Mapping a Way Forward


Published January 26, 2011, issue of February 04, 2011.

There is always reason for despair when it comes to the prospect of a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and there’s no sense in enumerating why. The evidence is obvious. Those of us buoyed by each new attempt to jumpstart talks too often feel like Jets fans at the beginning of football season, bound for disappointment.

So maybe the maps and the papers will amount to nothing. But maybe, just maybe, not.

The maps are a pile of color-coded, detailed plans researched and released by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a centrist think tank, suggesting three scenarios for creating a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders while disrupting as few Jewish settlements as possible. The driving principle is a one-to-one land swap; that is, if a settlement in the West Bank is to remain part of Israel, then a commensurate amount of Israeli land will become part of the new Palestinian state.

Makovsky argues that this can be done with Israel annexing no more than 4.73% of the occupied territories, a share that he believes is within an acceptable range for Palestinians. The details on these maps are quite debatable, as is the very notion that borders can be settled without also tackling the core issues of Jerusalem, refugees and security. But summarily dismissing these legitimate proposals only hastens another season of disappointment. Makovsky says he wanted to show that it can be done, that solutions are imaginable, and he’s right. They are.

The simultaneous (though coincidental) release of what have been called “the Palestine papers” also could be another bit of frustrating news. Or maybe not. The leaked documents purport to illustrate the concessions that Palestinian leaders were willing to accept during negotiations in 2008. The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV network presumably hoped that the Palestinian public would be furious at their leaders over these revelations, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Instead, these papers could serve a useful purpose if they prepare Palestinians for the sacrifices they will have to make for peace to be achieved, and if they persuade Israelis and their supporters that the Palestinians are, indeed, willing to sacrifice.

In this fraught environment, optimists run the risk of looking silly. Or they may end up being prescient.

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