EPPN Lenten Series Part 3: Spotlight on Borders

March 19, 2014

O God, by your Word you marvelously carry out the work of reconciliation: Grant that in our Lenten fast we may be devoted to you with all our hearts, and united with one another in prayer and holy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. – Collect for the First Saturday in Lent

 

Dear Fellow Advocates,

 

The last two weeks, we have looked at the rationale for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians toward a two-state solution. We reviewed The Episcopal Church’s long-held position that a just and lasting peace can only come through two states living side by side, and our position that negotiations must be the process for which this comes about.

This week, a group of 42 Christian leaders in the United States and Jerusalem – including both Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani – wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry endorsing a framework for conclusive negotiations. You can add your voice and those of members of your congregation to their effort. Our colleagues at Churches for Middle East Peace have provided an endorsement form you can use in your congregation.

A negotiated two-state solution is not just the position of religious leaders, however. As the Presiding Bishop has reminded us in the past, “support for a two-state solution is the shared policy of the United States government, the government of Israel, and the Palestinian National Authority.”

One might ask why, then, if both sides support the same outcome, as does the principal international mediator of negotiations, that outcome thus far has proven elusive. Starting this week, we will look at a series of difficult issues the parties must address in order for a two-state solution to become a reality. In hopes of living more deeply into the most recent General Convention’s call for a triennium of not just advocacy, but also education about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we will follow a question-and-answer format that we hope will prove valuable both to those who are new to these issues and to those who have been working toward peace and justice for many seasons.

We will begin today by looking at the issue of borders.

BORDERS

What is the central issue and why is it important?

In order for a lasting peace to flourish, there must not be just two states, but two states whose borders are fair and just and provide for the security and viability of both the state of Israel and a future Palestinian state.

What is the history?

When the British Mandate for Palestine ended in the late 1940s, the ensuing 1948 War between Arabs and Israelis established a dividing line between the new state of Israel and its neighbors. Known colloquially as “the Green Line” or the armistice line, this de facto border, while not formally recognized by the Arab states of the region, delineated Israel’s border with its neighbors until 1967. Under the 1948 armistice, Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (the areas now known collectively as the Palestinian Territories) did not exist. The Kingdom of Transjordan (now Jordan) annexed the West Bank while Egypt annexed Gaza. The Holy City of Jerusalem stood divided between Israel, which held the western half, and Jordan, which held the eastern half, including the Old City and its holy sites. An armed and largely impassable border existed between east and west Jerusalem.

During the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and its neighbors, Israel won control of the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Intervening history is highly complex – with violence and security, settlement building, and different legal situations in each of the occupied territories – but both Israelis and Palestinians have taken the position that the West Bank and Gaza should be part of a future Palestinian state. Jerusalem, which we will look at in a subsequent installment in our series, is even more complicated.

Most international interlocutors, a well as Israelis and Palestinians committed to the peace process, agree that the pre-1967 borders (armistice or Green Line) should be the starting point for discussions about the border of a future Palestinian state. President Obama has endorsed this position.

The Episcopal Church has said that the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state “should be defined, more or less, by the 1949 Armistice line, with mutually agreed upon border adjustments."

How are settlements part of the border conversation?

In the years since the 1967 war, Israel has allowed the construction of settlements on the side of the Green Line that would, presumably, be part of a future Palestinian state. These settlements are widely recognized as illegal under international law (and “illegitimate” in the eyes of the U.S. government). Some Israelis hardliners have insisted that all such settlements must remain part of Israel, though Prime Minister Netanyahu has acknowledged that if a two-state solution is achieved, some of these settlements could be evacuated (as Israel previously withdrew settlements from Gaza when it ended its military presence there). The majority of Israeli settlements are very close to the Green Line, meaning that it would be possible for many of these to be incorporated into Israel with minimal land swaps to compensate Palestinians for the lost land. Other settlements further into the Palestinian territory would need to be evacuated (or, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, live under Palestinian sovereignty). International experts consider various proposals for how land swaps would work in practice to be viable. A major Palestinian concern about land swaps is ensuring territorial contiguity of a future state. As The Episcopal Church has said, “A Palestinian state that is not contiguous and that does not have the ability to ship materials by air, water, and land cannot be economically and socially viable.”

How is Israel’s security tied to the question of borders?

Israel has held that the pre-1967 borders with no adjustments would leave Israeli cities vulnerable to attack. The construction, over the past decade, of the Separation Barrier – which is a security fence in most places and a wall in a few – has been particularly controversial because its course has deviated from the Green Line and placed Palestinian territory on the Israeli side of the wall. The Episcopal Church has held that, “The separation barrier is a legal security measure but not where it violates Palestinian land,” and that “there is a moral difference between a separation barrier built on the pre-1967 ‘Green Line’ and one built on Palestinian territory in the West Bank.” In short, The Episcopal Church believes that Israel’s security must be a paramount concern in a negotiated two-state solution, but that security should be ensured in a way that provides minimal incursion into Palestinian land. Particularly with the rise of long-range missile capabilities, it is clear that Israel’s security involves a great deal more than the course of its border with the Palestinians, and that a long-term and universally recognized peace agreement is the best guarantor of Israel’s security.

What is Israel’s official position on the pre-1967 borders?

Israel’s government officially supports a two-state solution, but has taken the position that the pre-1967 borders should be adjusted to include some (but not all) Israeli settlements built in the West Bank since 1967. It has suggested territorial swaps to compensate for border adjustments that would accommodate Israeli settlements as well as other adjustments it believes are necessary to provide for the security of its cities. Further, it has officially held that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and should not be divided as it was prior to 1967, though during past negotiations (2000 and 2006) it has been willing to accept a shared Jerusalem. Likewise, Prime Minister Netanyahu has acknowledged that despite the conflicting positions of Israel and the Palestinians on Jerusalem, negotiations can produce a creative solution satisfactory to all parties.

What is the Palestinian position on the pre-1967 borders?

The leadership of the Palestinian National Authority also officially supports a two-state solution and takes the position that 1967 borders should be the basis of a future state. While the Palestinians concede that some territorial swaps might be necessary, they believe these should be minimal and close to the Green Line. Further, Palestinians believe that a future state should possess territory equivalent to 100% of the land held by Jordan and Egypt prior to the 1967 War.

What about Gaza?

Gaza’s territorial distance from the West Bank and Jerusalem, and its present political situation, make its incorporation into a future Palestinian state particularly complicated. The continued political leadership in Gaza of Hamas, an organization firmly committed to Israel’s destruction, and the functional isolation of Gaza through largely impermeable borders maintained by both Israel and Egypt, along with a sea blockade maintained by Israel, have served almost no one well. The humanitarian situation in Gaza at present is dire, and violence – both Palestinian rocket fire into Israel and Israeli use of force along the border – continues. While the situation in Gaza is enormously politically vexing to the negotiating parties, it could not be clearer that the present situation is untenable and must be dealt with in order for a two-state solution to succeed. During 2006-8 negotiations, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered a land corridor linking Gaza and the West Bank. That sort of proposal – calibrated to protect both Palestinian land contiguity and Israeli security – reflects the creativity that will be necessary for a two-state solution to deal successfully with Gaza.

Can agreement be reached on borders?

Yes. The Episcopal Church firmly believes that agreement on borders through negotiation is possible, and the two parties have come very close in the past. The 2006-8 negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, which occurred without the world’s knowledge at the time, reportedly involved an offer from then-Prime Minister Olmert of 99.5% of the West Bank, including a link to Gaza, while the 2000 Camp David summit came similarly close on the issue of borders. Agreement is possible, but only if the two sides stay at the table. That's why your voice, along with that of Bishop Katharine, Bishop Suheil, and others who support negotiations is so important!