Unclear borders between Israel, Palestinians

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday he won't go back to peace talks until Israel agrees to stop building new settlements and accepts the 1967 border as a basis for those talks.

Palestinians and Israeli security clashed at one border checkpoint Friday. But as CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips explains, this is a region where the boundaries aren't always clear.

To draw a new border between Palestinians and Israelis, you first have to find the old one. And in many places, like in the bustling Arab town of Barta'a, it's not easy.

Ashraf al-Kundous is a dentist in Barta'a, where the old green line -- named after the color of the pencil used to draw it in 1949 -- ran right through the middle of town. The line vanished when Israel took control of the West Bank in 1967, but it still controls people's lives.

In theory, Ashraf should stay on the old Arab side of the line where he was born. "It's so difficult," he said.

"So right now you're illegal here?" asked Phillips.

"Yeah," said Ashraf with a smile. "But two meters to the east, it's not illegal."

"That makes perfect sense," commented Phillips.

"Oh, occupation," said Ashraf. "What you can say?"

Yet the line, as President Obama and others have argued, should be the starting point for negotiations -- with mutually agreed swaps of territory to define the new border.

To drive in search of the line, though, is to find it's been blown away by the winds of history, shifted by the massive Israeli-built security barrier, which the Palestinians call a land grab -- or buried under new roads linking Israel's West Bank settlements.

Phillips traveled with Khalil Toufakji a Palestinian geographer, in a car.

"But you say a lot of people, Jews and Arabs... ," said Phillips.

"They don't know where is the green line," said Khalil, "and when you ask him what means the green line they say what? Green line? Green line, it means trees."

Here, it means a check point designed to keep West Bank Arabs out of Israel. Yet here, it's a row of ignored, overgrown barrels.

Up in the north, what people say they want is an end to the restrictions and indignities the line causes. That is because Ashraf, the dentist, was born east of the line he's officially Palestinian, and can't travel with his wife, born on the old Israeli side.

"I cannot go with my family and my wife and my children to Israel," he said.

They've been fighting this week to find a way to start negotiating again. But a bigger battle awaits, if those talks ever begin.

And there is a great deal of diplomatic pressure being exerted on Israelis and Palestinians to get them negotiating again. But those talks are still hung up over the issues that have plagued them for decades.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.