Latest Peace Process Reboot: “Borders First” All Over Again

In yesterday’s post I posed the question:

Does anyone really believe that anything substantive will be accomplished during a ninety day settlement (non) freeze?

According to many peace process policy wonks, the answer is as follows:

The logic behind a 90-day extension is that the two sides would aim for a swift agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state. That would make the long dispute over settlements irrelevant since it would be clear which housing blocks fell into Israel and which fell into a Palestinian state.

This approach is known by said wonks as “Borders First” – and it’s not the first time it’s been attempted by the US. It was, in fact, the method of choice more than a year ago, when the Obama administration first started engaging seriously with the peace process – and the potential pitfalls with this method were pointed out even then.

From Mideast analyst Mark Lynch (aka “Abu Aardvark”) writing in September 2009:

Indeed, “borders first” negotiations under current conditions — especially if Gaza is ignored and the Jersualem area either deferred or ratified — might well lead not to a two state solution but to what I’ve heard described as a “five statelet” outcome: Israel, Gaza, Ramallahstan, Nablusstan in the northern West Bank and Hebronstan in the southern West Bank.  Does anyone really think that this would be the foundation for an end of conflict agreement?

So if ‘borders first’ is going to be the approach to negotiations then I sure hope that early attention is paid to the questions of Gaza and Jerusalem.  If serious spoiler violence is to be avoided, then Hamas and its constituency are going to have to be engaged.  If acceptable borders are going to be drawn, they have to grapple with the realities of the Jerusalem area. And if it is meant to lead to a genuine and lasting end of conflict, then it can’t just be about borders — as Rob Malley has argued the Palestinian refugees need to be brought into the discussion.

I was full agreement with Mr. Aardvark then as now. But now it’s one year later and it seems to be deja vu all over again. While the US again pushes “Borders First,” other core issues are being completely ignored: Israel is still Judaizing East Jerusalem with abandon – and as for the crisis in Gaza, well, no one seems to consider the plight of that region issue even germane to the discussion any more.

I’ve been told Einstein didn’t actually say this, but it doesn’t make it any less true: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

11 thoughts on “Latest Peace Process Reboot: “Borders First” All Over Again

  1. Cotton Fite

    In addition to the high probability of a “five statelet” outcome, I find it embarrassing that we are sweetening the deal (front loading, the NYT article called it this morning) for Netanyahu with more military hardware and pledges for vetoes at the UN which can only be galling for Palestinians. Two weeks ago I talked with a high level Palestinian official who had just sat in a high level “technical” negotiation with the Israelis with members of the Quartet in attendance, hopefully there to hold Israeli negotiators accountable for promises they had made and not kept. A day later my Palestinian friend was still (uncharacteristically) riled at the culture which pervades these meetings, “be nice to the Israelis; don’t upset them”. He spoke directly and forcefully in the meeting, he told me, and received repeated disapproving messages from both Quartet representatives and Palestinian colleagues. This enormous inequity in power and U.S. catering to the Israelis is the injustice we continue to countenance and what continues to destroy our credibility in the Middle East and Arab world. It is in no one’s self interest.

  2. Ross

    Einstein could have said this. It’s the sort of thing a physicist would say to ironically describe the absurdity of what happens at microscopically small scales (even smaller than those associated with middle east peace negotiations), where the exact same experiments with the same initial conditions can produce different results each time they are performed.

  3. Neal Rubin

    It is like electing Republicans to national office and expecting different results than we had under the Bush presidency.

  4. Pingback: But what if the Palestinians are the victims?

  5. Richard Kahn

    Again, it’s disingenuous for Mr. Aadvark to be arguing that “borders first” is a bad idea when he doesn’t really want borders at all. When he says that “Palestinian refugees need to be brought into the discussion,” does he not realize that the idea of a right of return means that no borders will be necessary? He does. It’s not that he thinks other issues are more important than borders. It’s that borders and a two-state solution mean that his dream of no Jewish Israel can’t be realized.

  6. Shirin

    Richard Kahn, that is quite an interesting argument coming from an advocate of a state whose leaders have, starting with the founding father, David Ben Gurion, consistently refused to declare the State’s border. It is particularly interesting since some of those leaders, including the aforementioned founding father Ben Gurion, have made it explicitly clear why they have refused to declare a border.

    It is also self-serving nonsense to insist that the Right of Return means that no borders will be necessary, and is a stronger indication of your biases than it is of any reality.

    1. Richard Kahn

      If what you say about Ben Gurion is true, then I disagree with him. You have said that you’re in favor of a one state solution. By borders, Obama is not talking about the border between Palestine and Jordan. What borders between Palestine and Israel are necessary if they are one state? I really don’t understand you here.

      1. Shirin

        Why are you trying to make this about me? This is not about my position on one state versus two states, this is about the Right of Return. The Right of Return does not obviate a two-state solution no matter how adamantly or often you insist that it does.

        It is Israel that has obviated the two state solution by systematically creating “irreversible” facts on the ground. The technique of claiming land by creating “irreversible” facts on the ground goes back to the pre-state period and is well documented. Within a few weeks of the June, 1967 invasion and occupation of the OPT the plan was to claim that territory by the same technique, as the Alon Plan clearly shows. Support for the one-state solution has grown not as a result of the Right of Return movement, but as a result of Israel’s deliberately obliterating any other solution that considers Palestinian’s needs, let alone their rights.

  7. Richard Kahn

    If all Palestinians who either lived or who have parents who lived in Israel before 1948 were allowed to return to Israel, then Israel would no longer have a Jewish majority. Once that has happened, I fail to see the point of artificially dividing it into two states. Can you explain to me how you envision the Right of Return and a two-state solution coexisting? I actually don’t understand you here. Please explain.

    What does the Allon Plan “clearly” show?

    I don’t understand what you mean by “support for the one-state solution has grown.” The PLO was established in 1964, so the Palestine they were trying to “liberate” certainly had nothing to do with the Green Line. How many Palestinians were in favor of a two-state solution before 1967?

  8. Aryeh Shomron

    The so-called “Right of Return” is unjust, and has no precedent in history. As long as the Palestinians cling to what they call “Right of Return” their will not be piece between them and Israel and they will continue to suffer from the conflict.
    The “Right of Return” is unjust for the following two reasons:
    1) The MAJORITY of the Jews that live today in Israel are REFUGEES that from Arab countries, and these refugee’s children and grand-children. The Jewish refugees ran away from the Arab countries mainly because they were persecuted their after the founding of Israel in 1948. They came from, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and maybe other countries that I forget. The number of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries was greater that the number of Palestian refugees who left Palestine in 1948. Many of the Jewish refugees had been rich or very rich and left all their property when they left or fled away from the Arab countries they were born in. By the way, the Jews in Iraq lived their even before the Arabs arrived to Irak after Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, founded Islam. The notion that “the Jew in Israel mostly came from Europe” was true in 1948. But Israel’s demography has changed since and now the refugees from the Arab states are the majority among the Jews.

    All the HATERED that forced these refugees to flee their Arab homelands in the first place, makes it impossible for these Jewish refugees to benefit from their “Right of Return” to their homelands in Arab countries. The conclusion is that not every pipe dream is a “right”. I think the Palestinian Refugees do have the right to be welcome and treated humanely by their Arab brethren in the countries were they reside. On the other hand, you Palestinians should be loyal to these countries. The Palestinians overwhelming support of Saddam’s Hussain’s conquest and occupation of Kuwait is definitely not glorious!!! I think the Palestinians would rather follow the example of the Druze who are loyal and very appreciated in any
    country they reside, be it Lebanon, Syria or Israel.
    The second reason the so-called “Right of Return” is unjust is that if it were realized, it would surely distroy the State of Israel. When one’s “right” can only be realized by the destruction and death of others, this “right” stops being a right.


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