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In late 1994, I published an analysis of the "Borders and Settlements" aspect of a potential Israeli-Palestinian final-status agreement (Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University). The operative conclusion of that study held that a prolonged process of negotiation between the two sides would eventually lead them to a point where, after narrowing down their demands to their truly vital interests, they would agree on a map that would leave in Israeli hands approximately 11 percent of the territories, embodying some 70 percent of the settlers. While the map would be influenced primarily by Israel's demographic-political requirements, it would also deal, at least partially, with its water needs, as well as its need to improve the defensibility of the country's "narrow waist." Thus, the Green Line would be moved eastward between five and eight kilometers in the west of the territories, the Jerusalem corridor would be expanded, and the major settlement blocs that adjoin the Green Line would be annexed. What came to be known as the "Alpher Plan" (or "Blocs Plan") also envisioned an ongoing Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley area.
From the Palestinian standpoint, the plan would provide for geographical contiguity and common borders with the Arab world, as well as the water, territorial and economic needs of a Palestinian state.
The Alpher Plan deliberately avoided suggesting solutions regarding Jerusalem. The issue-areas involved there are unique, and differ significantly from those relevant to the West Bank and Gaza.
In the years that followed its publication, the Alpher Plan served as one of several frames of reference for both scholars and negotiators dealing with final-status issues. It was the point of departure for the Beilin-Abu Mazen talks of 1995. And it has proven relevant to the official final-status talks that began in earnest in Stockholm in the spring of 2000 and continued at Camp David and elsewhere in the summer of 2000.
The current analysis will first summarize the main features and assumptions of the plan as published in 1994, and then comment on its relevance to today's circumstances.

Four Key Issues

There are four primary considerations in an Israeli withdrawal:
* Security can best be guaranteed by Israel's capacity to defend itself on the Jordan River, and by separation of Jewish and Arab populations. Israeli control of the airspace over the West Bank and Gaza, electronic early-warning posts on the mountain ridge, and the effective demilitarization of Palestinian territory with regard to weaponry and formations with offensive potential, are all amenable to agreement, application and verification without Israel annexing territory and without reliance on settlements. There remains a need for Israel to be able to counter strategic threats from east of the Jordan River - from Iran, Iraq, Syria or due to a radical change of regime in Jordan. Thus Israel will still require, for years to come, an ongoing security presence in the Jordan Valley, coupled with the capacity to move additional defensive forces there in real time and without encountering physical or political obstacles.
Turning to current, or tactical, security, a Jordan Valley presence could also deal with potential terrorist incursions from the east. As for the situation inside the West Bank and Gaza, the plan's basic assumption holds that the mixing of populations - Israeli and Palestinian - is the single factor that most disrupts attempts by both sides to achieve security. Hence the plan calls for the maximum possible separation of populations. Any solution that leaves enclaves of Israeli settlements in the heart of Palestinian territory - or enclaves of Palestinian villages inside Israeli-annexed territory - is likely to constitute a source of friction. Nevertheless, in view of powerful domestic constraints, any Israeli government will wish to avoid forcible removal of settlements that remain inside Palestinian territory, and to rely instead on a transition period during which settlers could themselves decide whether they wish to remain inside an Arab country or leave of their own volition and be compensated by Israel. By the same token, the annexation of settlement blocs may require the two sides to find creative solutions regarding the status of Palestinians living inside these blocs.

* Water. Long before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jewish Yishuv exploited aquifers located underneath the West Bank. International law - the Helsinki Convention of 1966 - recognizes such historic rights of usage, but international law also recognizes the rights of the inhabitants of the land above the aquifer, i.e., the Arab residents of the territories.
Wholesale abandonment by Israel of its control over West Bank water resources could be disastrous for the country's economy, agriculture and ecology. Israel depends on these sources for a significant proportion of its water supply. Unmonitored Palestinian exploitation of them could deprive Israel of a large portion of its current consumption; irresponsible development and industrialization could contaminate what is left. Thus a final-status solution must ensure either long-term Israeli control over these aquifers, or, at least, reasonable joint supervision and development. In any event, Israel must ensure that the Palestinians, too, enjoy adequate access to freshwater sources.
From the standpoint of water, the principal area destined for annexation is in the western part of the territories, above the Yarkon-Taninim Aquifer. In this context, as in that of security, the land designated for annexation corresponds broadly with the territory indicated by the more dominant demographic-political consideration.

* Demography. An overriding proportion of Israelis would oppose a return to the 1967 borders, largely because this would mean abandoning, or forcibly removing, nearly 200,000 settlers. This would constitute an extremely traumatic domestic crisis that no Israeli government would be likely to survive.
On the other hand, the vast majority of the settlers live in blocs adjacent to the Green Line, where there is by now a significant Jewish majority. Moreover, these settlements were developed at least in part with water and tactical security considerations in mind. Hence an approach dictating annexation of a large majority of the settlers, but a small portion of the land, has a legitimate place in Israel's calculations regarding a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians.

* The Heritage Dimension. It would be unwise to belittle the importance of sites and settlements that evince the Zionist or Jewish heritage, as symbols of the viability of a people and a country. Gush Etzion - a collection of settlements near Jerusalem that were overrun by Palestinian fedayeen and the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1948 - is one example. Gush Etzion is also a potentially logical annexation insofar as it offers Israel advantages in most of the issue areas surveyed above: it holds more Jewish than Arab population, it enhances the security of the Jerusalem Corridor, and it borders the Green Line. Hebron presents a more difficult example; even if it cannot logically be attached to Israel for demographic and geographic reasons, a way must be found to ensure unfettered Jewish access.

Implementing the Plan

An implementation of the Alpher Plan would involve the following:

* The annexation of parts of the Qalqiliya-Tulkarem area that are heavily populated by Israelis and adjacent to the Green Line, with the border moved some five to eight kilometers eastward along most of the line. An effort would be made to avoid annexing Arab demographic concentrations, and particularly Tulkarem and Qalqiliya, whose combined population is around 50,000.
* The annexation of the Latrun Salient, the Givat Ze'ev area north of the Jerusalem Corridor, and Gush Etzion south of the Corridor.
* The annexation of the Ma'aleh Adumim area, preferably as part of Jerusalem. This would be the deployment zone for a rapid intervention force designated to defend the Jordan River security border in times of emergency.
* The annexation of a small area (Mutsavei Ha-Berech) south of Beit Shean, where a second rapid intervention force would be deployed.
* Israel would maintain early warning stations on the mountain ridge of the West Bank, and maintain control of West Bank and Gazan airspace. Israeli military units would be deployed on Palestinian territory in the Jordan Valley and the eastern slopes of the mountain ridge. Israel and the Palestinians would agree in advance on the duration of this arrangement: either a fixed period of time, or (preferably from Israel's standpoint) preconditioning removal of Israeli forces on the emergence of a predefined set of circumstances (e.g., peace with Syria, Iran and Iraq) that radically improve the security situation to Israel's east.
* The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron would enjoy a special status that ensures Israeli and Palestinian access and usage.
* All remaining territory in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would be turned over to the Palestinian entity. Settlers wishing to remain would, at the end of a transition period, be subject to Palestinian authority.

Will the Palestinians Agree?

From the Palestinian standpoint, the territorial requirements outlined above constitute substantive concessions. Why should they agree? Israel could cite a number of justifications:

* The map created by these concessions leaves the Palestinians in control over their own vital needs: unfettered access to Jordan and Egypt, full territorial contiguity, relatively empty land in the Jordan Valley for refugee resettlement, a Dead Sea shore, and joint access with Israel to water resources.
* The one remaining vital Palestinian need is an extraterritorial land corridor, perhaps built on stilts, connecting the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. This is a major Israeli concession that would, at least in part, balance Palestinian territorial concessions. Israel could also offer the Palestinians special privileges in its air and seaports, which are well located for their use.
* UN Security Council Resolution 242, upon which the negotiating framework rests, allows for border modifications and guarantees Israel's right to secure boundaries.
* Israel could also consider transferring Israeli territory to the Palestinians: either uninhabited land, or Arab-populated lands in the "Triangle" or Wadi Ara areas. Both of these options are problematic for Israel, insofar as they constitute concessions involving land inside pre-1967 Israel - a possibly dangerous precedent - and/or land inhabited by Israeli citizens who almost certainly would not agree to the move. On the other hand, in their October 1994 peace agreement, Jordan and Israel agreed to territorial swaps that set a positive precedent.
* Some of the lands comprised in the settlement blocs could conceivably be designated for joint rule, or condominium, or some other "gray" status that avoids specific and immediate designation of sovereignty.
* Finally, the Palestinian concessions implicit in these arrangements might also be balanced by Israeli concessions in some other sector of the final-status process, such as refugees or Jerusalem, or even by enhanced Israeli financial compensation.

Current Applicability

These, then, are the main features of the Alpher Plan as presented some six years ago. Since then, three key aspects of the plan appear to have become institutionalized in Israeli thinking on final status: annexation to Israel of a maximum number of settlers in a minimal expanse of territory; an ongoing Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley; and the need for Israeli negotiators to consider Palestinian vital needs as well as their own. These principles appear to be central to the approach to final status of Israeli Prime Minister Barak.
The Israeli public, too, has in the course of the past six years become acculturated to the underlying considerations of the plan. Surveys indicate broad public backing. On the other hand, as the peace process progresses toward final status, the hard core of the settler movement, who are the Israelis most negatively influenced by the plan, has become more galvanized in its efforts to thwart it.
The Alpher Plan was launched shortly after Israel and Jordan signed their peace treaty. These two countries' success since then in developing a security dialogue suggests that a trilateral security regime, integrating Palestine, is a desirable possibility. Such a regime could deal effectively with many of Israel's strategic as well as tactical security needs, particularly in the Jordan Valley, in a way that might be more acceptable to Palestinians than a strictly Israeli presence.
The intervening years have also rendered more acute the water shortage in the region, to the extent that large-scale desalination or importation of water now appears imminent. Prime Minister Barak advocates a major internationally financed desalination project as a key element in an Israeli-Palestinian final-status agreement. While this development does not necessarily reduce the necessity for the two peoples to rationalize their reliance on shared aquifers, it does place it in a broader perspective.
Turning to the central issue of the settlement blocs, two important developments have taken place. One is PLO Chairman Arafat's reported acquiescence at Camp David to the principle of annexation, by Israel, of the large majority of the settlers, apparently in return for territorial compensation. The other is a tendency, in some plans and discussions, to draw the lines around the annexed Israeli settlements as narrow fingers of territory protruding into Palestine, rather than, as in the Alpher Plan, drawing new borders that are fairly rational, "rounded" and defensible. The advantages of the more minimalistic approach - evidenced, for example, in the Beilin-Abu Mazen Plan - are that it reduces the amount of land demanded for annexation by Israel, and radically limits the number of Palestinian Arabs included in Israeli-annexed land. Thus Beilin-Abu Mazen, for example, reduced the scope of land annexed by Israel to half (5.5 percent), while encompassing the same number of settlers and avoiding annexation of Palestinian villages. This undoubtedly renders negotiations easier.
The disadvantage of this approach is that it violates the principle of separation, in that it is liable to leave Israeli settlements vulnerable to harassment or attack at the most elementary level. A neighboring Palestinian village, embroiled in a dispute with a settlement, might only have to block a single road in order to cut off that settlement entirely from Israel, thereby obliging the latter to send in armed forces to relieve the siege, and risking major escalation that could be devastating for a stable peace. The possible negative outcome of such an arrangement was evident in the way isolated Israeli settlements like Joseph's Tomb and Kfar Darom were besieged by Palestinian civilians in September 1996.
Finally, with regard to the issue of compensating Palestine for West Bank lands annexed by Israel, the past few years offer convincing proof that the most significant concession Israel has to offer is not Israeli land, but a safe, extraterritorial land corridor linking the Gaza Strip to the southern West Bank. It is absolutely vital for a Palestinian state to ensure the total unity and cohesion of its two parts. All attempts to implement the safe passage provisions of the Oslo agreements, so as to enable truly unfettered movement of Palestinians back and forth, have foundered on Israel's very weighty security considerations. A super highway, accompanied by rail lines and water and gas pipes, that traverses Israel on stilts, or is sunken below ground level, and which Palestinians may travel with complete freedom, is apparently the only realistic solution, however costly. But such a land link would at least symbolically cut Israel in half, and constitutes a major sovereign concession on Israel's part. Thus, in terms of the vital needs of the two sides, it is the equivalent of the bulk of the settlements that Israel seeks to annex.
In conclusion, the Alpher Plan appears today to be as relevant as ever. As a means of guaranteeing both sides their vital interests, it - or something like it - appears to be the least objectionable solution to an awesome set of problems and issues. Yet its applicability must not be allowed to obfuscate the massive trauma that it implies for Israeli and Palestinian society. Tens of thousands of the most highly dedicated and motivated Israeli settlers, associated with the Gush Emunim movement, will not be included in the annexed blocs and will find themselves inside the new State of Palestine, faced with agonizing choices. Historic and religious sites that constitute the birthplace of the Israeli nation will, after a few decades, once again be removed from sovereign Jewish control. These sacrifices are paralleled by concessions at least as traumatic for millions of Palestinians.
The majority of both peoples appears to be prepared to make these choices. But the trauma visited upon their societies must not be taken lightly.


This article was written before the outbreak of widespread violence in autumn 2000. Now three additional observations appear to be relevant. First, the settlements are clearly a primary catalyst of the violence, thus reinforcing the need for a peace plan that will draw new lines of separation. Second, the Palestinian Intifada focuses to a large extent on outlying settlements that are largely indefensible; this reinforces the need, discussed in the article, for rational borders that provide reasonable tactical defense of annexed settlement blocs. And third, the violence has generated discussions of unilateral solutions. The plan presented here could, to a large extent, be carried out unilaterally, if the government of Israel has the will and the capacity to dismantle the many small outlying settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank mountain heartland.

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