President Barack Obama's argument with the Netanyahu government over building in pre-1967 Jerusalem and his fervent drive for a Middle East peace are no more than handy hooks on which to hang the US President's real objective, which is to dictate the future borders of a Palestinian state ahead of negotiations about anything else – regardless of who happens to sit in the prime minister's seat in Jerusalem.
This plan has been blocked out informally and tested in soundings to the two sides as "America's stance on the borders of the State of Israel and the future Palestinian state."
(See attached DEBKA map)
Those soundings were made in Obama's stormy conversation with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House on March 23, during US Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel in the second week of March, and by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell in all his meetings with Israelis in Washington and Jerusalem throughout March and in early April.
The same outline was introduced to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
All these US officials made it clear that for the Obama administration, the territorial shape of the future Palestinian state was paramount. It was the key to the calculation that success in getting the Israelis and Palestinians to agree on a basic outline of borders would be a short cut to resolving the other core issues, like the Palestinian refugees, the final status of Jerusalem, peace, security and other intractable questions.
So far, this draft blueprint has already run into a towering obstruction: Neither Israel nor the Palestinians has ever referred to it publicly, behave as though they have never heard of it and are no hurry to nod their acceptance to all or part of it.
Early last week, Obama showed his plan to French president Nicolas Sarkozy, then visiting Washington, and met with his approval. He has also shared its main ideas with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Spanish prime minister Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and awaits their comments.
Palestinian state to leave Israel 4% of West Bank
Obama and the authors of his draft plan are confident they can sledgehammer Israel into submission by threatening a knock-down showdown with Washington and painful collateral punishment. (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 438 of March 26: The Obama-Netanyahu Standoff: Outcome of their War of Attrition – A Prognosis.)
Once Israel is in the bag, they figure the Palestinians will climb aboard, unable to resist the most generous, far-reaching proposal they are every likely to get from any US administration, underwritten furthermore by a personal presidential guarantee that will be in force for as long as Obama sits in the White House.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington and Jerusalem gained access to the as-yet unpublished draft which sets out how the Obama administration views the first, critical stage of diplomacy between the Palestinians and Israel. We are therefore the first publication to reveal the five key principles underlying it:
1. The final borders of the states of Israel and Palestine will be based on Israel's withdrawal to the borders and positions held by its military forces in June 5, 1967 prior to the outbreak of the Six-Day War.
However, in respect for the Israeli and Palestinian demographic changes occurring in the territory in the intervening years, Israel will be awarded 4 percent of the West Bank area captured by the IDF in that Six-Day War, leaving 96 percent for the Palestinians to establish their state.
How that 4 percent translates into settlements and land will be determined in tripartite negotiations among the United States, Israel and the Palestinians over a period not exceeding four months.
These percentage figures were drawn from the talks Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert conducted with Mahmoud Abbas in the years 2006-2008. Israel then made a "final offer" to hand over most of the West Bank for the Palestinians to establish their state, barring 5.9 percent which would remain in Israeli hands for Jewish settlements.
Israel would keep all parts of Jerusalem, including the Jewish suburbs built in the eastern sector as part of its 5.9 percent.
Jerusalem – only after the borders are settled
Olmert never put this proposal in writing. He only showed the Palestinian leader the maps illustrating the respective Israeli and Palestinian areas and their proposed boundaries.
Abbas rejected Olmert's proposal out of hand. However, for the first time in any negotiations, a Palestinian official was willing to define the borders of a future state and accept the principle that a portion of the West Bank, however infinitesimal, and Jewish settlements would remain under Israeli control.
Abbas came back with a counter-proposal of 2 percent of the West Bank for Israel and Palestinian maps showing which settlements he wanted evacuated and which could stay under Israeli control.
2. The administration intends proposing in principle that in Jerusalem, Jewish neighborhoods will remain under Israeli control and the Arab neighborhoods and villages pass to the Palestinian state, as the keys to the city's future boundaries.
Israel and the Palestinians will share sovereignty over Temple Mount, supervised by an international committee on which US and Vatican representatives will serve among others.
The final disposition of Jerusalem and all other matters at issue will be set aside for later while the Obama administration concentrates on borders.
3. Washington would prefer a four-month time frame for the process it calls "'starting to set the borders between the two states."
If the Israelis and Palestinians endorse the Obama plan, then May, June, July and August 2010 would be set aside for hammering out the technicalities and details, following which they should be ready in September, or October at the latest, to sign an accord delineating the final borders between the two states.
4. Some of DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington describe the draft Obama blueprint as a kind of Solomon's Judgment, i.e. impossible to execute without dire consequences.
The proposal of 3.9 percent of the West Bank assigned to Israel aims at filling the gap left between the Israeli and Palestinian positions at the end of the interrupted Olmert Abbas- talks. This math led to the 4 percent figure for Israel (1.9 percent less than Olmert's claim) and 96 percent for the Palestinians (2 percent less than Abbas demanded).
This 4 percent would encompass the areas of East Jerusalem remaining under Israel's control and small parcels of lands that might be sticking points – like the Latrun enclave, captured by Israel from the Jordanian army in the 1967 war (see attached map), which now commands Israel's most traveled road link, Highway No. 1, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
These minor land swaps for ironing out border anomalies would be subject to negotiation under the Obama proposal after the broad outlines are agreed.
Evacuate two Israeli towns, 133,000 settlers!
5. Within the four-month time frame for negotiating borders, the administration may offer to be flexible about a half-percent of the territory – either way, provided Israel is tied down to an ironclad commitment to abandon two large Israeli towns on the West Bank and evacuate 133,000 Jewish settlers.
First: Preparations must begin right away to begin evacuating the 133,000 Israelis from their West Bank homes (roughly half the total number of settlers) and relocating them in pre-1967 Israel.
(Details of places in a separate article in this issue.)
Second: Israel must abandon the northern Western Bank town of Ariel in keeping with the Palestinian leader's insistence to Vice President Biden and Special Envoy Mitchell that he will never accept any solution if Israel keeps Ariel and its 17,000 Jewish inhabitants are not evicted.
This town is situated 560-710 meters above sea level in the heart of Samaria, east of the Israeli town of Rosh Ha'ayin, south of the Palestinian town of Nablus and north of the Palestinian government hub of Ramallah.
(The political and military significance of its concession is discussed in the next article).
Third: The administration plans to inform the Israeli prime minister that he has a choice of the second West Bank town to be abandoned – Maaleh Adummim, 20 km southeast of Jerusalem and midway to Jericho, with a population of 36,000, or Efrat, home to 9,000 inhabitants, on the main road leading south out of Jerusalem to Hebron.
Whatever choice is made, the Israeli government will be made to stick to the quota of 133,000 West Bank settlers for transferring out of the territory.
If this plan gets off the ground, the next item on the US president's Middle East peace agenda would be getting Israel to pull back from the Golan Heights – in deference to Syrian president Bashar Assad's precondition for talks.