The Houston Chronicle
May 22, 2010 - 12:00am

As U.S. Middle East peace special envoy George Mitchell holds proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, he will have to immediately address two of the timeliest issues in the conflict: the future borders of Israel and a Palestinian state and Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The settlements — which are illegal under international law — have been described by both Republican and Democratic administrations as an obstacle to peace. The reason is simple: If settlements continue to grow, they can undermine a two-state solution by preventing the establishment of a viable, contiguous state in which Palestinians could live in peace alongside Israel.

An agreement on territory and borders, including settlements, could enable negotiators to facilitate forward movement on other, even more controversial issues. To be sure, territory and borders cannot be treated in isolation from other final status issues, including Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and security guarantees, as well as the normalization of relations and economic development.

On the territorial issue, the gaps between the two sides can be bridged. From 2008 to 2010, I chaired an unofficial Israeli-Palestinian workshop to explore what the final borders between Israel and a prospective Palestinian state might look like. The members of the workshop, convened by Rice University's James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, were former high-level civilian and military officials, experts, academics and private sector individuals. The findings of the report, “Getting to the Territorial Endgame of an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Settlement,” provide policymakers in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah with the results of a bottom-up approach. While the two teams did not reach a consensus, they reduced the gap between their initial positions and established certain common criteria and guidelines for assessing the territorial issues such as Israeli settlements.

Specifically, the report determined that a United States territorial bridging proposal — based on the line of June 4, 1967, with agreed-upon swaps and modifications — could narrow differences to the point where an agreement could be reached. A U.S. proposal for a territorial compromise, of between 3.4 percent to 4.4 percent in the West Bank with appropriate territorial swaps to assure contiguity of a Palestinian state and address Israeli concerns, is both realistic and feasible. The key elements of such a proposal are outlined in the report, as well as the need to prepare the necessary planning tools to achieve a successful outcome.

With a divided Palestinian polity and a center-right coalition governing Israel, some question whether peace is possible. In the long term, the vital interests of both the Israeli and Palestinian people require a peaceful settlement based on a two-state solution that would secure an independent Palestinian state and a democratic and Jewish Israel. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an important speech at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “the first, second or third item on nearly every agenda of every country I visit.” The alternatives to peace — maintaining the status quo or renewed outbreaks of violence — will only destabilize the region and work against United States interests and those of our friends in the region and beyond.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017