European history as conflict resolution reference for Israeli-Palestinian territorial claims

Feb 23, 2012 Published under Europe, Israel, Mideast Negotiations, Palestine

Gideon Biger, a Professor of Geography at Tel Aviv University, references three examples of how European States handled somewhat similar territorial challenges and ultimately achieved harmony.  While there are plenty of distinctions, these are all worth bearing in mind as Israel and Palestine seek to resolve their differences.

February 23, 2012 Thursday 30 Shevat 5772 10:17 IST


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Photo by: REUTERS

Resolving Israel’s territorial dispute with the PA


The strategies employed to solve border disputes in the former Yugoslavia and the Pyrenees might be helpful.

One of the most pressing issues affecting negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the question of territory. Currently three major territorial disputes hamper the possibility for a settlement that would result in a permanent peace treaty. These include problems relating to dividing or sharing Jerusalem, safe passage for Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank and the problem Israel faces regarding its large settlement blocks (Ariel, Efrat, Ma’aleh Adumim) in the West Bank. But what many commentators have not examined is the fact that, historically, the territorial disputes here share characteristics with disputes that were solved in Europe in the past century.

The strategies employed to solve border disputes in the former Yugoslavia, and the Pyrenees between France and Spain, give some ideas as to how these three problems that exist here might be solved. Let’s begin by looking at Jerusalem.
On the border between Slovenia and Italy there are now two large towns, Gorizia in Italy and Nova Gorica in Slovenia. The Italian town of Gorizia was split in 1948 when a new border was drawn between Yugoslavia and Italy at the end of the Second World War. About 20 percent of the population, half of the infrastructure of the city, including the railway station, fort, Jewish cemetery and a site of pilgrimage were all left on the Yugoslav side of the border. The population that remained there ended up behind the “Iron Curtain” and the city they lived in was rebuilt as Nova Gorica, literally “new Gorizia.”

The border with old Gorizia was marked by a large iron fence and people were unable to cross back and forth. The new city took on the familiar style of building of the Socialist Soviet Bloc, while the old Gorizia remained an essentially Italian city.
When Yugoslavia fell apart in the 1990s and Slovenia became an independent state the border began to become less relevant. The fence was removed. When Slovenia joined the EU in 2007 and adopted the Euro, all barriers to freedom of movement were removed and the cities gradually reunited, although administratively they belong to two different countries. Could this be a model for Jerusalem? Jerusalem was once divided between its Jordanian and Israeli sides. Today it is one city.

The issue of passage between Gaza and the West Bank has bedeviled policy-makers since the question was raised in the 1990s. However other states have also faced these issues of creating corridors for goods and people through other states. During the Yugoslav period the province of Bosnia was landlocked. However when new boundaries were drawn for the region in the 1990s Bosnia got a corridor the gave it an outlet to the Adriatic Sea through Croatia. The corridor was nine kilometers wide and led to the port of Neum.

The corridor results in the pretty tourist town of Dubrovnik being cut off from the rest of Croatia. Those driving from Dubrovnik, which is in Croatia, must pass through the Bosnian corridor. Border control posts with guards check passports and regulate the crossing. This presents some problems for travelers, such as Israelis, who need a separate visa to enter Bosnia, even though they are only transiting the 9 km. Although currently the corridor does not present a problem between the two countries there will likely be issues with it when Croatia joins the EU, and Bosnia is still waiting.
Can a similar “safe passage” be developed between the two Palestinian areas without causing a problem for Israel? It seems, given the right controls, that it could.

The problem of the settlement blocks in the West Bank might be solved by a 17th-century model that created enclaves of one state within another. During that period the border between Spain and France in the Pyrenees mountain range was unclear. The Spanish town of Livilla was left outside Spain, about 10 km. inside France. For 300 years the town remained part of Spain, in terms of law and administration, and Spanish goods transited France to get to the enclave.

During the Second World War, when Franco ruled Spain and Nazi Germany occupied France, the status quo did not change. With the establishment of the EU Lavilla remains part of Spain but separated from her by French territory.
Because of the common currency and relaxed border controls the anomaly is not an issue.
A peace settlement between Israel and the PA could make it possible for Ariel (and perhaps Efrat and Ma’aleh Adumim) to remain part of Israel and omit the need to evacuate its residents.
Ariel could exist as an enclave within the Palestinian territory.

The writer is a professor in the Department of Geography at Tel Aviv University.

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