Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly asked his cabinet secretary to investigate a highly complicated Dutch-Belgian border arrangement, under which citizens of one country live in enclaves within the other, as a possible precedent to enable Jewish settlers in the West Bank to remain under Israeli rule inside a future Palestinian state.
The prime minister has tasked Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit with researching the arrangements that prevail in the Belgian “Baarle-Hertog” and Dutch “Baarle-Nassau” areas — complex border arrangements that originated in a mixture of medieval treaties, land swaps, land sales and other agreements — to see whether they constitute a viable legal precedent for similar arrangements under which Jewish settlers could stay put within a Palestinian state, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported on Sunday night.
Taking a precedent from the Belgian-Dutch arrangements, which have been described as the “most complicated” in the world, was one of “many ideas” being contemplated by Netanyahu, the TV report said.
According to Channel 2 correspondent Udi Segal, after Netanyahu raised the idea in meetings, the National Security Council has compiled a comprehensive report addressing the practical aspects and legal precedents.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Prime Minister’s Office, but the idea appeared to reflect Netanyahu’s thinking as set out in interviews he gave at the weekend.
Netanyahu said in a Channel 2 interview broadcast on Saturday, for example, that the Israeli government will not force West Bank settlers to leave their homes, even under a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu said it was clear that Israel would not be able to extend its sovereignty under a permanent accord to encompass all of the settlements, but was adamant that “there will be no act of evacuation.” The comment marked the first time that he has indicated that he would not countenance a repeat of the 2005 forced evacuation of Gaza’s settlements, overseen by the late prime minister Ariel Sharon, which he opposed at the time.
Asked in the Channel 2 interview on Friday how he could hope to reach a deal with the Palestinians within such limitations, and whether he expected settlers to leave their homes voluntarily, Netanyahu said it was not yet clear where the borders of a two-state solution would run, and that he did not “want to go into the details” of how an accommodation regarding the settlers might be achieved.
“Of course some of the settlements won’t be part of the deal, everyone understands that,” Netanyahu said. “I will make sure that [number] is as limited as possible, if we get there.” He pledged that no Israeli will be “abandoned.”
Those comments marked the closest Netanyahu had come to confirming The Times of Israel’s exclusive report from last month, which quoted a well-placed official in the Prime Minister’s Office as saying that Netanyahu would insist that settlers who find themselves on the far side of a two-state border be given the choice between remaining in place and living under Palestinian rule, or relocating to areas under Israeli sovereign rule.
Sunday’s Channel 2 report suggested a possible means of leaving settlers in place, within a Palestinian state, but still under Israeli rule.
The Belgian-Dutch arrangements apply between two countries thoroughly friendly to each other, the TV report noted, and might prove more complex still given the potential hostility between settlers and Palestinians, and given that up to 80,000 West Bank Jewish settlers could be affected.
Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau involve 24 non-contiguous Belgian areas that are fully or largely surrounded by Dutch sovereign territory. More complex still, some of the Belgian areas have Dutch enclaves inside them. Highlighting the complexity, a Wikipedia entry notes, “The border is so complicated that there are some houses that are divided between the two countries. There was a time when according to Dutch laws restaurants had to close earlier. For some restaurants on the border it meant that the clients simply had to change their tables to the Belgian side.”