The Political Geography of Peace

Article excerpt

The Middle East Institute on May 31 hosted Dr. David Newman, chairman of the political science department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, for a discussion on the geo-politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Newman began by pointing out that the interface of territory and politics, or the drawing of territorial boundaries in the context of conflict resolution and peace negotiation, is very important with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If there is to be a resolution, he explained, there must be two states, and determining the territorial makeup of these two states requires drawing a border. While the 1948 Green Line remains the default border in all of our minds, however, politics have changed, he said--in large part due to Israel's territorial expansion--rendering the Green Line an inadequate expression of the conflict's current geo-political position.

With the Oslo accords, Newman noted, both parties recognized the Green Line, as well as the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, he continued, with the establishment and continued expansion of settlements and Israel's administrative line of control--which has different dimensions than the Green Line--Israel has changed the demographics and, more importantly, the geo-political framework within which peace negotiations will unfold.

At the same time, Newman said, the three major arguments Israel presented during Oslo in support of its proposed map--namely, security, water and settlements--have changed over the past decade. Some of these arguments have become obsolete, he said, while others will exert an even greater influence on territorial division.

With regard to security, Newman identified two classic arguments. First, that Israel must keep the Jordan Valley because the eastern border is vital to its defense. Secondly, Israel must not give the highlands to the enemy. According to these premises, then, Israel cannot return to the Green Line--a territorial division between highlands and flatlands.

This argument has changed dramatically since the time of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Newman claimed. On the one hand, he noted, because the nature of warfare has changed, controlling Israel's eastern border no longer is imperative. On the other hand, demanding that Israel retain the highland presupposes a continued state of conflict rather than a final resolution, he said, so this argument, too, is flawed. …