The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, has unveiled detailed proposals for possible land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians. That could boost something senior fellow David Makovsky has advocated for a long time: a focus on the single issue of borders, where concrete solutions seem possible and could lead to breakthroughs on more vexing issues like Jerusalem and refugees.
The WINEP proposal includes three separate maps that would adjust borders to allow 68-80 percent of Jewish settlers to remain in their homes, with the Palestinians getting land in exchange along the Gaza border, the Sinai and inside Israel's pre-1967 borders.
The proposal allows for territorial contiguity in the West Bank for the new Palestinian state but also for a substantial Israeli presence in sticking out into the West Bank in several places.
All of which seems like a useful exercise – but something that's unlikely to change the biggest single obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations: the fact that the leaders of both sides aren't particularly anxious for serious peace talks that will demand serious, politically perilous compromises by all participants
The problem isn't a lack of ideas about how to create a Palestinian state; the problem is a lack of will on both sides.
It seems to me that the WINEP maps are meant in part as a spur to the Obama administration, a reminder that while both sides continue to find excuses not to act, there are practical solutions, and that borders are a good place to start.
There are a number of ways to skin this cat; Makovsky's maps may be meant to make that point in dramatic fashion to an administration that still seems on the fence on the issue of how forcefully to move forward and which seems to be getting sucked into the mindset of hopelessness that pervades the region..
They're also meant as a message to the Israeli and Palestinian publics that despite what their leaders are saying, there are real solutions that address most of their concerns. And if they can find a way to accept creative compromises on the issue of borders, there's no reason why they can't do the same on Jerusalem and refugees.
While the idea of land swaps isn't new, the real message here is the messenger.
“These aren't maps drawn by Americans for Peace Now or AIPAC; they're coming from David Makovsky, who is widely respected and who isn't seen as a left wing agitator,” a longtime pro-peace process activist told me today. “It's coming from WINEP. That moves the discussion into a new realm – where people who haven't heard this news before because they weren't watching that channel see that there are ways to deal with these issues. It demonstrates that the geography, while challenging, can be negotiated.”
It's a long shot, to be sure. But with negotiations in the deep freeze, it's probably a shot worth taking.
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