A while back I wrote of America’s leading liberal Zionist lobby group,
In short, although coy about explicitly saying so, J Street endorses Israel’s annexation of critical chunks of the West Bank, rejecting the international consensus two-state settlement and demanding from Palestinians even greater compromises on their legal rights.
In the wake of Israeli voters’ collective middle finger to the international community, J Street is coy no longer:
Washington should not wait for others to draft a U.N. resolution condemning the settlements. It should take the initiative, in consultation with its international partners, in drafting a resolution that lays out the detailed parameters for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The resolution should of course state unequivocally that the solution rests in an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, with equivalent land swaps to incorporate some of the major settlement blocs within Israel. It should also reiterate Israel’s right to security. And it should state clearly and unambiguously that the settlements are illegal under international law and must stop. [my emph.]
The problem with this is not the notion of land swaps to permit Israel to annex certain settlements. In the 2008 Annapolis talks, the Palestinians presented detailed maps that would have permitted Israel to annex fully 60% of the settlers (as it was then) through land swaps, without harming Palestinian contiguity:
This was a monumental concession by a Palestinian negotiating team striving to present Israel with a reasonable offer that nonetheless did not preclude meaningful Palestinian self-determination.
The Palestinian proposal hinged upon the crucial distinction between Israel’s settlements and its settlement blocs.
The actual built-up area taken up by Israeli settlements comprises only a tiny percentage of the West Bank, and certain of them may, as part of a peace settlement and in the context of land swaps of equal size and value, be annexed by Israel without fragmenting Palestinian territory or hiving off crucial land and water resources. The Palestinian maps represent a good faith attempt to show how this might be achieved.
What Palestinian negotiators insisted upon, however, and not just to their Israeli counterparts but also internally, was the incompatibility with viable Palestinian statehood of Israel’s annexation of the settlement blocs: large areas connecting settlements to each other and to Israel, jutting deep into the West Bank atop some of the territory’s most valuable natural resources:
Whereas Palestinians are prepared to accommodate certain Israeli settlements only on an individual basis, the Israelis continue to push for annexing all the major settlement ‘blocs’, along with all of the settlements inside Israeli municipal Jerusalem, more or less in their entirety. The most problematic of these in terms of Palestinian interests are Ariel, Giv’at Zeev and Ma’ale Adumim ‘blocs’, along with Har Homa and Efrat settlements.
Samih el-Abed, the leading geographical expert supporting the Palestinian negotiating team, presented Israel with the maps in May 2008. Israel’s then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was taken aback, aware that this was undeniably a reasonable offer:
I have to think about this. I do not know… I want to say that we do not like this suggestion because it does not meet our demands, and probably it was not easy for you to think about it but I really appreciate it.
Her problem was that it did not permit Israel to annex the settlement blocs. ‘It is clear’, she shot back, ‘that Ma’ale Adumim, Giva’t Ze’ev, Har Homa and Ariel do not exist’.
El-Abed responded, ‘Real peace cannot be reached with an 18-km long enclave inside Palestine. We do not want to create problems in the future. We do not wish to hurt peace’.
‘In Ariel also some areas have to be annexed’, Livni insisted.
El-Abed: ‘We have done our best to include the largest number of settlers’.*
The Palestinians’ remarkable offer has received zero attention, let alone credit. J Street doesn’t mention it. Instead, it blithely awards ‘some of the major settlement blocs’ to Israel.
In the same article, J Street’s Alan Elsner upbraids Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his ‘rhetorical if not actual support for a two-state solution’. Evidently, J Street knows all about that.
As Israel’s former ambassador to the US Michael Oren observes, ‘J Street’s power [is] derived from the fact that it is an extension of the Obama administration‘. And indeed, several US officials have mooted the possibility of a Security Council resolution that would displace UN 242 as the basis for resolving the conflict by endorsing Israel’s annexation of the settlement blocs.
Cheered on by liberals itching to give Netanyahu a black eye, this would likely prove a fatal blow to the Palestinians’ decades long struggle for self-determination, undermining the viability of Palestinian statehood while denying internationally recognised Palestinian rights.
* Full credit for unearthing the Palestinian map, appreciating its significance and retrieving the negotiators’ exchanges about it to Norman G. Finkelstein, who, perhaps alone among the horde of commentators on the Palestine Papers, read them.