Jun 11 2008

There is no avoiding land for peace

Published by at 5:27 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

There is no avoiding land for peace
Daoud Kuttab

After Israel’s crushing defeat and occupation of Arab lands in 1967, the United Nations introduced the concept of land for peace into the conflict by unanimously enacting Security Council Resolution 242.

Much has been said about whether the resolution demands Israel to withdraw from all “the territories”, in accordance to the French version, or just “territories”, a formulation that without the “the” has caused Israel and its supporters to claim that the country has a right to retain some occupied land. But in both cases, the concept as specified in the preamble was the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security.”

Land for peace has therefore been the bedrock of all post-1967 peace efforts. And except for a short period at the height of the rule of the hard line Likud party, when it suggested a peace for peace resolution, Israel has always publicly supported the land for peace formula. Naturally the big problem has always centered on which lands and what kind of peace. Here the Israeli position has been rendered hypocritical by Israeli actions on the lands that were supposed to be traded for peace.

By confiscating Arab land and moving Jewish Israeli settlers into the territories occupied in 1967, Israel violated international law and rendered the concept of land for peace much more difficult. Israel’s decision to annex East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and place them under its civil rule completely contradicted the concept, and no country in the world has recognized these unilateral Israeli actions.

While Israel withdrew its settlers from the Sinai as part of its land for peace deal with Egypt and unilaterally removed its settlers from Gaza in 2005, there has been no serious attempt to rescind any settlement activities in the West Bank or the Golan Heights since 1967.

For their part, the Arabs have backtracked from their opposition to peace with Israel (the Khartoum resolutions in the fall of 1967). Arab countries, represented most prominently by the Arab League, have come from rejecting peace to supporting peace and finally to supporting normalized relations with Israel in return for the latter ceding occupied Arab lands. The Arab summit in 2002 (which included Palestinians and Syrians) unanimously approved a Saudi plan that called for peace and normalization with Israel in return for Israel withdrawing from all Arab territories occupied in 1967 and a fair resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. This Arab peace initiative was repeated in 2007.

While decisions on the “land” side of the formula are physically in the domain of the military power controlling it, the Arab “peace” portion could not be articulated other than through public resolutions and conditional governmental commitments. Third party attempts have failed to produce any breakthroughs. The cold war and the so-called war on terror have helped deflect any effective international pressure on the party with troops on the ground.

The first Gulf war and the Syrian alliance with the anti-Saddam western coalition produced the Madrid peace process and almost brought about a breakthrough on the Golan front that was only thwarted by a last minute Israeli reluctance to allow Syrian sovereignty over the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Since Madrid, it seems that the Syrian-Israeli track that developed was only pursued when the Palestinian-Israeli track was stuck or when it was expedient for either party for purely domestic reasons.

Although the land for peace concept mixes a very tangible issue with a purely psychological one, it seems clear that if Israel wants to save its Jewish majority and some semblance of democracy it must at least give up Palestinian territories with large concentrations of Palestinians. The ceding of the Golan Heights lands would also entail that Israel give up the Shebaa farms, a small territory that Israel refused to turn over to Lebanon in 2000 on the claim that it is Syrian.

Strategically, land for peace with Syria will bolster the Assad regime, which has been steadfast in refusing to compromise an inch of Syria’s lands. It will likely weaken the regional American efforts to isolate Iran and Syria. But it is unclear how exchanging land for peace with Syria will reflect on the larger Middle East conflict. Peace with Syria will likely weaken Hizballah and Hamas’ anti-Israel positions. Both Islamic movements have benefited from the state of belligerency. But, ironically, by talking and reaching an accord with Syria, Israel will have a harder time justifying not talking to Hamas.- Published 5/6/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

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