There is one thing that the Camp David negotiations of July 2000 made crystal clear - and that is that boundaries are not holy. They are subject to change depending on the circumstances. The Green Line boundary separating Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip was drawn up as part of the armistice agreements in 1948-49. The course of the line was largely determined by the realities of the cease-fire, underwent some minor changes when it was implemented on the ground, caused major upheaval and economic disarray for the Palestinian population residing in close proximity to that line - in short, it was an artificial, man-made, line that lasted for no more than 18 years until 1967.

Boundaries As Artificial Constructs

All boundaries are artificial constructs. There is no such thing as a natural boundary. They are devised by politicians, generals, negotiators. Where they can exploit natural features (such as rivers, mountain ridges) it makes life easier to determine the course of the line. But where these features are absent or where they don't meet the approval of one of the sides, then other criteria are used. And the Green Line is a classic case of a boundary that was drawn up hastily, with little concern for the local (Palestinian) population and which mirrored the political realities of that particular period.
And yet the Green Line has become, in the eyes of many, the default line for all negotiations. As though the line had come into being thousands of years ago and was an immovable, unchangeable, feature of the landscape.
Semantics play a major role in the territorial discourse. For the Palestinians, laying claim to the "whole" of the West Bank for a Palestinian state, everything that is enclosed within the Green Line, is itself a recognition on their part that they have given up all claims to the remaining two-thirds of Palestine which stays part of Israel. As such, the Green Line is no more than a minimalist demand on their part. For most Israelis, however, the idea of giving up the "whole" of the West Bank has seemed, at least until recently, an unacceptable claim, a maximalist demand. Let them (the Palestinians) make concessions - why give it all up? After all, the argument continues, we cannot evacuate close to 200,000 settlers, we need our strategic sites, we must control the water aquifer, and so on and so on. Once all of these claims have been taken into consideration, there is not very much left of the West Bank to hand over to anyone.
Until the negotiations got underway, the public discourse concerning the question of just what will be the final territorial configuration of a Palestinian state was largely an abstract one. The idea that the Green Line should or should not be the eventual boundary, the notion that some settlements would remain in situ and that the Palestinians would be compensated with land elsewhere, or that Jerusalem could experience shared administration, even perhaps shared sovereignty - all of these ideas were raised. However, this was more often than not restricted to academic circles and was generally dismissed out of hand as being unacceptable (for political reasons) or unworkable (for administrative reasons).
It was the public polemics that still set the tone. The Palestinian public position was a Palestinian state on all of the West Bank, the removal of all Israeli settlements, and a capital in East Jerusalem. The Israeli public stance was a Palestinian entity (not state) on part (not all) of the West Bank, the evacuation of only isolated small settlements with the rest remaining under Israeli sovereignty in concentrated settlement blocs, and Jerusalem remaining under Israeli sovereignty. Taken together, a seemingly impossible problem to resolve.
But while the public polemics of the respective Palestinian and Israeli leaders set the tone for the public discourse, the realities of the negotiations have proved to be significantly different. These realities have shown that everything (or nearly everything) is negotiable. Boundaries can be changed, some settlements can remain in situ (regardless of the morality of setting them up in the first place), the administration of Jerusalem can be shared, and territorial compensation can be given to the Palestinians in return for the land annexed by Israel. The negotiation realities have also shown that Israel is able to relinquish control over areas, such as the Jordan Valley, which it has always argued are vital for its security, and that it is able to even consider a limited refugee return within Israel proper, ideas that would have been dismissed out of hand just a few years ago, and labeled as the ivory tower abstractions of academics divorced from the reality of daily life in the conflict area.
What was the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement of October 1995 if not a mutual recognition of the territorial changes which would have to take place if a final agreement were to be reached? Abu Mazen recognized that no Israeli government, even one administered by people such as Shimon Peres or Yossi Beilin, would be able to implement the evacuation of close to 200,000 settlers without causing major civil strife and violence within Israel. For his part, Beilin recognized that the territorial extent and size of the West Bank, not the precise shape or configuration, was what really mattered and that, if indeed Israel were to retain control of settlements occupying 10-15 percent of the area, then adequate territorial compensation would have to be given to the Palestinian state.
These ideas had first been raised as early as the late 1980s in academic circles, and had been dismissed out of hand. When the details of the Beilin- Abu Mazen agreement were slowly leaked, they were equally dismissed by public opinion and by the right-wing government that came to power in 1996. But at Camp David last July [2000], rather than being yesterday's public polemics, they were concrete ideas put on the table in an attempt to address today's territorial realities. And despite the fact that the talks broke down over the inability to reach agreement over the issue of Jerusalem (or so we are led to believe), many of the other territorial realities of today were seriously and sometimes successfully addressed.

Partition - Past and Present

In reality, the negotiations today are on the same issue as during the 1930s and 1940s, namely the territorial partition of Palestine west of the River Jordan. The Peel and Woodhead commissions proposed solutions that addressed, or so they believed, the geographic realities of that period. Prior to the United Nations vote in 1947, UNSCOP proposed its own partition plan based on the geographic realities of that specific period, realities which had changed considerably since the Royal Commissions of the mid-1930s. And Israel's war of independence - the Palestinian Nakba - created a partition reality again expressing the latest developments on the ground.
That could have been the final line, as the Palestinian side now demands. But it remained an armistice line, rather than an internationally recognized line of sovereignty, because neither side was prepared to negotiate a formal end to the conflict at that time. Abba Eban recounts in one of his autobiographies that as Israeli ambassador to the United States and the United Nations in the early 1950s, he approached David Ben-Gurion with the idea of holding peace negotiations with the Arab countries and transforming the de facto line of partition, the Green Line, into an internationally agreed-upon boundary. It wasn't just the refusal of the other side to recognize the State of Israel at that time that torpedoed the idea. According to Eban, Ben-Gurion was not in favor. He recognized that as long as the boundaries were not formally recognized, they would remain elastic and flexible. They would lend themselves to future changes which, however difficult for the international community to accept, would be less problematic than infringing on the territorial integrity of boundaries which were formally recognized and demarcated in international agreements.
Had there been such an agreement, it would have been even more difficult for Israel to enter the West Bank in 1967, and it certainly would have been more difficult for it to suggest any future territorial arrangement other than that which was in position on the eve of the Six-Day War. But the fact is that the line remained an armistice line and, given the changed geographic facts on the ground which have emerged during the past 33 years, there is an opportunity to draw a line that will take today's realities into account and that will come up with an optimal solution. By optimal is meant a line which will maximize the claims of both sides, so that neither feels that it has given up on more of its own claims than the other side. That is the best that can be achieved in this, hopefully, final round of the 50-year-old partition debate, but whatever the territorial outcome, it cannot be worse than the artificial line which was superimposed upon the landscape in 1949.

The Issues

Just where and how can the line be changed?
a. Israeli settlements
Since the onset of the Oslo process, there have been numerous Israeli proposals, from academics and politicians alike, to demarcate a new boundary, which will take the existence of Israeli settlements into account. All such proposals have had two common elements. First, how to retain control over a maximum number of settlements on a minimum amount of territory. The rationale behind such thinking is that the evacuation of Israeli settlements will bring about a great deal of civil disorder and intra-Israeli violence, perhaps even fatalities. Thus the number of Israeli settlements to be evacuated should be kept to a minimum. On the other hand, the Palestinians will not accept anything less than the whole of the West Bank and, as such, the amount of territory to be annexed should also be kept to a minimum.
The resulting proposals have tended to focus on those areas nearest to the Green Line which are territorially contiguous with the State of Israel and where the majority (two-thirds) of the Israeli settlers are to be found. These areas, in diverse configurations, are seen as being annexed by Israel, while the other, more isolated settlements in the interior and along the mountain ridge will have to be evacuated. The only problem with this rationale is that the interior settlements are populated by the very hard core of religious nationalist and Gush Emunim settlers and are, therefore, the least likely candidates for any form of peaceful evacuation. Moreover, the real test of evacuation for Israel will come with the first settlement, however small and wherever it is located. It is possible that this will serve as a rallying call for all the right-wing opponents of the peace process and will be the scene of violent clashes between settlers and soldiers. It is equally likely that the public reaction to such scenes, including amongst many of the settlers themselves, will be such that they will acquiesce for the sake of national unity and to prevent further fratricide.

b. Territorial compensation
The second common element underlying the settlement-border scenarios has always been that, whatever land is annexed by Israel, the area of the Palestinian state will, by definition, be smaller than that of the whole West Bank and Gaza Strip. The notion that the Palestinian state should receive territorial compensation in other areas has generally been considered to be unacceptable. "What is mine is mine - what is yours is half yours and half mine." However, this basic perception has began to change, not least because of a Palestinian recognition that no Israeli government will be able to forcefully evacuate all of the settlements. There are three areas in close proximity to the West Bank that could be candidates for the transfer of territory, each with a logic of its own. The first of these is to the immediate north of the region in the Wadi Ara and Um el-Fahm area. The problem here is that Israel would lose control of the route linking Hadera and the Coastal Plain to Afula, an unacceptable scenario to any Israeli government. Moreover, public-opinion surveys amongst the Palestinian citizens of Israel show, time after time, that while they support the cause of Palestinian statehood, they are less than eager to become citizens of such a state through a process of forced annexation.
An alternative area would be to the immediate south of the West Bank in the area between Hebron and Arad, within which resides a large proportion of Israel's Bedouin population. The problem here is the existence of some large Israeli suburban communities within Israel and, again, the reticence - even rejection - of the Bedouin population to be part of the Palestinian state. The third alternative is to compensate the Palestinian state with an equal amount of land in close proximity to the Gaza Strip, thus enabling the expansion of the land base of this densely populated micro-region and avoiding most of the settlement problems to be encountered around the course of the Green Line, which would necessitate population transfer from Israel to the Palestinian state. The Gaza alternative would appear to be the most logical, from both a political and economic-development standpoint.

c. Land for development and refugee repatriation
A Palestinian state requires land for future development. This is necessary, not only for the existing population, but also for the expected return of a limited number of Palestinian refugees. Either existing urban centers will undergo physical expansion, and/or completely new villages and townships will be constructed in areas that are relatively less densely populated. The latter could take place in any one of three sub-regions - the Jordan Valley, the southern Hebron hills, or the territorial extension of the Gaza Strip if, indeed, territorial compensation to the Palestinian state is undertaken.
While there is much available land in the Jordan Valley, the harsh climatic conditions of this region would not make it a first choice for residential development. Even after more than 30 years and despite all the emphasis on the Allon settlement plan in this region, successive Israeli governments have been unsuccessful in attracting settlers to this region. The southern, relatively unpopulated, portion of the Hebron hills is much more favorable from this respect, although here, too, the mountainous terrain makes the cost of construction much higher than it would be in a valley or a plateau. Finally, if the Gaza Strip were to be expanded, virtually all of the land would be needed just in order to alleviate the overcrowded housing conditions of the residents of Gaza alone and would not, therefore, be a likely area for refugee repatriation.

d. Territorial dimensions of the security discourse
According to all media reports, the Israeli negotiators at Camp David offered over 90 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinian state. This included the whole of the Jordan Valley, the region which successive Israeli governments have argued would have to be retained by Israel in order to ensure security over the eastern border with Jordan. This region formed the very basis of the Labor Party Allon Plan in the immediate post-1967 period, the idea being that the region should be settled and fortified as a means of bolstering Israel's defensive posture, while the remainder of the West Bank, including the densely populated mountain interior, would become an autonomous Palestinian region under direct Jordanian control and administration. During the ensuing period, the importance of retaining relatively small areas of territory as a means of bolstering a country's defensive posture have undergone radical rethinking, not least in the light of changed warfare technology and the fact that ballistic missiles, fired from distances of thousands of kilometers, take little notice of the precise location of the boundary as they target the very heart of the metropolitan areas.
What is more important is the nature of the peace agreement and the measures adopted to ensure joint control - perhaps with an outside neutral power - of the quantity and quality of weapons that are introduced (if at all) to the region. Thus, it has been possible for Israel to suggest a total withdrawal from both the Golan Heights, a region which was always perceived as being of supreme strategic and defensive importance, as well as the entire Jordan Valley. In similar fashion, the recent Israeli withdrawal from the so-called security zone in Southern Lebanon to the international boundary has, so far, not resulted in any marked deterioration of the country's security posture in this region.

e. Jerusalem
While the Camp David summit may have collapsed over the inability to find a mutually agreeable solution to the complex issue of Jerusalem, the very fact that Israel was prepared to negotiate the future status of the city marked another important departure from the traditional public polemics and discourse. As with the case of settlements, there is no shortage of proposals of how to deal with Jerusalem, ranging from shared sovereignty to single (Israeli) sovereignty, but separate municipal administration in Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods respectively.
The question of "what is Jerusalem" is unclear from a geographic perspective. The existing municipal boundaries were drawn up in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War and included many parts of the city that had previously been part of the West Bank. The construction of new neighborhoods in the eastern section of the city, as well as the establishment of Jewish satellite communities in the suburban periphery of the city (such as Ma'aleh Adumim to the east, Givat Ze'ev to the northwest) have, as in the case of settlements in general, changed the geographic realities on the ground. Two contrasting trends can be defined. On the one hand, the Barak government has been prepared to hand over Palestinian neighborhoods that are not part of the existing municipal boundaries to the Palestinian Authority, arguing that this is not part of Jerusalem, regardless of the fact that the built-up area is as much part of the city as all other neighborhoods. At the same time, the government and the Jerusalem municipality desire to extend the municipal boundaries to include such communities as Ma'aleh Adumim and, thus, to expand the jurisdictional base of the "formal" city.
In other words, with the exception of the Old City and the holy sites that both sides agree is Jerusalem, the precise definition of just what is, and what is not, Jerusalem is open to different geographic interpretations and can be defined as such, for separate Israeli and Palestinian purposes. What is Abu Dis for Israelis can be Jerusalem for Palestinians, enabling both sides to have their administrative headquarters in an area that they themselves perceive as being part of the city. It all depends on who draws the municipal boundaries and how they are drawn, so as to afford maximal administrative separation between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods - in fact, everything that is not part of the Old City.

A Practical Way of Resolving the Outstanding Territorial Issues

The remaining territorial issues to be decided are relatively minor (with the exception perhaps of Jerusalem), given the fact that the principles underlying the redrawing of the boundary and possible territorial exchanges have been determined between the negotiators. However, as negotiations continue to take place and to progress towards the finishing line, the final lap becomes slower rather than a sudden last-gasp sprint. It is important to be able to define exactly what micro-territorial problems remain to be resolved, so that time is not wasted on negotiating areas around which there is basic agreement.
Modern mapping and cartographic technology enables the use of sophisticated techniques that can help resolve boundary demarcation issues, even at the most micro of levels. Known as Geography Information Systems (GIS), these techniques enable the negotiator to work with a database, including maps, which highlight the precise areas of conflict over which there remain disagreement between the two sides. These techniques can be used in one of two ways. Precise satellite digital data enables maps to be produced, each showing a separate theme (such as routes, land use, agriculture, settlements, topography and heights, water resources and so on). These maps can be laid on top of each other, or any combination of these maps can be used as desired, to show who would lose and who would gain which resources, given any pre-determined boundary line (of which the Green Line is but one alternative) which would be superimposed upon the maps. The protagonists could then weigh their own relative costs and benefits (assuming also that Israelis and Palestinians assign varying degrees of importance to different factors) and determine which boundary line(s) constitute(s) the optimal geographic solution, losing least and gaining most.
Alternatively, computer programs can be written for each of the factors in question as a means of finding the optimal line of separation for each individual factor. Again, each map can be laid on top of each other into a sum total of separation, so that the true areas of conflict are highlighted, while those areas over which there is agreement - because they afford maximal separation between Israelis and Palestinians and their respective concerns - no longer need to be negotiated, while attention and energy can be devoted to resolving those micro areas (approximately 10 percent of the course of the eventual boundary) about which there is no agreement.
Such a database would prevent the negotiators and politicians from turning around at a later date, as they did following the demarcation and implementation of the Green Line in 1949, and arguing that the boundary was determined in such a way because of the lack of available information and data. This probably also explains why most of the politicians involved - both Israelis and Palestinians - have not been receptive to the use of such techniques, which are being used by many governments throughout the world to resolve territorial and boundary issues. They realize that, in the final analysis, the availability of data will enable them to have better knowledge of the real costs and benefits, but that the final decisions are political in nature, based on quid pro quo considerations rather than an intimate knowledge of the geographic and territorial realities. To demarcate a boundary that will be as problematic as that of 1949, even when they have the available data, would lend themselves open to criticism they would prefer to avoid.
Notwithstanding, given the high levels of GIS technology available to both Israelis and Palestinians, the final boundary will only be the poorer for the continued refusal of both sides to make full use of such techniques.


Clearly, no boundary line is holy, especially not a line which was only demarcated for the first time just 50 years ago and which has already been subject to much change in the immediate vicinity. If Israelis and Palestinians wish not only to resolve the immediate conflict, but to lay the basis for a period of relative stability, then more considered attention should be given to the age-old question of "how best to partition Palestine," affording maximal separation of both peoples each under their own sovereign entities, without any given preconditions. This may fly in the face of the accepted notion that the area known as the West Bank and the Green Line boundary, which determines the extent of that artificial political territory, are facts which are impossible to change. But other facts have emerged in the interim period, and it would be in the best interests of both sides to draw up a mutually acceptable boundary that takes these contemporary facts into account before the line is given international recognition as a permanent feature of the political landscape.


This essay was written just a few weeks before the eruption of the latest cycle of violence and death in the region. Two months into the renewed conflict and, what seemed for many an almost foregone conclusion in the summer of 2000, now seems distantly removed. The order of the day has, once again, been transformed from dialogue and debate to killing and violence. But the basic territorial question remains distinctly contiguous territories must be created, with a clear line of division/separation between the two states/peoples. This, more than ever in the past, requires the dismantling of those settlements which have created obstacles in the path to a final territorial arrangement during the past seven years, because they have constituted exclaves and enclaves within and between areas of Palestinian autonomy.
The scenes of Israeli and Palestinian children being killed and injured are horrific, but there can be no justification for keeping these children in isolated settlements, surrounded by Palestinian territory, because of the territorial irredentism of their parents. While the Israeli left may have to reassess its approach to the peace process, the recent events clearly do not justify the hard-line stance of the right wing. On the contrary, it has become even clearer than ever before that, in order to reach a final territorial solution to the problem, these settlements must be evacuated - and the sooner the better.