Bassam As-Salhi: Land swap, a dangerous concept

5 02 2010

Bassam As-Salhi is leader of the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP). In an interview with bitterlemons, As-Salhi speaks of the dangers surrounding the notion of a land swap, trading areas outside the West Bank and Gaza for land on which illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank were built.

Some say the concept of land swaps is a creative way to resolve territorial problems in negotiations. Do you agree?

No. I think this idea is very dangerous. We need clear recognition of the borders of a Palestinian state, i.e., the whole area of 1967, including East Jerusalem. This is the law as embodied in many resolutions from the UN and negotiations must start from this point. Any land swap must not change this reality or the unity of the area of the Palestinian state.

However, what’s happening is that Israel is making changes in areas of the West Bank using the idea of a land swap to legitimize its settlement blocs. Israel wants to open negotiations with the Palestinian side from this point. In other words, from the beginning, Israel is leaving those areas outside Palestinian territory. But the original idea, which in my opinion was anyway a mistake, was that the notion of a land swap should follow the establishment of borders, not come before.

Why, during the Camp David negotiations, did the Palestinian side accept the notion in the first place?

I think this was a mistake. I think it came about because at the time there was one package solution and a land swap was a small component of this larger package to solve all issues. But now the other issues are not being discussed, and Israel is trying to isolate the idea of a land swap. This makes it dangerous. We need, first, recognition of the Palestinian borders, recognition of the issue of East Jerusalem and refugees, etc.

As a point under the file of settlements, maybe a land swap can be discussed, but to take it in isolation is dangerous because it means the facts Israel is creating on the ground in the form of settlements are successfully undermining the principle of the 1967 borders.

What would you respond to those who will say that with the settlements where they are and some half a million people living in these settlements it is simply unrealistic to expect to move them?

We cannot start from this perspective. If we accept to do that, it means that the rights of the Palestinians, rights that are universal, are being undermined by force, the force Israel uses to change the reality on the ground. We have to start from international law.

International law recognizes that East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza are occupied territories, an occupation that must end to make way for a Palestinian state. It is not our responsibility to find a solution to the problems Israel has created for itself. These settlements should never have been built and they should not be allowed to affect our rights.

The current Israeli coalition government relies on the support of pro-settler groups and this is a very negative development in Israel. But this government didn’t create the problem. Other governments are responsible for creating an atmosphere in which settlers have been allowed to flourish.

In this way, Israel is destroying chances of a two-state solution and implementing instead an apartheid system in the West Bank, in addition to inside Israel. It is becoming clearer and clearer that Palestinians, absent a two-state solution, must prepare to think about how to ensure their right to self-determination without a state of their own. The only alternative is in a democratic one-state solution for two nations.-

This interview was conducted by the bitterlemons family of internet publications. It is republished here with permission.

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