The E-1 Gambit Explained

I have read many articles and seen more statements about Israel’s plans to build in E-1 than I can number. Most have one thing in common. They are based in a fantasy world in which it is 1966, except for the Oslo thing, the past 46 years have not occurred, the PA controls both the West Bank and Gaza, and for certain no peace agreement was negotiated in 2000 at Camp David that included E-1 on the Israeli side of the boundaries.

The propaganda machine is running full tilt explaining how Israeli construction in E-1 would both split the West Bank in half and render impossible any two state solution. Both of these are untruths.

What is really going on?

The Palestinians sought to upgrade their status in the UN in order to pursue diplomatic and legal efforts to against Israel rather than engaging in negotiations that would involve making painful concessions.

Israel almost immediately announced that it would advance planning for construction in the E-1 corridor. This could potentially result in a situation in which any potential visitor from a future Palestinian in the West Bank to Jerusalem would have to go through Israeli territory in order to get to Jerusalem.

There are those who say that developing the E-1 corridor would cut the West Bank in two. That claim is simply an outright falsehood. Access to and claims to control Jerusalem are the real issues, not the division of the West Bank which extends to the east well beyond Ma’aleh Adumim. Other north-south roads are certainly possible.

Furthermore, E-1 was on the Israeli side of the Clinton peace deal as I noted above. This article by CAMERA about the E-1 tract disproves any claim that construction in that corridor would cut off the north from the south and cut the West Bank in half and shows the map of the Clinton proposal, according to Dennis Ross, without the additional significant land-swaps to the Palestinian side which have been discussed in recent years. The fact that E-1 was on the Israeli side of the only nearly agreed upon peace deal between the two sides necessarily means that Israeli construction in E-1 would not preclude the possibility of a two state solution as some have frantically challenged.

Many have accused Israel of promoting plans to construct in E-1 in order to spite the world for the UN vote. The timing of the decision might lend itself to such a scenario, but here is the gambit being played as far as I can tell.

With UN Observer State status, the PA could begin filing charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court and seeking to use the United Nations as a weapon against Israel. The Israeli leadership realized that it could both appease hardliners among its supporters (who want to construct in E-1) and create a very strong bargaining chip with one action. With hardliners in ascent in the Likud, Israel is more likely to go through with construction in the E-1 corridor than it has been in the past and thus, when it threatens to do so, that threat has more veracity.

Europe and the United States are now working hard to prevent that construction and a resolution seems to be developing. In exchange for a halt, there will be calls for the Palestinian Authority not to use its new UN status to advance its cause against Israel.

In this instance, the tremendous focus on the importance of E-1 and the extreme criticism of the Israeli government’s position may enable Israel to trade holding off construction in E-1 indefinitely for an indefinite freeze of the only means beyond direct negotiations that the Palestinian Authority has left, its use of its new UN status. This is what appears to be developing, not just in theory, but in actuality. According to an article in the Times of Israel:

According to Maariv, the EU will also note that its economic agreements with Israel do not extend to the West Bank, the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem, and the body will condemn Israel’s building plans “with an emphasis on the intention to develop the E1 parcel.”

…The resolution, would also call on the Palestinians not to use their new status to take steps that could deepen the conflict — such as dragging Israel before the International Criminal Court — would be brought before European foreign ministers on Monday in Brussels and was expected to pass, the report said.

If Israel is indeed able to utilize the threat of building in E-1 to completely neutralize the threat posed by the Palestinian Authority’s Observer State status, it will be a major diplomatic victory for Israel even with all of the condemnations offered in the short term. If it goes forward with construction there, it will be following the parameters of the Clinton peace plan of 2000. That action would appease hardliners in a nation that seems to have moved to the political right, but would abandon a valuable bargaining chip in so doing and perhaps make a negotiated peace more difficult to achieve.

Those of us who desire a two state solution would rather that neither side do things to jeopardize a negotiated settlement and we must oppose major unilateral actions that could do so. No matter what either side does in international fora, it is fairly clear that the only path toward a real and lasting peace is through direct negotiations and unfortunately it appears that the Palestinian Authority has no interest in engaging in them with an Israeli government that it believes will not grant it the concessions that it wants. As US State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, recently stated, “The path to peace doesn’t go through New York.” It also does not necessarily go through the E-1 tract. The two sides must negotiate an agreement.

About the Author
Rabbi David Kaufman is the Rabbi of Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa, a congregation affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. He is also the President and Co-Founder of We Are For Israel, the home of "Centrist Advocates for Realistic Peace" and created the news site about the crisis in the Nuba Mountains, Rabbi Kaufman maintains an informational blog on which he posts sermons and other materials related to Jewish practice and belief at