(Bloomberg Opinion) — One of the most striking aspects of President Trump’s Middle East “peace plan” is the convoluted map of the future state of Palestine. It envisions a barely-contiguous state, more a series of cantons. Full of holes, it has inevitably been compared to “Swiss cheese.”

The map alone makes the plan look unworkable. How can you make a country out of patches of lands connected by bridges and tunnels, one of which is 20 miles long? Remember that this is not an archipelago of islands separated by sea, but rather a Palestinian state surrounded mostly by Israeli territory and Israeli control.

History is littered with examples of states condemned to failure—or permanent conditions of weakness, chaos and domination by neighbors—by incongruous and complex borders. The most problematic boundaries are legacies of colonial rule, or its end. The partitions of Palestine and India resulted in intractable conflicts. Independence from colonial rule in the 1960s resulted in several border disputes in Africa, where arbitrary state boundaries bisect tribes and cultural groups. Many conflicts and cartographical curiosities are the product of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In many ways, the proposed map of Palestine resembles the enclave-states created in the post-colonial and post-Soviet periods. These include Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhchivan—the former controlled by Armenia but claimed by Azerbaijan, and the latter an autonomous exclave of Azerbaijan. There’s also Transnistria, which runs along the Dniester river between Moldova and Ukraine. It is recognized by Abkhazia and South Ossetia, small Russian-supported statelets that were themselves carved out of Georgia. (There are even disputed exclaves within Transistria.) In Central Asia, there are Uzbek and Tajik enclaves, separated from their parent states because of the legacies of the Soviet era. 

The Palestinian patchwork on Trump’s map has also been compared to the “Bantustans” under Apartheid South Africa, and to Native-American reservations in the U.S. To me, they most resemble  the most egregiously  gerrymandered American electoral districts.

History shows that states without contiguous borders, like East and West Pakistan or the United Arab Republic, tend to break up. This can happen with bang, such as the violence that attended the birth of Bangladesh, or with a whimper, as in the quiet break-up of the UAR into the older states of Egypt and Syria.

What fate awaits the state of Palestine? In a world that prioritizes internationally recognized borders, it could end up like South Ossetia, Bosnia, Northern Cyprus or East Timor. Palestine is already widely recognized globally, giving it a status beyond that of Transnistria, but not quite that of Bosnia. But recognition of Palestinian statehood hasn’t reduced Israeli control or empowered the Palestinian Authority, which is crippled by political divisions as well as geography.

If anything, the Palestinians are more divided today than in the past: the Palestinian Authority has spent a quarter century governing a quasi-autonomous entity in the West Bank while Hamas has ruled Gaza for 14 years. Not much is likely to change under the Trump plan, whatever the merits of its economic incentives.

Most likely, the Palestinian enclaves will remain under Israeli state control, divided into several autonomous areas like Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia in Russia’s Caucuses region. Most of the world does not demand those areas in Russia become independent; the Chechens have apparently given up their ambitions. Given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decades of opposition to recognition for a Palestinian state, and the rise of rightwing parties in Israel that vehemently oppose such a state, Israel’s current leadership will likely hope the Palestinians can be persuaded to do the same as the Chechens and accept some kind of sub-state status.

Palestinian leaders have unanimously rejected the Trump initiative, but it is not clear what they can do to alter the status quo. There’s little appetite to return to the violence of the 1990s and early 2000s. In the West Bank, Israeli communities are so entangled with the Palestinians, there seems no way to extricate either side into a workable two-state solution. Trump’s map will not change that.

To contact the author of this story: Seth J. Frantzman at sfrantzman@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bobby Ghosh at aghosh73@bloomberg.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Seth J. Frantzman covers Middle East affairs for the Jerusalem Post. He is the author of “After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East” and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.

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