Final Borders, Fate of Settlements Will Weigh Heavily at Peace Summit

Among the biggest obstacles facing Israeli and Palestinian leaders as they meet this week at Camp David is the question of final borders.

The Palestinians are demanding a total Israeli withdrawal to the borders that preceded the 1967 Six-Day War — that is, turning over eastern Jerusalem, all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel in turn wants to keep Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty and to annex two blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Following the Six-Day War, Israel annexed the Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem, but the West Bank and Gaza Strip remained under military government.

The Palestinian Authority was created following the 1993 Oslo Accord. Israel subsequently withdrew from the main population centers in the West Bank. It turned over most of Gaza, but some Jewish settlements still remain there.

The West Bank is now divided into three categories — Area A, under total Palestinian control, which includes the urban centers and their rural environs; Area B, under civilian Palestinian control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control; and Area C, under total Israeli control, which includes the Jewish settlements and main traffic arteries in the West Bank.

So far, Israel has handed over to the Palestinians some 40 percent of the West Bank.

But the Palestinians complain that the self-rule areas are not connected, and that they only have islands of sovereignty in the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority controls relatively large areas in the northern part of the West Bank, around Jenin and Nablus. Farther to the south, their main centers are in Tulkarm, Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron. Israel controls the Jewish neighborhood in the heart of Hebron and the adjacent streets.

Most of the Jewish settlements are located in large blocs, such as the Etzion Bloc and settlements in the greater Jerusalem area. The Gush Katif bloc lies in the heart of Gaza.

There are now about 190,000 Israelis living in 125 settlements that range in size from towns to smaller rural communities.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently said that under his proposal, some 80 percent of the settlers would remain under Israeli sovereignty. This would mean that some 38,000 settlers would be faced with the choice of living under Palestinian rule or giving up their homes.

Among those who will probably have to leave will be 5,000 settlers living in 15 settlements in Gaza, the 14,000 Israelis living in the Jordan Valley and Hebron region and thousands of others living in small settlements north of Jerusalem and in the northeastern areas of the West Bank.

Settler activists in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, who in the past were among the most vocal in their opposition to any further land transfers to the Palestinians, have been oddly quiet in recent days. The reason, in the words of a veteran settler: “We don’t think it’s serious. We just don’t believe that anyone will really try to remove us.”

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