J Street supports active international efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establish two states for two peoples – Israel, the national homeland of the Jewish people living side-by-side in peace and security with the state-to-be of Palestine, the national homeland of the Palestinian people.
We believe these efforts should ideally take place in advance of the admission of the state of Palestine to the United Nations. With the Palestinian application now pending, there is a greater need than ever for a more assertive approach to establishing borders and security arrangements between the two states.
Enough time has been spent by the United States, the parties and the international community ‘talking about talks’ and championing direct negotiations between the parties. We do not believe that simply bringing the parties to the table is an adequate goal for international diplomacy at this time.
Instead, it is time for the international community – led by the Quartet with American support – to set forth a realistic and viable path to end the conflict. On May 19, 2011, President Barack Obama correctly endorsed the idea of first delineating borders between the parties and security arrangements for Israel, stating:
While the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel… We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
The following day, the Middle East Quartet:
…expressed its strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by President Barack Obama on 19 May, 2011. The Quartet agrees that moving forward on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final resolution of the conflict through serious and substantive negotiations and mutual agreement on all core issues.
On September 23, 2011, the Quartet issued a further statement, saying that it “expects the parties to come forward with comprehensive proposals within three months on territory and security, and to have made substantial progress within six months.”
While these US and Quartet statements helpfully demonstrated an international consensus behind a ‘borders and security first’ approach, they continued to rely on the premise that the parties themselves remain capable of meeting in good faith and agreeing on the agenda and parameters that will guide such negotiations.
After a year in which both parties have taken unhelpful unilateral actions and moved further apart, it is clear to us that asking them to meet at a bare negotiating table is unrealistic and misguided. The question the United States and international community should now be asking is: What can be done to break the impasse between the parties and make meaningful progress toward a resolution of the conflict?
When we first articulated a borders and security strategy in 2010, J Street said that the US and Quartet must be prepared to bridge the gaps between the parties on the substance of an understanding on borders and security en route to a comprehensive agreement ending the conflict. Today, these gaps could be bridged in a number of ways:
- The Quartet, with active participation by its pivotal member, the US, could publicly present a plan delineating borders and security arrangements, even including maps;
- The Quartet or some other combination of third parties could conduct intense shuttle diplomacy on the substance of an understanding on borders and security rather than focusing their efforts on bringing the parties back to the table;
- Rather than hoping that the parties present borders and security proposals to each other in the context of direct negotiations, the Quartet could call on the parties to present their own detailed border and security proposals to the Quartet within three months.
In conjunction with any of these approaches, we now call on the Quartet to lay out specific parameters, consistent with the international consensus and drawing on previous proposals made by both parties within the past decade, to which proposals for borders and security should conform:
- The borders between Israel and the new Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 Green Line with equivalent land swaps.
- The borders should allow for the vast majority of settlers to be part of Israel’s future recognized sovereign territory.
- The proposal on borders between the states should also address the border within Jerusalem with the exception of the Old City and possibly its very immediate environs.
Further, the Quartet should clarify now that security arrangements under any agreement will include the demilitarization of the future state of Palestine, and the deployment at Palestine’s external international border crossings of an international force to guarantee the agreed provisions. The US should take this occasion to reiterate its commitment to guaranteeing the long-term security of Israel.
We urge the Quartet to clarify that once an agreement is reached on borders and security arrangements and those arrangements are implemented in accordance with an agreed-upon timetable, Israel will withdraw from all of the territories designated for the Palestinian state and all other provisions will be implemented.
Finalizing arrangements on borders and security can create positive momentum toward addressing other final status issues. We would urge that, parallel to implementation of the border and security arrangements, negotiations then continue (or resume) on all other outstanding final status issues. With a border established, settlement construction will no longer pose an obstacle to further talks as both Israel and the Palestinians will be able to build where they please within their borders and not beyond.
The parties and outside experts are more than familiar with the options and trade-offs needed to establish a border and with it a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. We urge the Quartet to step forward in a bolder and more assertive manner, focusing less on simply getting talks going and more on creating a moment of choice. The time has come to put key questions of substance, not process, squarely before both the leadership and people on both sides and to ask them to demonstrate their political willingness to actually achieve a viable solution.