Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of April 28, 2000
BORDERS IN SHIFTING SANDS
By Dore Gold
For more than 30 years, Israeli diplomacy has sought to avoid withdrawal to the vulnerable 1967 armistice lines in the West Bank, and struggled to obtain recognition for the right to defensible borders instead.
The late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin described his version of defensible borders before the Knesset on October 5, 1995, when he brought the Oslo II Interim Agreement for approval. It was not surprising that Rabin`s description closely followed the contours of his mentor from the Palmah, Yigal Allon, who prepared a map, right after the 1967 Six Day War, of what Israel needed to be secure.
The heart of the Allon Plan was Israeli control of a strategic desert zone rising from the Jordan Valley up the steep eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge. According to Allon, this area encompassed about 1,813 square km., or 33 percent of the 5,439 sq. km. that make up the West Bank. Additionally, Allon wrote in July 1967 that Israel needed to include the road connecting Jerusalem to the Dead Sea as well as a widened Jerusalem corridor west of Ramallah. Rabin himself stressed the importance of Greater Jerusalem. These additions could easily bring the Allon Plan to about 40 percent of the West Bank.
The original Allon Plan was conceived when Middle Eastern armies were relatively small (Iraq had 7 divisions and not today's 30 divisions) and were mostly slow infantry formations, rather than the current, rapid-moving armored and mechanized divisions. Indeed, after Iraq recovers from UN sanctions, Iraqi expeditionary forces, which attacked Israel in 1948, 1967, and 1973, could forcibly cross Jordan in less time than it takes Israel to complete its reserve mobilization. In fact, the Israeli army's definition of its vital strategic interests in the West Bank is now even broader than what was proposed by Allon three decades ago.
Given the legacy left by Allon and Rabin, recent statements concerning massive Israeli territorial concessions, attributed to Prime Minister Barak`s ministers, are disturbing. Instead of Israel retaining more than 40 percent of the West Bank for secure borders, according to repeated leaks, Israel may only be seeking 10 or 20 percent.
Israeli claims to the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem's suburbs are changing. What happened? Did Israel make peace with Iraq and Syria? The Jordan Valley is today more important than ever since it serves as a buffer preventing the Palestinianization of Jordan by a dissatisfied PLO and the creation of a politically contiguous line from the suburbs of Tel Aviv to the Iraqi border.
As Israel slides down the slippery slope of new concessions, the PLO seems to be digging in its heels. After Syrian President Hafez Assad walked away from President Clinton in Geneva because Syria could not obtain what it defined as the June 4, 1967, line, how can Arafat now agree to compromise on the Palestinian demand for the June 4 line? Arafat cannot ignore the fact that Assad`s firmness earned Syria broad admiration in much of the Arab world.
In truth, Arafat was reluctant to compromise in the past: in the fall of 1995, when shown the Beilin-Abu Mazen paper on final status that entailed Israel conceding 95 percent of the West Bank (yet no recognized Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem), Arafat refused to agree with the
proposal. He was only willing to call it a "basis for further negotiation." Abu Mazen subsequently disowned the plan that bore his name.
WHAT does Israel have to lose if it keeps making concessions and Arafat doesn't budge? There is a big difference between the Syrian and Palestinian diplomatic tracks: Assad may prefer the status quo, but Arafat plans to change the status quo this coming fall when he declares a Palestinian state. Israel will be entering a major diplomatic struggle over its future borders with the Palestinians.
Arafat has considerable advantages. Already, a majority of members of the UN General Assembly vote yearly for resolutions that call the West Bank and East Jerusalem "occupied Palestinian territory." In 1999 the German presidency of the EU resurrected UN General Assembly Resolution 181 from 1947, with its internationalization of all of Jerusalem. In March 1998, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook stated in London: "International law requires Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, southern Lebanon, and the Golan Heights." Cook was inserting the definite article that was left out of UN Security Council Resolution 242.
Israel's main counterclaim is its right to defensible borders, backed by past US secretaries of state. But if Israel begins to shave down its concept of defensible borders in a fruitless attempt to win Palestinian approval, then how can it turn to its friends abroad and seek their support against Palestinian unilateralism?
Successful diplomacy requires flexibility and creativity, but most importantly it requires a consistent message. Prime Minister Barak would be best served by disassociating from the trial balloons of his ministers and by returning to the legacy left to him by Rabin and Allon.
Dore Gold served as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Insititute.