DC think tank launches site exploring where settlers fit into peace plans

Former Mideast peace negotiator David Makovsky of the Washington Institute says satellite imagery shows a two-state solution is still possible with land swaps

Illustrative: A new interactive map developed by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy for its website Settlements and Solutions that is designed to allow users to assess the current viability of a two-state solution. (Screen Capture)
Illustrative: A new interactive map developed by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy for its website Settlements and Solutions that is designed to allow users to assess the current viability of a two-state solution. (Screen Capture)

WASHINGTON — Marking the 70th anniversary of the United Nations vote to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into two states — one Jewish, one Arab — a Washington policy institute launched an interactive website Wednesday that assesses the myriad proposals to make the two-state vision into a reality.

Settlements and Solutions, which was developed by David Makovsky, a former US peace negotiator in the Obama administration who heads the Program on Middle East Peace at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, aims to answer the question of whether a two-state solution is still possible.

“I think it’s still solvable if people want to solve it,” Makovsky told the Times of Israel.

The site is essentially an interactive map, made with civilian satellite imagery, to provide a better understanding of building trends in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“This is more focusing on where the settlers lived – on where does demography meet geography in the West Bank,” Makovsky said. “It is more to look at overlay between where the settlers live and the various peace plans that have been out there.”

Continued Israeli settlement building on land the Palestinians want for their state is widely seen by the international community as an obstacle to achieving a peace agreement and two-state outcome.

“The interplay of geography and demography in the West Bank matters,” Makovsky wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post. “It helps to address whether it is too late for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a compromise on the territorial issues, as well as on matters of security, refugees and the fate of Jerusalem.”

David Makovsky (screen caputre: YouTube)

The site is designed to let users answer those very questions for themselves, although in his op-ed, Makovsky said a two-state solution is still possible with land swaps — and that this satellite imagery proves that.

It not only labels and demarcates Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and Palestinian communities, but it also shows possibilities and proposals of land swaps that are seen as critical to solidifying any final accord.

One potential land swap viewers can examine, for instance, is the offer former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, which would have resulted in Israel retaining 5.8 percent of the West Bank.

Abbas’s counter-offer of Israel holding 1.9% of the territory is also included, as are several proposals falling between the two.

The Trump administration has made brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal one of its top foreign policy priorities, but has thus far found little success in restarting peace talks, which have been frozen since 2014.

US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

US President Donald Trump currently has a delegation, led by his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, that is tasked with trying to renew negotiations between the sides.

The administration has not yet endorsed a two-state solution, defying decades of US foreign policy orthodoxy.

The New York Times recently reported that Trump’s team would unveil its peace plan in early 2018, likely in April. It is not yet clear, however, whether that plan will incorporate or demand the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Makovsky said this website was to give users a chance to take a more nuanced approach to assessing where settlements fit into a potential accord with the Palestinians.

“What this website tries to do differently is to try and understand the overlay between peace plans and where the settlers live,” he said. “Not everything is a provocation. Some of these settlements, even under the Abbas plan, would be part of Israel. The idea is to introduce into the conversation a more differentiated idea of settlements, so one can gage which settlements could be part of a solution and which are part of the problem.”

The Obama administration — for which Makovsky worked — was adamant that Israel’s ongoing settlement development was eroding the viability of a two-state outcome. “The status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation,” former secretary of state John Kerry said in a speech last year

But as yet another US administration attempts to resolve the seemingly intractable conflict, the former diplomat insists that while the parties may not be ready to cross the rubicon of peacemaking, the possibility of a deal remains alive.

“I’m not here to say there’s a will,” Makovsky said. “I’m here to way there’s a way.”

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