Media Mention of Ziad Asali in American Online - January 21, 2011 - 1:00am

It's a cliche among foreign policy circles that everyone knows what an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will look like. Now a Washington think tank with close connections to officials in both Israel and the United States has sketched out realistic borders for a new Palestinian state.

On Thursday, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy published a series of maps showing detailed options for removing most of the West Bank from Israeli occupation. While Robert Satloff, the think tank's executive director, and David Makovsky, the author of the study, said they were not endorsing any one map, to many in the audience they were putting the institute's clout behind a key principle: a 1:1 swap that would allow Israel to annex the most densely populated Jewish settlements created since Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, and compensate the Palestinians with an equivalent amount of land from pre-1967 Israel.

Given the think tank's strong ties with Israel -- the institute was created in 1985 by Israel supporters -- the maps give President Barack Obama cover to do something that is likely to be required to break the current stalemate in the peace process: put forward U.S. proposals for a Palestinian state.

In drafting the maps, Makovsky consulted closely with Israelis, Palestinians and U.S. officials (one of whom, Dennis Ross, was a senior figure at the Washington Institute). Under the options Makovsky outlined, 70 to 80 percent of the 300,000 Israeli Jews who live in settlements in the West Bank could remain. Israel would need to swap less than 5 percent of its territory for an equivalent amount on the West Bank.

Makovsky's proposal isn't without complications. It still would require Israel to vacate dozens of isolated settlements. He doesn't deal with the fate of nearly 200,000 Israeli Jews in East Jerusalem or the hot-button issue of Palestinian refugees. Two of his maps are likely to be non-starters for the Palestinians because they include the Israeli settlement of Ariel, which sits at the end of a vein of settlements deep inside the lima-bean-shaped West Bank. Much of the Israeli land he would offer to the Palestinians is next to Gaza, which is under control of the Islamic fundamentalist movement, Hamas.

Still, Makovsky "has done a good job of setting the parameters ... of a realistic discussion of what a two-state solution will look like," says Zvika Krieger, senior vice president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, another Washington think tank.

The proposals come at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in better position to compromise. He has solidified his power at home even as international opposition to Israel's settlement policies grows. (The U.N. Security Council is weighing a resolution condemning Israel for expanding Jewish settlements, and some U.S. supporters of Israel are urging the Obama administration not to veto it.)

Netanyahu previously had to worry that the center-left Labor party would quit his government because of the lack of progress toward peace. That is no longer a concern. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who had been leader of the Labor party, formed his own centrist group on Monday and took three other Labor ministers with him.

So far, Netanyahu has not been willing to put forward his own ideas for a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Perhaps he will do so now. However, Ziad Asali, head of The American Task Force on Palestine, which advocates a major U.S. role in peace talks, notes that Netanyahu has not shown any willingness to talk about borders and security without also dealing with refugees and Jerusalem.

The Palestinians, who have tabled detailed proposals on all the issues, are waiting for the Obama administration to break the deadlock. Says Asali, "It has to be a political decision at the very top."

Obama is also in a better position to act. His poll numbers are rising in the aftermath of his sensitive reaction to the Tucson shootings and skillful management of a state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao. While Obama's ability to pass new domestic legislation is limited by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, he faces fewer impediments to bold action on foreign policy.

No single achievement would help U.S. national security interests more than a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which aggravates Muslims around the world and gives political talking points to al-Qaida and Iran. Thanks to an influential Washington think tank, Obama now has a map showing the way forward.


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