Land for peace formula dead, Israel must adopt doctrine based on equality.
by Guy Bechor
Ever since the Six-Day War we’ve been hearing, like a mantra, the buzz about “land for peace.” The tiny Israel, a small dot on the globe, shall give up “land,” and in exchange it shall receive “peace” from the Arab side.
This mantra was so absolute that it was accepted here as an unqualified truth that cannot be denied; we even went as far as to convince the world that this is good for us. However, in the wake of the shocks experienced by the Arab world in recent months, there is no escaping the assertion that this mantra is no longer valid.
While Israel paid with hard, irreversible currency when it handed over land to the Arab side, the Arabs paid with soft, completely reversible currency - that is, words and agreements. Now we are hearing claims that these deals were made with the regimes rather than with the “people”; that is, they lack any legitimacy.
In Egypt there are many voices, including among presidential candidates, declaring that the Camp David Accord with Israel must be annulled or at least changed. That is, change the aspects that pertain to “peace” with Israel. Yet if the Egyptians wish to annul the Camp David Accord, will they return the Sinai desert to Israel? After all, they received this territory through the peace treaty between the two states, after failing to secure it through war. Yet for some reason, this is unthinkable for them.
The peace treaty with Egypt is undergoing changes rather casually at this time in respect t to the deployment of Egyptian troops in the Sinai, an issue that was a major element in the agreement. This shows how easily one can change agreements or understandings and possibly annul them altogether.
Slowly, Egypt is returning its army to the northern Sinai, a move that may prompt harsh implications for the ties with Israel. Yet did anything change about the land? Did Israel again annex Taba? Of course not. And why does the tiny Israel have to pay with land? After all, the Arab countries around it hold huge territories. Why wouldn’t they pay with land, while Israel gives them peace?
Now we are seeing how blatantly unequal this formula is; what’s more, it also hints at ostensible Israeli guilt, while the Arab side is seemingly doing Israel a favor. When adopting a diplomatic formula that involves feelings – that is, elements of guilt or doing one a favor – this necessarily ends badly. The new formula must be premised on substantive interests that would last.
The absence of equality between the two parts of this equation should have rang warning bells in Israel a while ago. Now, the time has come to adopt a formula based on equality, as is common among the nations of the world, where no side is doing a favor to the other: Either land in exchange for land, or peace in exchange for peace.
Paradoxically, the equal models last longer, because of their equality: It is impossible to take away land without the other side doing the same, and mutual deterrence is therefore created. Similarly, undermining the “peace” would prompt a parallel move – for example, downgrading diplomatic relations. Words in exchange for words, land in exchange for land, and interests in exchange for interests.
The waves of violence in the Arab world and the threat on the status quo, as well as the Palestinian Authority’s defiance in the face of all agreements with Israel, require new, fresh thinking around here, without naïve illusions that have already collapsed. This new thinking should be presented to the world as an up-to-date Israeli position premised on reciprocity, equality and mutual respect.
This is a golden opportunity for Israel to reexamine its strategic doctrine vis-à-vis the Arab world, thereby making a genuine contribution to the better management of the conflict with the Arab side, a conflict that has lasted for too long.