Negotiating a major territorial compromise is an erroneous approach. Unlike all other give-and-take agreements, land compromise is inherently monopolistic. There is only one Temple Mount; who would get it? Densely populated Judea is too small to split; one side must vacate it. There is nothing either side can get in return for its concessions, and thus no room for good faith. Negotiated settlement is a thinly veiled reflection of the balance of power; not only of military might, but also of public influence and political clout.

Land disputes between countries are normally settled through capitulation. Overwhelming military force is the only reason for a country to abandon its claim to important land. Witness Alsace, the Kurils, or California.

What kind of just settlement can resolve the issue of Jerusalem? We claim millennia-old remains, the Arabs claim current villages. Our remains are important to archeologists, their villages are important to farmers. Jews constituted a majority in Jerusalem from 1880 until Jordan captured it, but were a slim minority for centuries before that. Arab houses today stand on the sites of synagogues Jordan razed in 1948. The knot of mutual claims cannot be untangled, but only cut.

Negotiations acquire a momentum of their own, with the winning side increasing its demands. Even the Oslo negotiators refused to discuss Jerusalem and the settlements, but now the Palestinians refuse Israel’s offer to abandon the Temple Mount to the UN rather than to the Muslims. In protracted negotiations, the winning side has ample time to digest the concessions and demand new ones. After Israel agreed to dismantle the faraway West Bank settlements, the Palestinians insisted on freezing construction in the settlement blocs, the only reason for such a freeze being their eventual destruction. Knowing that the real negotiations are conducted secretly and presented to public as fait accompli, we need not doubt that the Israeli government has indeed promised the PLO the removal of all the settlements. Palestinian demands won’t end with Israeli withdrawal behind the 1948 border. They will ask for restitution, unhindered labor movement, tax-free exports to Israel, the right to squander common water resources on inefficient agriculture, and so on. Palestinians feel all the more free to heap demands since they don’t want a final settlement that would allow refugees to return and wreak havoc in the West Bank. Neither do they want Hamas to oust Fatah, and all of them to lose international prominence and aid.

Land-for-peace negotiations invariably picture one side as the enemy of peace. Palestinians are ready to grant Israel peace; Jews refuse to take the steps required of them. The very fact that land concessions are being negotiated positions Israel as an occupier who unquestionably must abandon the lands.
A major shortcoming of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is that Israel gets nothing. A reader of the Oslo Accords is struck by the fact that it entails no Palestinian commitments. A vague reference to peaceful intentions is there, but the PLO was not involved in the grassroots intifada anyway, until Rabin brought Arafat to Gaza. The Israeli concessions are significant: withdrawal from Gaza, abandoning Jericho to the Arabs (what other nation would abandon a town so central to its history?), recognizing “the issues” of Jerusalem and refugees, proclaiming the Palestinians “a people” (Bush recognized them as such a bit earlier in a letter to Arafat in Tunis), and entrenching the PLO as official representatives of that people at a time when Arafat’s role among Palestinians was less than certain.

Objectively, Jews do not need a peace treaty with Palestinians because there is de facto peace, anyway. Israeli land concessions are only aimed at extracting a piece of paper from the Palestinians. Jews can continue living in substantial peace while keeping Jerusalem and the settlements. A two-state solution? Let the Palestinians call their entity whatever they want. We’ll just wall ourselves away from them and bomb them in case of terrorist attacks.