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D.C.-based NGO Asks the Crowd to Map an Israel-Palestine Border

BY Lisa Goldman | Monday, December 10 2012

Screenshot from Is Peace Possible.

A Washington, D.C.-based NGO has launched a interactive map called Is Peace Possible that seeks suggestions for a border between Israel and the West Bank via crowdsourcing.

Approximately 500,000 Israeli Jews live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are considered occupied territory according to international law. Israel gained control over the territory in the 1967 war that is referred to as the Six Day War or the June War. Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, Palestinians and Israelis agreed in principle that large parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem would one day become a sovereign Palestinian state, but the two parties have notoriously been unable to agree on where exactly the border should be, with Israel unwilling to give up all its settlements or control over the holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City and the Palestinians countering that the settlements are built on stolen land and East Jerusalem must be the capital of any future Palestinian state.

The week before last, immediately after the UN member states voted to grant Palestine non-member observer state status at the international body, Israel, which opposed the motion, announced its intention to build 3,000 new settler units in an area of East Jerusalem known as E1. The move was widely characterized as a death blow to the two-state solution, in that it makes a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank geographically impossible.

But Zvika Krieger, a contributing editor to the Atlantic who coordinates Middle East coverage for the magazine, does not share the opinion that settling Israeli Jews in E1 will kill the two state solution. In a post for the magazine's digital edition, Krieger, who in his bio blurb describes himself as a senior vice president at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, which sponsored the Is Peace Possible interactive map, writes:

So does Israeli construction in E1 constitute a "fatal blow" to the creation of a viable Palestinian state? The answer is subjective, since there are no objective criteria for what actually constitutes a workable, realistic Palestinian state. "Building in E1 would not necessarily undermine the contiguity of a future Palestinian state," The Jerusalem Post editorialized, for example, saying that "an access road could easily allow Palestinian traffic from the south and north to pass east of Ma'aleh Adumim and continue northward or southward."

The idea Krieger and the map makers suggest is that it is possible to crowdsource a solution where the politicians and diplomats failed over the past two decades. From Is Peace Possible's More Information and FAQ section:

Your challenge is to include as many Israelis as possible within Israel’s new borders while still allowing for the creation of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state. Former negotiators as well as numerous scholars and NGOs have tried their hands at this task; now it is your turn.

Krieger explains:

Users are presented with a map of the West Bank, and can pick which settlements they think should be included within Israel's borders as part of a final-status agreement. Hovering over each settlement will show its population numbers and how disruptive its annexation would be for Palestinian contiguity. (Users can also select settlements to include or exclude from a list of settlements, organized by population size or alphabetically.) Users can also see the most recent Israeli and Palestinian border proposals (as well as the route of Israeli security barrier and the Geneva Initiative's border proposal) grafted onto the map as a reference point in devising their own border.

For every settlement a user chooses to include within Israel, a ticker at the bottom of the page tabulates how many of the 500,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would be included or excluded from Israel's new borders. It also calculates how much land would be annexed - which is the amount of land that Israel would likely have to swap to Palestinians from within Israel proper. When users are satisfied with their Israeli annexations of the West Bank, they are shown scenarios of what land from Israel would be swapped to the new Palestinian state. Finally, the tool allows users to create a printable and savable version of the map they created, which can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, and across the web.

The New York Times's Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren posted the link to Krieger's article on her Facebook page, eliciting some furious responses from her Facebook "friends." Orly Halpern, an American-Israeli freelance journalist based in Jerusalem, wrote: "They should translate to Arabic to get the other side's input!" Brooklyn-based Ian Scott Horst chimed in, "Heaven forbid the Palestinians have a voice in their own destiny. What a vile racist game this is. Is there one for Africa where Europeans can decide who gets what?" Ed Rettig, a U.S.-born resident of Israel who works for the American Jewish Committee, responded sarcastically, "Oh my. An English language publication put out in the US and aimed at the American public did not include an Arabic version of this "tool" and that makes it a "vile racist game." What is it about this conflict that leads people to write such silly things?"

The thread becomes increasingly angry until it winds down at 43 comments, as of this writing. But there is no response from Rudoren, who was recently taken to task by the paper's public editor for the Facebook status updates she wrote during Israel's most recent military action in Gaza. The Times has since assigned Rudoren an editor to vet her social media posts.

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