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UN Week – 5/29/11

May 30, 2011

by John and Douglas Carey, Editors,


          When the President proposed that the Israelis and Palestinians begin land swap talks based on the 1967 boundaries, he must have known that would be declined by Israel. Those boundaries were based on the armistice lines reached in the late 1940s. They left Israel with a west-to-east width of only 14 miles north of Tel Aviv.

          An alternative might have been for the President to refer to the position Israel took on July 14, 2010, at a meeting with the UN Human Rights Committee. This is a body created many years ago by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty to which most countries have signed on.

          As is usual at UN meetings, two records are kept of what is said publicly, one verbatim called a procès verbal or PV, and the other a paraphrase called a summary record, or SR. I do not have the PV of this particular meeting, only the SR, and that a version bearing the inscription: “This record is subject to correction.”

          That being said, the reader can draw her/his own conclusions about the following quotation, the official citation of which is CCPR/C/SR.2719 at 2, this having been the 2719th meeting of the Committee since its inception.

“3. Mr. Blass (Israel) said that, * * * 4. With regard to the construction of housing in the West Bank and the fact that Palestinians in nearly 70 per cent of ‘area C’ were affected by a ban on construction, his delegation was able neither to confirm nor to deny the accuracy of that figure. However, the West Bank comprised two parts: about 40 per cent of the territory made up areas A and B, where the Palestinian Authority was in charge and was solely responsible for town planning, and where Palestinians could build in accordance with their own legislation. The remaining 60 per cent of the territory constituted area C, which contained Israeli settlements and some Palestinian villages. The West Bank also included nature reserves and areas used by the Armed Forces for training, as well as many open spaces, which it was essential to maintain as such as they were intended for future development of the territory. Thus, the difficulties related to construction in the West Bank were not due to a lack of space, even in areas A and B; as for area C, its future was currently being decided through negotiations between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority. It should also be borne in mind that area C was a very complex region where many different interests were at stake.”

Since this describes a starting point presented by Israel itself, it would seem to be an unassailable position for the United States to urge, instead of pushing for a starting point sure to be rejected. Consider the differences between this 2010 approach and trying to turn the clock back 44 years to the 1967 lines which were based on the armistice nearly 20 years earlier.

Using the 1967 boundaries as the starting point subject to land swaps would mean that Israel, in order to acquire any of the West Bank from the Palestinians, would have to bargain away some of what was Israel proper before the 1967 war. That would not happen.

In contrast, the 2010 Israeli position would mean that the Palestinians would be guaranteed 40% of the West Bank, other than the “nature reserves,” etc. plus whatever piece of the other 60% they could successfully bargain for. Israel would receive whatever piece of the 60% they in turn could successfully bargain for.

It is strange that Israel’s 2010 position is seldom if ever mentioned by the news media. The same may be said of the seldom-mentioned but highly important issue of underground aquifers. Another UN report lists the following among shared under-ground water resources “under pressure from cross-border pumping or from cross-border pollution”:

Mountain aquifer (Israel and Palestine) (a case of actual conflict) (Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (28 September 1995). The Agreement establishes a joint commission; however, it does not solve the conflict over water, which was supposed to be discussed in the final negotiations).” Volume II, Part One, of the 2003 Yearbook of the International Law Commission, A/CN.4/SER.A/2003/ Add.1 (Part 1) at page 131.

There is so much to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians! And of course there is the looming effort in September to get a state of Palestine admitted to membership in the United Nations, a quixotic quest in view of the US veto. I can’t help wondering if an amendment to that proposal, calling for full recognition of Israel, and of its right to exist in peace with all other nations, would either pass or at least deter the statehood effort. There is plenty of room for constructive bargaining, which we must hope is constantly going on in private.

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