E-1 and contiguity

This is not a blog about conflict resolution, and I am certainly no expert on the Middle East conflict. Lack of expertise does not stop many other folks from commenting, so why should it stop me? The following is simply based on my close attention to the media from Israel (in English, both print and broadcast) and international sources, as well as my own observations of many of the much-discussed locales when I was in Jerusalem (in what is technically a “settlement”) for over two months in 2010.

There has been much–too much–attention to the Israeli cabinet’s declaration (not really a “decision” as best I can tell) to move ahead with some 3,000 new homes beyond the Green Line (the 1949 armistice lines), including in an area known as “E-1”.

Report after report says that building homes in E-1 is the death knell of a future Palestinian state. It is alleged to make contiguity of such a state impossible, by cutting off access between the Ramallah area (northwest of Jerusalem) and Bethlehem (to the south of the Jerusalem center).

There is no kinder way of putting it than to say this is BS.

The proposed E-1 homes are northeast of Maale Adumim, which is itself some distance east of Jerusalem.

Ramallah and Bethlehem can’t exactly be easily connected even now, due to the incredibly rugged terrain. Homes northeast of Maale Adumim, a city of about 40,000 east of Jerusalem along Highway 1 towards the Jericho and Dead Sea areas, doesn’t change these geographic realities.

As for the other areas in which new homes would be built, these are not new proposals. They are not even new settlements. They are in places like Ramat Shlomo, which I have commented on before. That is, they are homes within the boundaries of existing built-up areas–at least as I understand what is covered by the cabinet’s declaration of intent to proceed. They are in areas that will not conceivably be either evacuated or turned into islands within a sovereign Palestinian sea whenever there actually might be a negotiated solution.

As for contiguity, it might be noted that Gaza–from which Israel did pull out its settlers—is not contiguous with the other regions that are proposed as part of a Palestinian state. So this is actually something of a red herring. If a Palestinian state is ever created, it will not be contiguous, regardless of Mevasseret Adumim (the name of the housing area within “E-1”) and Ramat Shlomo and Ariel and Kiryat Arba (etc.). It will have to involve various road and other corridors, overpasses and underpasses near developed Israeli areas, and tight security guarantees. It will also involve transferring some current territory–and presumably some Arab population–on the pre-1967 Israeli side of the Green Line to the new state. All of this is precisely what makes a negotiated solution so difficult, and nothing that the cabinet has said in recent days changes this difficult reality.

It must be emphasized that all of these development plans, as well as the ideas of territorial swaps and security guarantees, have been on the table for close to two decades now–a key fact lost in the excited rhetoric of recent days. In fact, there are many influential voices in Israel, including within the cabinet itself, disappointed with the slow pace of approvals of long-planned housing developments. Israel is just now in the midst of an election campaign, and we can hardly expect the incumbent government, particularly given its political complexion, to have greeted the UN resolution “upgrading” the status of “Palestine” with anything milder than it has done so far. One does not have to be a supporter of the Likud and its allies and their strategic visions–I certainly am not–to recognize that the bluster from European governments about withdrawing ambassadors and such is not constructive, and probably only plays into the hands of the harder-line elements of the Israeli electoral majority.

In context, the diplomatic and media excitement of this past week is just so much noise.

22 thoughts on “E-1 and contiguity

  1. In case this was not clear, please note I am not taking a stand in favor of homes in E-1, or the cabinet’s declaration. I just think it would be nice if the international press would inform rather than obfuscate. Yes, I know that is asking a lot.

  2. MSS,

    Your post notes that E1’s creation will not really have a bearing on Palestine’s territorial contiguity. I am going to take your word on it.

    However, to suggest that the press should not call it what it clearly is: A Land Grab, and to chastise the press for ratcheting up the rhetoric is disingenuous.

    I assume as a rational observer, you must admit that Israel’s choice to stall the peace process since Rabin’s death while building settlements to “change the map” is transparent.

    Furthermore, to cite “land swaps” as a reasonable proposal which Israel has left on the table basically avoids the fact that they have been triggered by the continued policies of settlements by Israeli governments of each stripe.

    Basically, the bluster from media and European governments and is about settlements and its impact on the overall tone of negotiations. To somehow miss the point for the factual sense of which you’re speaking (I assume it’s accurate as I am less informed on the matter) would be missing the forest for the trees.

  3. Given that the area in question is in Area C (meaning the Oslo Accords gave interim responsibility to Israel, not the PA), and given further that the specific plans for “E-1” have been on the books since the mid-90s, this is not a “land grab” (or a “Land Grab”)–or at least not one that has just been initiated. It actually is an area that has long been likely to be annexed to Israel in the event of a final status agreement on two states. As I said in the original entry, there would need to be access for Palestinians through and/or around this area. It is my understanding that there do exist such plans, but I do not know for sure. Going all the way around would not be a problem even without such a plan, as there is a corridor of some 20 miles stretching east of Maale Adumim to the Jordanian border that is mostly Area B (joint responsibility), that includes (as far as I know) no Jewish settlements other than a hilltop one called Mitzpe Yericho (aptly, Jericho View) that might in any case be dismantled if a Palestinian state is created. A route through this area would be circuitous for connecting Ramallah and Bethlehem, but it would absolutely meet any definition of contiguity. It might also be easier to build than one running between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, though I am not an engineer and my memory of the terrain should not be fully trusted.

    My guess–and that is all this is–is that nothing is going to be built in this area any time soon*. As I noted above, this was much a more a declaration than a decision, and it looks like diplomatic tit-for-tat to me. The message to the PA and interlocutors abroad is: negotiate on a final status agreement or else there could be some new facts on the ground (at some time).

    Like or dislike the message, but please keep a level head about what is actually going on.

    * One of the E-1 development proposals is a trash dump for Issawiya, an Arab town just down the hill from French Hill (where I lived) and from Mount Scopus (where the Hebrew University is). Believe me, this is a development that is sorely needed as soon as possible. But those dastardly Israelis, trying to tell Palestinians where to put their rubbish!

  4. I might also add that, if E-1 is eventually annexed, it does not affect the ability of eastern Arab towns just outside Jerusalem to be contiguous to either Jerusalem itself or to Bethlehem. Where a boundary is drawn and how it affects mostly Arab East Jerusalem, are separate questions from the status of E-1.

    Of course, annexation of E-1, and building on it (on the near-term likelihood of which, see my previous comment) would presumably preclude settling Palestinians there. In the meantime, there are large new Palestinian settlements (though no one ever uses that term when it means Arab houses) being built on the outskirts of Ramallah, very near existing Jewish settlements that are northwest of Jerusalem on one of the highways towards Tel Aviv. Facts on the ground…

  5. And, again, I am not endorsing building in any particular location. I am only endorsing reasoned discussion and analysis. I know that is a hard ask.

  6. If a two state solution is eventually applied, neither state is going to be contiguous. Israel will at the very least have Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem, and, barring a development toward two separate Arab states in Gaza and Judaea and Samaria, the Arab state will have different pockets as well. I really wonder why a federal Arab state hasn’t been proposed as a compromise between Fatah and Hamas to end their current stalemate, given that the territory isn’t contiguous anyways. Coming up with a unified foreign policy and dividing foreign aid and tax revenues between the constituent parts could be contentious, but much less contentious than governing the unitary “state” is now.

    Of course, the current Israeli government seems to think that the Palestinians will be fine with being a non-contiguous bantustan, likely surrounded by separation barriers and with pockets of Israeli settlements surrounding their territory, and that the rest of the world and in particular the Arab world will accept this. Why they’re this delusional, I don’t know (other than perhaps trying to take as much territory as possible and then try to hold onto it as a fait accompli).

  7. I assume Israel would remain contiguous. They are not going to accept again having Mount Scopus being an island separated from the rest of Jerusalem, as was the case between 1948 and 1967. The occupying authority at the time (Jordan) was not exactly cooperative. Distant and not connectable settlements would be dismantled. The various settlements that would be annexed under any plausible agreement would have access corridors that would make them contiguous. As I have said, so would there be corridors between different parts of the Palestinian state, and other than Gaza, contiguity remains possible and would remain possible for a long time to come, contrary to the crisis atmosphere generated over the past week. The borders would look very strange, for sure.

    Unfortunately, separation barriers are not likely to come down any time soon, given the security needs. However, the barriers could be moved. The governments that have built the walls have always stated they do not assume them to be marking a future border. We won’t know if we can take such statements at face value until such time as there is a negotiated solution. I am not holding my breath.

    In the meantime, I agree that one of the bigger issues is the internal Palestinian political process–how to deal with the vast gap (and I do not mean only territorial non-contiguity) that separates Hamas and Fatah.

  8. A two-state solution has to enable two states that are viable. If contiguity is a legitimate demand for Israel it has to be a legitimate demand for Palestine as well.

    At some stage the facts-on-the-ground crew have to start thinking seriously about the strategy of trying to create a non-viable Palestine.

    The alternative to a two-state solution is not continuing the present situation, it is accepting that Israel and the Occupied Territories constitute a single political area and asking why a large segment of that area’s population is denied the vote.

  9. I can’t imagine any ‘compromise’ involving Palestine giving up East Jerusalem being acceptable to the Arab world, even if the PA agrees to it. It might solve the political crisis in the former mandate, but it certainly wouldn’t end the Arab-Israeli crisis.

    I agree with Alan on the single political unit idea. It also seems that Israel’s continuing settlement of the West Bank makes a two-state solution less and less likely, especially considering that other than outright disenfranchising its Arab citizens and forcibly moving them to Palestine, Israel doesn’t really have a way to transfer population between two future states.

    Even the possibility of Israeli settlements being used to resettle Palestinian refugees or Arab Israelis is unlikely, considering that Israel demolished all settlements in the Gaza after evicting the settlers.

    • Chris, what you say in the first paragraph of your most recent comment is exactly correct. There is highly unlikely to be a compromise that Arab countries will accept. Realistically, that just will not happen in the lifetime of anyone reading this. That does not mean there can’t be various arrangements that are stable, in some sense, and better than the status quo.

      As I have said all along in this thread, no one other than the “liberate all Palestine” (i.e. expel the Jews) crowd expects the Palestinian state to be contiguous, given the gap between Gaza and the rest of the territories. There are proposals for corridors of various types, but not territorial contiguity. Further, as I have said since the beginning, the notion that E-1 makes the northern and southern parts of the territories near Jerusalem non-contiguous is much exaggerated. The same can be said for many of the current Jewish settlements. That Arabs do not like Jews in these locations is not the same thing as saying their presence prevents contiguity. (And, I am not endorsing settlement activity. I am not condemning it, either. It is what it is, and isn’t going away in the absence of some sort of negotiated solution.)

      Given that I am now reduced to repeating myself, I think this indicates I have nothing further to say on this topic. So, how about those Israeli party lists?

  10. I suspect one of the problems with discussing the settlements issue is that arguing individual cases really does not address either the policy or its underlying purpose. The settlement program is about making Palestine into a non-viable Bantustan.

    In many cases it is not hard to draw a border because of a settlement, the settlement is there to make drawing the border harder. Israel cannot really claim surprise when one town planning issue blows up in its face, in light of a long record of similar issues where the outcome is plainly directed at non-viability.

  11. Count me in with those who see this as a thumb on the nose big deal brush off from Bibi.

    The reason this is wrong is the reason the settlements are wrong. Each new settlement is a dagger in the heart of the two state solution.

    The Israelis will rue the day they made the two state solution impossible–unless they think that the Arabs voting in Israeli elections in the West Bank and Gaza are a good idea….

  12. Speaking of the Israeli lists, I was not aware of the “surplus vote transfer agreement” concept in Israel until this week. Apparently, parties/coalitions can sign an agreement to add their votes together to try to win a remainder seat, which then goes to the party with the most surplus votes after their full quotas are subtracted. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen preference transfers between lists in list PR systems (though one could arguably say that Australian elections with group voting tickets are essentially a variant of list PR with transfers to separate lists given the lack of below the line voters).

    Labor decided to sign with Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid party, ditching their traditional partner Labor, who were promptly picked up by Tzipi Livni’s Movement (Haaretz uses “Hatnuah,” Hebrew for The Movement, while J-Post uses The Tzipi Livni Party). Livni’s also seems to be making a strong effort at picking up Labor voters (her #2 and #3 candidates are former Labor party leaders, including Amir Peretz at #3), though polling thus far shows she’s had only minimal impact. A lot could change in a month, though.

    Government formation should be a real mess. Based on current poll numbers, Netanyahu cannot find 61 seats just allying with religious parties (that would be 60 seats if Am Shalem, Shas, and UTJ all join) or with nationalist parties (the only one above the threshold right now is Jewish Home, which would give a total of 50), meaning a right-wing coalition would be a mix of religious and nationalist parties and would face the same obstacles over Orthodox conscription that brought down the government in the first place.

    It may be possible that Likud Beteinu forms a more centrist government with Labor (that would be 56 seats based on current polls and would need at least one more party), though the overall result may end up more stable if he is unable to form a government (it’s possible if the center-left refuses and he can’t reconcile religious and nationalist demands) and they go to new elections where the center-left has the chance to unify itself as a viable opposition.

    On a side note, is Israel the only country with a Westminster-style parliament that uses list PR? I can only think of presidential/semi-presidential systems (like Latin America) and more consensus style systems like in Europe. New Zealand uses MMP, but I would think having single-member districts would contribute towards having two major parties (it’s hard to determine the effect on overall voting because they already had two major parties before adopting MMP), which at least right now Israel does not have.

  13. Above, that should be Labor ditched their traditional partner Meretz (a social-democratic/green party).

  14. “The Israelis will rue the day they made the two state solution impossible–unless they think that the Arabs voting in Israeli elections in the West Bank and Gaza are a good idea….”

    I’ve pointed this out before, but even if the West Bank is honeycombed with settlements, making separation from pre-1967 Israel impossible, the Israelis don’t have to contemplate giving the vote to Arabs in the West Bank AND Gaza. There are no settlements now in Gaza, so Israel has always had the option of incorporating the West Bank into Israel proper, giving all adults there the vote, and leaving Gaza to fend for itself (or keeping whatever the status quo there is in place).

    The more I think about this, the harder it is for me to understand why the Israeli government didn’t take this approach decades earlier. Incorporating the West Bank alone still leaves the electorate in Israel with a large Jewish majority. Unless you add the Arabs in Gaza as well, there would be no worry about Jews winding up as a large minority in their own country (actually I think experience in other countries show that the Arab birthrate would drop if their standard of living improved, but that is probably another debate). Everything Israel wants from the occupied territories -the biblical sites, the watershed, and the strategic depth- is in the West Bank and not Gaza. And the West Bank is the stronghold of the moderate Palestinians, who would likely react to achieving legal equality along the lines of the Arabs across the green line who are already Israeli citizens.

    This issue might be better approached along the lines of the seemingly endless nineteenth century debates about how many working class people and followers of non-state religions to enfranchise, and when.

  15. The thing is that even Israeli Arabs have higher birthrates than Israeli Jews (excluding perhaps the Haredim), even though the Arab Israelis have a substantially higher standard of living than West Bankers, and even higher so than Gazans.

    I don’t know how long it would take, but if the birthrates stay the same, even Israeli Arabs would overtake Israeli Jews at some point in the future. The possibility of a “Jewish and democratic state” may not be possible in a century or so unless the non-Jewish inhabitants democratically accept living in a “Jewish state.” Most right-wing “Peace Plans” have heavily relied on population transfers of Arab Israelis to a new Palestinian state, to eliminate the “demographic threat”; however, polls consistently show that Arab Israelis prefer to be Israeli citizens than Palestinian citizens, even if many of them identify as Palestinian by nationality/national identity.

    I would like to see a democratic state which has an entrenched constitutional clause guaranteeing that it is the national homeland for the Jewish people, but one which is not a nation-state and which has separation of church and state. This could be simply guaranteed through a democratic constitution with certain protections entrenched, or else through a consociational society, with religious/ethnic voter rolls or perhaps with persons on cantonal voter rolls based on their family’s place of origin (like Switzerland). How one would divide voting power to ensure both protection for both Jews and Arabs as well as democracy is another question altogether.

    Israel also seems like the kind of place where a directorial system could work well, be it Bosnian-style or Swiss style. The combination of ethnic tensions and fractured politics as well as a low threshold which is almost impossible to change means that Westminster-style cabinets seem doomed to fail to me unless a more-traditional two-party system returns or a new one (on a secular/religious divide or hawk/dove divide).

    I don’t oppose the idea of a two-state solution in which the West Bank is part of Israel and the Palestinian state is Gaza (perhaps with land transfers around Gaza), but it would almost certainly need to be a demilitarized Gaza to have any chance of getting off the ground. The idea of Egypt outright annexing Gaza also is intriguing (unlike Jordan, they never formally did so from 1948-67, maintaining the facade of an “All-Palestine Government”).

    The key to such an idea would probably be a strongly integrated IDF with strict civilian gun control, in which neither Arab nor Jewish soliders dominate units and in which the entire society is subject to conscription (I find it quite odd to advocate that, but it seems like it would be an effective tool of internal nation-building).

    Another possibility, which I’ve heard before but little seen discussed, would be for the two nations to have a condominium over (East) Jerusalem in order that it is undivided and yet also the capital of both nations. Condominia don’t seem like they have worked well in practice, but this also seems like one possible way both sides could get what they want. The Israeli right wing may not completely accept the idea, but I think enough would to make it a viable idea if a major political figure started advocating it.

  16. Haaretz offers a useful Q&A of E-1.

    It is a “premium” item, so you can’t access it unless you have a subscription. But I can probably get away with just a couple of key quotes even though, as bloggers are supposed to say, you should read the whole thing.

    Commenting on the cloverleaf and overpass built to the still unbuilt Mevesseret Adumim, they say, “The rest of the area is empty and serves as a wonderful photo-op for right-wing politicians.”

    Initial planning started under PM Rabin. Yes, Rabin. it stopped under PM Sharon. Yes, Sharon. Sometimes Israeli politics defies neat categories. (That was my comment, not Haaretz’s).

    About claims (from both proponents and opponents) that building in E-1 is a plan to make Maale Adumim contiguous with Jerusalem:

    False. There is no possibility of creating contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim because even if E-1 is built, a belt made up by the Arab towns of Anata, Al Zaiyim, and Azariya will stand in between.

    Thereby I stand corrected in my earlier comment that assumed that Israel would remain contiguous even after the creation of a Palestinian state. (I mean, a real one, not the fiction that can now “observe” at the UN.)

    On what “the world is saying” regarding the threat to contiguity of the Palestinian state, well, obviously if Ma’ale Adumim remains Israeli (and it will), but is an island (as apparently it would be, with access corridors), then there is less a threat to contiguity of the Palestinian state than is being assumed by most commentators. Their answer to the question of such a cut off of parts of the West Bank from one another is “Yes and no,” but to know why, you will have to read the whole thing.

    Finally, one correction. Above I said Mevesseret Adumim was northeast of Maale Adumim. More like due north would be accurate. But that still means that the specific part of E-1 in which plans to build housing was re-announced (though not started) is not between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem, but rather some distance to the east of the latter city.

  17. Are the proposed access corridors that pop up in peace plans like the access corridors that West Berlin had to the FRG, or would they be thin strips of Israeli territory connecting Israel to the settlements? Would the same be the case for Gaza-West Bank access corridors?

  18. Yaacov Lozowick, quoting Daniel Seidmann:

    When it comes to E1, he said, the Israelis and Palestinians are competing to see who gets the balloon and who gets the string. Jewish West Jerusalem, Maaleh Adumim, Rammallah and Bethlehem are all there to stay. Whoever ends up controlling E1 will have a comfortable land corridor between their two balloons while the other side will be left with a road through the other’s territory: a string. If Israel controls E1, the Palestinians will have a north-south road through it; if the Palestinians own E1, the Israelis will have an east-west road through it.

  19. Switzerland has cantonal voter rolls based on residency, not (generally) on origin.

    So Chris in comment 16 presumably means “persons on cantonal voter rolls like in Switzerland *but* either based on their family’s place of origin, or without freedom of movement/settlement”.

    I hope this remark conforms to the original post’s spirit that diversionary observations are ok if fact-based.

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