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USA Today op-ed: “Israel’s new plan: A land grab”

by Jimmy Carter

New Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that Israel will take unilateral steps to establish its own geographical boundaries during the next four years of his administration. His plan, as described during the recent Israeli election and the formation of a new governing coalition, would take about half of the Palestinian West Bank and encapsulate the urban areas within a huge concrete wall and the more rural parts of Palestine within a high fence. The barrier is not located on the internationally recognized boundary between Israel and Palestine, but entirely within and deeply penetrating the occupied territories.

The only division of territory between Israel and the Palestinians that is recognized by the United States or the international community awarded 77% of the land to the nation of Israel and the other small portion divided between the West Bank and Gaza. Only about twice the size of Washington, D.C., Gaza is now a politically and economically non-viable region, almost completely isolated from the West Bank, Israel and the outside world.

West Bank dissected

The Olmert plan would leave the remnant of the Palestinian West Bank with the same unacceptable characteristics. Deep intrusions would effectively divide it into three portions. The prime minister has also announced that Israeli soldiers will likely remain in the Palestinian territory, which will be completely encapsulated by Israel’s control of its eastern border in the Jordan River valley.

It is inconceivable that any Palestinian, Arab leader, or any objective member of the international community could accept this illegal action as a permanent solution to the continuing altercation in the Middle East. This confiscation of land is to be carried out without resorting to peace talks with the Palestinians, and in direct contravention of the “road map for peace,” which President Bush helped to initiate and has strongly supported.

Although former prime minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli government rejected the key provisions of the road map by the Quartet of negotiators — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — it has been endorsed unequivocally by the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel’s government had adopted carefully negotiated agreements at Camp David in 1978 and in Oslo in 1993. Israeli leaders Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres received Nobel Peace Prizes for these major steps toward peace, along with their Arab counterparts. The basic terms of both of these historic accords would also be violated by Olmert’s plan, as would all of the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions on which the agreements were predicated and the nation of Israel was founded.

What is the alternative to this ill-advised move toward the unilateral confiscation and colonization of a major portion of the West Bank?

A better course

Good-faith negotiations should be initiated under the auspices of the international Quartet with President Abbas. During recent days, Abbas has been making the rounds of international capitals calling for the opportunity to find a path to permanent peace in the Holy Land. Although the recently elected Hamas legislators will neither recognize nor negotiate with Israel while Palestinian land is being occupied, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has expressed approval for direct Olmert-Abbas peace talks. He said, “The problem is not the Palestinian side or its consent to negotiations. … If the (Palestinian) Authority chairman, as the elected president, wants to get the negotiations moving, we have no objection to that. If what Abu Mazen (Abbas) presents to the people as a result of negotiations serves its interest, then we too will redefine our position.”

Presumably, these talks would be monitored and orchestrated by the United States, and any successfully negotiated terms of the road map would subsequently be approved by both Israelis and Palestinians. Such approval of a final peace agreement was an important facet of the Camp David Accords.

It would be a mistake to underestimate the difficulty of finding a mutually acceptable agreement, but many Israelis, Palestinians and international representatives are familiar with what must be its ultimate basic terms. They include reasonable border compromises based on the swapping of land, which could leave a substantial number of Israeli settlers undisturbed on Palestinian land.

A mutual Israeli-Palestinian agreement would undoubtedly result in full recognition of Israel by all Arab nations, with normal diplomatic and economic relations, and permanent peace and justice for the Palestinians.

It would also remove one of the major causes of international terrorism and greatly ease tensions that could precipitate a regional or even global conflict.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter is founder of the non-profit Carter Center, advancing peace and health worldwide.