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Thursday, 5 February 2009

Israeli politicians offer territory swaps and tunnels to solve the endless crisis

Israel's hard-fought election campaign is throwing out a number of grand plans reminiscent of some of the treaties that carved up the Middle East in the 20th century, including a scheme to transfer Jewish-held areas of the West Bank to Israel in exchange for Arab-populated territories.

As well as extreme right-wing plans to redraw boundaries Ehud Barak, the Labour Party leader and current Defence Minister, has proposed digging a 30-mile tunnel between the blockaded Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank, to allow Palestinians the territorial continuity they are demanding in any peace deal.

“The preferred way to do it would be to dig a tunnel that would be under Israeli sovereignty, but under totally free and unobstructed use by Palestinians,” said Mr Barak.

The election front-runner Binyamin Netanyahu, of the hawkish Likud party, has said that when he takes office he will make a point of enacting forcible regime change in Gaza to topple the Islamist leadership of Hamas, although he has stopped short of promising a state for their secular rivals, Fatah.

He has clashed with Tzipi Livni, the centre-right Kadima party leader and incumbent Foreign Minister, who wishes to explore the possibility of dividing Jerusalem to allow the Palestinians a capital in the city, sacred to both sides.

Perhaps surprisingly, Yisrael Beitenu, the hard-right nationalist party led by Moldavian-born Avigdor Lieberman, is in favour of allowing some of the Arab-dominated outlying areas of northern Jerusalem to become a Palestinian city, although it is unlikely to be enough to please the other side. More