is taken from the (pro-Israel Washington Institute of Near Eastern Policy). Look, for example, at Jerusalem prior to 1967, divided between Israelis and Palestinians, and the Jerusalem proposed now, which would leave East Jerusalem an enclave surrounded by massive Jewish settlement. But, more importantly, consider what constitutes "contiguity" according to Bard – a four-lane underpass!
Now consider why Israel ambassador Michael Oren recently considered the 49 armistice lines to be "indefensible" – despite the fact that not only were they successfully defended, they were expanded upon in 1967
Israel's borders at the time were demarcated by the armistice lines established at the end of Israel's war of independence 18 years earlier. These lines left Israel a mere 9 miles wide at its most populous area. Israelis faced mountains to the east and the sea to their backs and, in West Jerusalem, were virtually surrounded by hostile forces. In 1948, Arab troops nearly cut the country in half at its narrow waist and laid siege to Jerusalem, depriving 100,000 Jews of food and water.
How long would it take Israel to take control of a 4 lane highway, thereby cutting the Palestinian mini-state in two? Would Ben Gurion have accepted a state that had the contiguity afforded by a four-lane underpass?
The Palestinian state must be contiguous, which means that it must have contiguous and defensible territory between its various parts. Palestinian security needs are no less important than Israel's security needs; only a racist or tribalist would think otherwise.
To the argument that is immoral to move settlers, I reply that it is immoral to keep Palestinians in refugee camps. Let Israel absorb the settlement blocs, and let the Palestinians absorb Jewish owned territory in such a way that there is roughly parity in the resultant states. Any two-state solution has to take into consideration not only the demographic and security needs of the Israelis, but the demographic and the security needs of the Palestinians, including the refugees. We can start by settling half a million Palestinian refugees in choice Jewish state owned lands that have not been acquired from Palestinians Israelis – and then let's redraw the map of Israel to reflect the demographic realities of the Palestinian Arabs (including those of the diaspora), and the Israelis (including those of the Jewish diaspora.)
This would not be the ideal solution but a lot fairer than the one proposed by the Israeli "left" and the American administration. If their proposal is accepted by the PA leadership, then Jews and Palestinians should join hands to oppose the concessions of the PA.