The Finger

In response to my recent post on borders, Doug Suisman, the urban architect and planner behind the RAND Corporation's ARC Project, sent me this thoughtful note:

I agree that the “fingers” of Ariel and Maale Adumim (more like a thumb in the latter case) are a nearly insuperable obstacle to the needed contiguity for successful statehood. It would be like asking New Yorkers to accept a miles-long high-security barrier belonging to Canada or Mexico (or perhaps more aptly in terms of hostility, Cuba) interposed between Manhattan and Newark, or Angelenos to accept such a wall between downtown Los Angeles and the port of Long Beach.

In my view, it’s not so much because of the actual settlement area itself – problematic though this is – which is more like the fingernail on the finger. It’s the whole security cordon needed to connect the settlement to the mother ship – the finger to the fingernail. Israel’s perceived security and sovereignty interests demand that the settlements be the tips of peninsulas rather than islands. (It’s the old French Hill / Hebrew University problem writ large). Maale Adumim and Ariel are described as settlements, but can also be read as salients: “A military position that projects into the position of the enemy."

I do think it would be possible for Israel to keep the original core of Maale Adumim, if the Palestinians could run the Arc in the valley between it and Jerusalem. In other words, two umbilicals: an Israeli one east to west, and a Palestinian one north to south. As you know, such a double-umbilical, or dual sovereignty crossroads, was employed twice in the ‘48 partition plan, one near Qustina in the center and the other near Nazareth in the north. I don’t know if it would have ever worked.

Israel might refuse to accept this as a security arrangement, and the Palestinians might be reluctant to accept it as a sovereignty arrangement. But as you pointed out in your NYTimes mag piece, prospects for peace in the region may stand perched on such precise, and unusual, geographic arrangements.

Also, Haaretz's Amir Oren reminds Republicans that Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger's most distinguished acolyte, has been urging Obama to present a comprehensive plan, including a view on the territories to be exchanged. since before the new administration come into office:

"When Obama was elected, the Republican Scowcroft and the Democrat Zbigniew Brzezinski both entreated him to act immediately to implement the four-point plan for a Palestinian state alongside Israel within the 1967 borders - even before Israel's 2009 elections and with the hope of influencing the elections' outcome - but to no avail. The plan envisaged minor and agreed-on modifications of the border, compensation instead of the right of return for the Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem as a joint capital of two states, and security for Israel by demilitarizing the Palestinian state and stationing an international force there. Scowcroft also supported the idea of an American force on the Golan Heights if peace is achieved with Syria and territories are returned to that country.

Obama has wasted two years in the expectation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will pull himself together. Scowcroft has seen four decades of missed opportunities pass before his eyes. Obama should learn from Scowcroft not merely the layout of the plan, which would receive the backing of certain groups among the Republicans, but also the need for immediate action. Fears about upsetting the Israeli government, or about the president's rivals in U.S. politics joining forces with the supporters of a rigid Israeli line, could be a recipe for failure and disaster."