Talking Politics - Map-maker, map-maker, make me a map…

Yacov Ben Efrat

Netanyahu has done it again! He rushed off to his meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on December 19 – late, (officially) mapless, and sans foreign minister. In contrast with their conference ten days earlier, however, where Netanyahu was reprimanded for coming empty-handed, this time Albright defined the meeting as "pleasant." She said she believes Netanyahu is serious about the peace process, and she gave him a new moratorium – mid-January. Then both he and Arafat are to meet President Clinton separately in Washington.

This announcement puts an end to Netanyahu's status as persona non grata in the White House. Earlier it had seemed that he would remain in this unenviable position until he committed Israel to redeploy from a double-digit percentage of West Bank territory. (Upon signing the Hebron agreement, Netanyahu promised to conduct three redeployments before entering the final status talks.) Through October and November he remained under US reprimand. Albright blamed him for the failure of the economic summit in Doha, Qatar, and for America's inability to mobilize its allies against Iraq.

Commentators claim that even at this earlier conference, Netanyahu committed himself to a 12% withdrawal. They say that because of "internal problems" (to be discussed below), he could not publicize his promise. He was supposed to bring Albright a map on December 19, delineating the exact boundaries of the next redeployment.

The American demand set off a marathon of government meetings which were aimed at producing the map. These discussions were accompanied by intensive American diplomacy: Dennis Ross made numerous transatlantic phone calls. Martin Indyk shuttled between Arafat in Gaza, Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Ariel Sharon at his ranch in the Negev. In addition, General Fogelson of the USA arrived to discuss the maps with Israeli Generals Shaul Mofaz, the Deputy Chief of Staff, and Shlomo Yanay, head of planning in the IDF.

Netanyahu found himself caught, as so often, between two conflicting forces: the Americans, who demand concrete pullbacks, and his right-wing partners, who threaten to bring him down if he yields so much as an inch of sacred soil. Yet this master of Lilliputian maneuvers found a way to buy time and obfuscate the main issue. He retreated to the position he had taken before his promise to Albright, namely, that before Israel delivers more land, the Palestinians must agree a priori to its version of the final-status agreement (See Challenge # 46). Only after Israel has defined the "ceiling," that is, the final limits of Palestinian territory, will Netanyahu agree to give it up in bits and pieces.

Netanyahu was concerned about marketing the redeployment to his constituents. His reasoning went as follows: In the redeployments we give, in the final status we get. I want to get before I give! And so he enlisted Minister of Infrastructure Ariel Sharon, who is close to the right-wing circles in the coalition, and Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, who likes to do exactly what the Americans ask for, to draw up their versions of the final-status map. While Sharon charted his from the field, touring every hill and valley, stopping along the way to visit his friends in the settlements, Mordechai gave the job to his generals from the army's Cartography Department.

Sharon vs. Mordechai

In mid-December the government examined three maps: two by Mordechai and one by Sharon. Mordechai's first map outlined Israel's so-called "security interests"; 42 Israeli settlements, about one third of the total, were found to have no security value. If this were to be the map of the final status, 55% of the West Bank would remain under Israel's control. The Defense Minister's second map included not only "security" but also "national" interests, taking in all the settlements and covering 63% of the total. The army cartographers left it to the ministers to decide which settlements would be "in" and which "out." Sharon, who doesn’t differentiate between "security" and "national" interests, came up with a single map, assessing that Israel needs 63.8% of the West Bank, including every settlement.

Oddly enough (or perhaps not so oddly) all three maps line up exceedingly well with the late Yitzhak Rabin's concept of the final-status arrangement. Mordechai's "security" map comes closest, for like him, Rabin differentiated between "security" and "political" settlements. The Likud built most of the latter, during its first fifteen-year reign, in heavily populated Palestinian areas. Its policy was to preempt forever the possibility of a Palestinian state. Rabin disavowed responsibility for these settlements, claiming that they were erected not as a product of national consensus, but rather in order to serve the political aims of the Likud.

In the "security interest" map, it would seem, Mordechai has adopted Rabin's conception. He is ready to re-define 42 settlements as "extraterritorial areas" within Palestinian territory. They would be connected to the Jewish state by Israeli-controlled roads. Sharon, as mentioned, refuses to let go of any.

This game of Monopoly did not last long: Netanyahu was forced to decide. Mordechai's security map was clearly his first choice, but Sharon would not allow the Prime Minister to play games with him. When he understood that he was being used to placate the ultra-right, he threatened to bring him down should he cross the red line of "national" interests. Mordechai then stepped back, opening the way for Foreign Minister David Levi. The latter raised an important tactical question, which we shall now take up in detail.

Levi vs. Sharon

Like Labor leaders Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, Levi claims it would be a mistake to reveal the final map at such an early stage. Having spent many hours with the Palestinian negotiators, he knows that the map will encounter immediate rejection. Levi accepts the initial logic of Oslo: First let's build measures of confidence with the Palestinians, show them and the Americans that we are serious – give them, therefore, the 12%. This position dovetails nicely with that of the IDF. The generals claim that the less time the final-status negotiations take, the better. They warn of the upheavals that will occur when the Palestinian people find out what their leadership has foisted on them. Hence they prefer to extend the phases of redeployment. Sharon would hear none of this. He and the right-wingers want to provide their settlements with plenty of land for future development before giving up an inch. If the Palestinians will not accept this – so much for Oslo!

The hour drew near for the meeting with Albright. Again Netanyahu had to decide – this time, between Sharon and Levi. Reporters waiting outside the cabinet room heard Sharon screaming as never before. He warned Netanyahu that he would topple the government if national interests were played with. Netanyahu was in serious trouble. But now Dennis Ross stepped onto the stage and came to his rescue. He gave the cornered leader a new extension – until mid-January. So Netanyahu flew. David Levi, his position rejected, stayed home.

Why the reprieve till mid-January? Because the Americans suddenly had a flash of light concerning Israel's internal politics. By December 31 the government must pass a new budget. It requires support from all members of its coalition – otherwise it may fall. The proposed budget, however, will hit the lowest strata hard. Israel's economy is in deep recession. In the development towns, one-time Likud strongholds, unemployment figures are high. Until Netanyahu leaps this hurdle, he won't be able to deal with the question of redeployment.

After the Maps

In mid-January Clinton and Netanyahu will meet at the White House. The figure of 12% will be announced. The Palestinians, in turn, will have to accept the principles of the Israeli approach to the final status agreement. Here the internal Israeli friction will not matter: Right, center and left (Labor) are all in basic agreement with the maps presented by the army. Even the Americans have said they will not interfere with Israel's security needs. Indeed, Arafat will come to Washington to get his 12%, but also to give up some 60% of the West Bank.

As for the 40% that remains, it will amount to scattered islands of densely populated Palestinian territory. These will have no outlet to the Arab world. They will remain dependent on Israel in every aspect of life. The six-year illusion (1993-1999) is coming to an end. The Palestinian negotiators know very well what they are getting. They will have to bear full responsibility for the catastrophe they have inflicted on their people.

The Israelis are mistaken, however, to think they can so easily elude their Palestinian nemesis. The conflict will go on. The anger and frustration that result from defeat can never be a basis for peace.