2008: Israel offers to pull out of 93% of West Bank, plus 7% more land: Palestinians say no

Published: 3 December 2008
Briefing Number 225

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Summary: This Briefing describes the Israeli offer, reported in August 2008, to withdraw from 93% of the West Bank , and also provide 7% further land to the Palestinians. The Palestinians immediately rejected the proposal. Israel is condemned internationally for maintaining its occupation of the West Bank . In fact, Palestinian decisions are perpetuating that presence. And it's the Palestinian mindset which is impeding progress towards a two-state solution.

The Annapolis process and face-to-face negotiations about a Palestinian state

For much of 2008, Israel engaged in regular meetings and negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, with a view to agreeing a West Bank Palestinian state and a comprehensive, bilateral peace agreement during 2008.

This process was commenced following the US-hosted Annapolis summit of November 2007 (see Beyond Images Briefing 207, of 4 December 2007 – the joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration).

But by November 2008 the parties acknowledged that no agreement would be reached. Many commentators had predicted this outcome (see Beyond Images Briefing 208 – Annapolis : debates among the experts).

Israel 's core proposal for territorial withdrawal

The most significant proposals tabled by Israel in the 2008 talks concerned the boundaries of a future West Bank Palestinian state. They involved a far-reaching territorial withdrawal by Israel , combined with a ‘land-swap' with the Palestinians to provide further territory. The proposals were made public in August 2008. Here are details of the Israeli offer, as reported by Reuters on 12 August 2008 (these reports were confirmed by the Jerusalem Post, 12 August, and Haaretz, 12 August):-

Israeli proposals on permanent borders for a Palestinian state:-

•  Israel withdraws from 93% of the West Bank

•  Israel provides an additional area of land for the Palestinian state, equivalent to 5.5% of the West Bank, adjacent to the Gaza Strip, and currently situated inside the borders of Israel

•  A corridor is established between Gaza Strip and the West Bank, representing the equivalent area to 1.5% of the West Bank, to ensure direct passage for Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza

•  Israel retains the major Israeli settlement blocs of Maaleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, and the Jewish residential suburbs of Jerusalem such as Neve Ya'acov, together with a small area in the Northern part of the West Bank – these areas comprise a total of 7% of the West Bank (this is being called ‘1967 plus' by commentators)

•  Israel evacuates all Jewish settlements outside the 7% area of the major settlement blocs retained by Israel

According to the reports, Israel stated it would not implement the two-state agreement until the Palestinian Authority had re-established its control of Gaza from Hamas.

[It is not clear from reports what Israel proposed concerning the settlements of Kiryat Arba in Hebron , and Ariel – Beyond Images]

Other core issues

The Israeli offer also restated that Israel and the Palestinians would agree that Palestinians outside the West Bank can return to the future Palestinian state. Meanwhile, negotiations over Jerusalem should be deferred.

The Palestinian rejection – Israel 's proposal is “a waste of time”

Once the story of the Israeli proposals broke, many Israelis protested strongly, saying that the future West Bank state would be quickly taken over by Hamas, and become a serious threat to Israel, and a platform for future rocket and missile attacks, similar to Gaza but on a larger scale. Others simply suggested Prime Minister Olmert was trying to create a “legacy” amid his diffulties.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians swiftly confirmed in public statements that they rejected the Israeli proposal outright.

“The Israeli proposal is a waste of time”

said Mahmoud Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Radaineh (in a statement to the WAFA News Agency, reported by Reuters on 12 August 2008 ). Radaineh continued:-

“The Palestinian side will only accept a Palestinian state with territorial continuity, with holy Jerusalem as its capital, without Israeli settlements, and on the June 4 1967 boundaries….. the Israeli proposal shows a lack of seriousness…”

And thus, another Israeli proposal for territorial withdrawal was abruptly rejected.

Our comments:-

Preventing Israel from ending the ‘occupation': Israel is once again trying to wind down its West Bank presence; and the Palestinians, with their absolute demands, act to perpetuate that presence (while complaining to a sympathetic world about Israel 's brutal occupation)

Rejection after rejection: The Palestinians repeatedly reject most of what they claim to seek, and demand absolutely everything they claim is theirs'. This pattern goes back to before the UN partition plan of 1947. This mindset perpetuates the conflict. “Palestinian history is one of self-inflicted blows, whose severity and harm we have not yet comprehended…” (Saudi columnist Mashal Al-Sudairi, in Al-Sharq al-Aswat, 15 September 2008 ).

Complete withdrawal to the 1967 ceasefire lines? The Palestinian demand for a complete Israel return to the 1967 ceasefire lines is inconsistent with international law and UN Security Council Resolution 242, which does not mandate complete Israeli withdrawal but permits a solution whereby Israel retains territory and maintains defensible borders, in the context of peace.

100% of territory? – not enough: Israel deliberately included a further 7% of territory with the 93% offer to enable the Palestinian leadership to tell the Palestinians that they had secured ‘100% of territory' – but this was not enough.

Removal of all Israeli settlements? The Palestinian demand for the complete removal of Jewish settlements ignores Israel's historic and legal rights to reside in the territories, and the connections of the Jewish people there; ignores the fact that Israel entered the territories in 1967 as a result of a war of self-defence forced upon them; and ignores the fact that the territories are disputed territory, not the sovereign territory of the Palestinians or of any other entity. It ignores simple practical facts, and instead maintains an absolute rejection.

Territorial contiguity: The claim that the future Palestinian state would not be ‘continuous' is routinely made by the Palestinians, and by Israel 's critics. Yet the proposals described above would leave almost all of the West Bank in Palestinian control, with no self-enclosed Israeli areas. Repeatedly Palestinian spokesmen have alleged in Western media that Israeli offers did not provide ‘continuity', but in Arab language press have admitted that they did. Following the breakdown of the Taba talks, Ahmed Qurei, Palestinian Prime Minister, was quoted in Arab newspaper Al-Ayam as saying on 29 January 2001 (under his name Abu Ala) that the Palestinians were offered “97% and territorial contiguity” by Israel at Taba. (See Beyond Images Briefing 20 – What really happened at Camp David and Taba).

What does viability entail? The Palestinians continue to act as if viability of a future Palestinian state was solely a question of receiving every centimetre of the West Bank – whereas in fact viability is established through the strength of its society, its economy, its democratic institutions and rule of law, and its links with its neighbours and the wider world.

What's more serious, Israel 's offer, or a ‘one-state' solution? The Palestinian spokesman charged that Israel lacked “seriousness”. But many Palestinians are now claiming that it is “too late to create a two-state solution” and are proposing a so-called one-state solution instead, involving the dissolution of the state of Israel as a Jewish state, and the creation of a joint Jewish-Palestinian state. This is a proposal which truly “lacks seriousness”. If it becomes too late to build a two-state solution, this will be because of the pattern of Palestinian rejection of previous Israeli proposals.

Topics on which the Palestinians stay silent: Yet again, the Palestinians fault Israel for not going far enough. But they stay silent about the attitudes they themselves hold which block a solution: their adamant refusal to recognise Israel as a “Jewish state” (see Beyond Images Briefing 226); the anti-Israel and often anti-semitic incitement which is embedded in Palestinian culture and education; their refusal publicly to relinquish the ‘right of return' into Israel; and their refusal to respect the Jewish people's connection with Jerusalem.

Our conclusion and key message: If the Palestinians' goals concerned territory alone, then Israel 's proposals could form the basis for intensive negotiations to resolve the conflict. But the firmness of the Palestinian rejection shows yet again that the dispute is not first and foremost territorial. There will never be coexistence and two-states living side-by-side if the Palestinians reject most of what they want, and continued to hold out for more. Just as the Israelis have given up on the ‘Greater Israel' vision, so the Palestinians have to relinquish some of their visions, too.

The message needs to be: “ Israel does not wish to control the Palestinians, but to build a Palestinian state living side-by-side. Don't reject what Israel offers, but build peace instead….”

Some related Beyond Images resources

Briefing 17 – “If only Israel would end the occupation….”

Briefing 45 – Palestinian statehood: fifty years of rejected opportunities

Briefing 160 – The Palestinians are victims of Israel