'Hong Kong solution' in the West Bank?

An intriguing report in Asharq Alawsat says the US and Israel have been quietly exploring the possibility of a land-lease option for parts of the West Bank. 

The proposal is that under a peace deal, Israel would lease some land (including "land in occupied eastern Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley") from the Palestinian Authority for a period of between 40 and 99 years.

This is reminiscent of the situation following the Opium Wars in the 19th century when Britain leased parts of Hong Kong from China for a period of 99 years before handing back the whole territory to the Chinese in 1997.

According to the Saudi-owned newspaper, land leases were also discussed at the Taba talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in 2001, though the period discussed then was much shorter – only six to nine years.

A note on those talks, written shortly afterwards by the EU envoy, Miguel Moratinos, said

"The Israeli side requested an additional two per cent of land [in the West Bank] under a lease arrangement to which the Palestinians responded that the subject of lease can only be discussed after the establishment of a Palestinian state and the transfer of land to Palestinian sovereignty."

The renewed talk of leases – especially long ones – is interesting because it might help to break the deadlock by satisfying Palestinian claims of sovereignty while at the same time allowing Israel to retain some of its West Bank settlements and maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley. How well it might work in practice is another matter: probably a lot would depend on the detail of any leasing agreements.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 30 October 2010.