Since the dust settled after the Six Day War, the main tenet of the Arab-Israeli peace process has been Land for Peace (LFP). Under this equation, Arab countries would enter into formal peace agreements in exchange for Israel ceding lands acquired in this war. LFP was put to the test after the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace accords. Egypt fastidiously insisted on recovering every last inch of the Sinai, and, over the years, has received tens of billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer-funded foreign aide. Unfortunately, Cairo was not as pedantic in fulfilling its obligations under the peace agreement. The envisioned cultural, economic and academic cooperation never materialized, and the Egyptian media is one of the most anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic in the world. During the first and second intifadas, Egypt downgraded its Israeli diplomatic presence. More recently, senior Egyptian diplomats who were stationed in Tel Aviv have admitted to spying, and Egypt has looked the other way while Hamas and Iran used the Sinai as a staging ground for a massive weapons smuggling operation.
Under pressure of Egyptian inaction, the Olmert administration agreed to alter the terms of the peace accords, allowing for a more significant Egyptian military presence in Sinai, particularly along its border with Gaza. Despite these changes, we have yet to see a significant reduction in terror activities in the Sinai, or any measurable reduction of smuggling into Gaza.
By contrast, the 1994 peace accord between Israel and Jordan did not use LFP, but instead a more balanced “Peace for Peace” framework, which promoted the interests of both countries. Despite a significant Palestinian population, Jordan has upheld its obligations to control its borders, and prevent its territory from being used as a staging ground for terror operations, logistics and weapons smuggling.
In 2005, a second version of LFP was attempted in Gaza — unilateral disengagement. Only months after, “free” elections resulted in the ascendance of a Hamas-controlled government and Israel forcefully ejected thousands of Israeli settlers from their homes and communities. The Sharon government hoped that disengaging from the Palestinians without preconditions would result in good will that would enable a peace accord at a later date. Unfortunately, the move was viewed by the Palestinians, Iranians, and others as retreat under fire. The event was compared to Ehud Barak’s hasty, uncoordinated withdrawal of the Israeli army from Lebanon in 2000, which left large amounts of military supplies and Israel’s Southern Lebanese allies to the tender mercies of the Hezbollah.
After the Gaza disengagement of 2005, Hamas began to openly train a growing military organization, armed by intensified smuggling efforts from Egyptian territory. The nuisance firing of a small number of makeshift rockets into southern Israel soon became a barrage, with the range and quality of the projectiles rapidly increasing under Iranian guidance. The following year, working in open collaboration with the Hezbollah, the two organizations conducted a two-front kidnapping of Israeli soldiers.
Gilad Shalit was taken on June 25, 2006 on the Gaza front. A few weeks later, two more Israeli soldiers were kidnapped on the northern border with Lebanon. Hamas and Hezbollah sent a joint message illustrating that any territory ceded to Israel’s enemies would be used, literally, as a launching pad for attacks against it. Israel’s failure to curb Hezbollah during the summer of 2006, and its inaction in the face of the armed takeover of Gaza by Hamas the following year, have only accentuated their point.
A third version of LFP is now being considered. Here, Egypt and Jordan would take over Gaza and the West Bank, respectively, until such a time that they deem the Palestinians willing and able to self govern. It is doubtful whether Egypt, which has exploited the border chaos to improve its own strategic position vis-à-vis Israel, would be motivated to keep the peace in Gaza. And such a plan would put the existing Israeli-Jordanian accord under duress, and may even threaten the Hashemite regime if the Jordanians are perceived to be working in Israel’s interest against the Palestinians.
Land for Peace has eroded Israel’s deterrence and strategic position in the Middle East. Israel should re-evaluate LFP as a basis for its negotiations with Syria and Lebanon. It should also avoid further disengagement plans in the West Bank. The new Israeli government, which will be elected in February, should strive to explain and coordinate these positions with the Obama administration, as they will represent a departure from the LFP-based Bush and Quartet policies.
Jerusalem and Washington should realize that we do not need to be rushed to reach bad agreements that will place Israel’s long term existence in jeopardy. Instead, its leaders should consider a 10- to 20-year view that factors in the steady decline of the importance of hydrocarbons as the driver of the world’s economy. With this decline, we will see an ebbing in the influence of countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose petrodollars are financing global terrorism and the armed struggle against Israel. It will be then, and only then, that fertile ground may be found for real Middle East peace.