Edition 22 Volume 6 - June 05, 2024

The land for peace formula revisited

A formula that was never true -   Yossi Beilin

As for the Palestinians, it was Israel that blinked first; this will not be territories for peace.

There is no avoiding land for peace -   Daoud Kuttab

The land for peace concept mixes a very tangible issue with a purely psychological one.

Land for peace still the best bet -   Rana Sabbagh-Gargour

All Arab states have accepted the existence and the legitimacy of Israel within the pre-June 5, 1967 borders.

No case for revision -   Abdel Monem Said Aly

Any attempt to revise the concept would mean the destruction of four decades of hard work by diplomats and politicians.

The Syria-Israel track revisited -   Elias Samo

The Syrian-Israeli peace process has taken a giant step backward since the 1990s.

A formula that was never true
 Yossi Beilin

One week after the conclusion of the Six-Day War, then-secretary general of the Mapai party Golda Meir visited the newly-occupied territories. Upon her return, she shared her impressions with members of the party Central Committee. She liked the dowry but not the bride. The scenery was beautiful and the historic sites moving, but staying in these territories meant annexing slightly less than 6,000 square kilometers containing a large number of Palestinians that did not welcome our rule and that in future could constitute a majority in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

This was precisely the reason the Ben-Gurion government had refused to conquer the West Bank in September 1948 despite the repeated entreaties of Palmach commander Yigal Allon, who termed Ben-Gurion's refusal "a tragedy for generations". The elders of the Labor movement recognized in the amazing outcome of the Six-Day War an opportunity to achieve peace with our neighbors in return for territories. They were prepared to consider the occupied territories as no more than bargaining cards. But this approach emanated less from aspirations to peace than from a lack of willingness to become caught up in a demographic problem generated by control over the territories and eventually their annexation.

Accordingly, the territories for peace formula did not ring true with regard to the West Bank. One side knew from the outset that it could not permit itself to hold onto its cards for long; the other side knew it too. It was no accident that the famous secret decision of the government of Israel of June 19, 1967 offered peace with Egypt and Syria on the basis of the international borders and Israel's security requirements but did not include the West Bank. Euphoric Israel in the post-war period--but still prior to the "three no's" of Khartoum--believed it could achieve peace with its neighbors if it returned the territories it had conquered. Concerning the West Bank and apparently the Gaza Strip it was not prepared to return to the green line, but nor could it allow itself to hold onto the land for long.

Forty-one years later, the situation is not very different. Peace with Egypt was indeed achieved in return for territories (along with a commitment concerning the nature of a future agreement with the Palestinians); peace with Jordan was attained only after that country discovered its own demographic problem and gave up the West Bank. Peace with Syria will emerge when there is a government in Israel that is prepared to withdraw to the 1967 border (with the real negotiations focusing on the precise location of this line, since it does not appear on any official map). As for the Palestinians, it was Israel that blinked first; this will not be territories for peace.

Not surprisingly, it was the ultimate hawk, the father of the settlements, Ariel Sharon who as prime minister understood the possibility that in a few years a Jewish minority would rule over an Arab majority west of the Jordan River. Since he never believed in peace agreements between Israel and the Arabs, he made the problematic decision to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank and forego the other half of the territories for peace equation.

What does Israel really want? A large majority wants to leave nearly all the territories, avoid involvement in a tough internal fight with the settlers and find someone who is ready to take the West Bank off our hands in such a way that it does not threaten us after we withdraw.

With the passage of years, the need has become more acute to rid ourselves of Gaza and the West Bank in the least dangerous way. The first idea, establishing autonomy in the territories under municipal mayors, was childish and impractical and failed at an early stage. There followed secret talks with King Hussein. Here Israel demanded to annex some 30 percent of the West Bank, to which Hussein replied that this was exactly the portion of Finland that Russia annexed and he would never agree.

Shortly after Hussein gave up his claim to the West Bank, talks with the PLO began. Here too, Israel's most moderate demands were far from what Yasser Arafat could accept. The withdrawal from Gaza strengthened Hamas and turned it into a central player in our narrative. No one knows who the next players will be if, by the end of this year, we don't reach an agreement based on the 1967 borders. But even if a peace agreement is signed with the Palestinians, it will not reflect the fact that we gave up the land because the Palestinians agreed to peace with us. Rather, it will be signed because finally someone emerged who would take the territories under his authority, barely a moment before it is too late from Israel's standpoint.- Published 5/6/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Yossi Beilin, a former minister of justice, currently chairs the Geneva initiative and is president of Beilink.

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 2024, 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 2024 (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 2024.

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 2024 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

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Land for peace still the best bet
 Rana Sabbagh-Gargour

There is an argument in some political quarters that the land for peace formula, upon which efforts to realize comprehensive Arab-Israel peace and a settlement to the Palestinian dimension were based, is now clinically dead.

The chaotic situation in the Gaza Strip, it is argued, where Hamas has been in control since June 2024, effectively renders the core of this formula "defective". Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2024 constituted a far reaching Israeli territorial concession and convinced the Israeli public that more territorial withdrawals would only jeopardize the security of Israel and its citizens.

On the other hand, many contend that the current situation in the teeming coastal strip is a result of a futile peace process that did not deliver on the promise of Palestinian statehood in all the West Bank and Gaza, a Palestine that is sovereign, independent, viable and territorially contiguous.

Israel, according to this argument, did not withdraw from Gaza in the context of coordination with the Palestinians or as part of a "process" leading to the establishment of the Palestinian state next to Israel. Indeed, Israel deliberately undertook measures to undermine Fateh and its strategic choice to make peace with Israel by reneging on delivering on the envisaged landmarks contained in the 1993 Oslo accords. This, along with festering corruption in the PA, contributed to the rise of Hamas, which believes the peace process as designed in Madrid in 1991 is futile.

The concept of land for peace may have been diluted over the past 16 years. But the theoretical underpinnings of the terms of reference of any regional peace process are undoubtedly predicated on this same principle.

A testimony to that are the successfully concluded peace agreements between Israel and Egypt in 1979 and between Israel and Jordan in 1994. Egypt recovered the entire Sinai Peninsula, seized in 1967, and Jordan recovered over 300 kilometers of land occupied by Israel in the Baqura and the Ghamr regions.

Amman, however, had no legal capacity or desire to negotiate the future of the West Bank within the context of its treaty talks. The PLO had become the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people since an Arab League resolution in 1973, and Jordan did not want to be seen as harboring political intentions over the area it ruled from 1950 to 1967.

All negotiations conducted between Israel and Syria since 1991, meanwhile, have also been based on territorial exchanges needed for security arrangements and normalization of ties.

Arguably, and despite systematic Israeli settlement activity to create "illegal and irreversible" facts on the ground through creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank, the formula of land for peace leading to the emergence of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip continues to be the fundamental platform that governs Palestinian and Arab peace thinking. It remains key for a comprehensive peace deal and is the conceptual basis for the Arab peace initiative, an effort constructed exclusively on the concept of land for peace and security.

Hence neither the Palestinians, Jordan, Syria or any other Arab state can afford to forfeit the land for peace formula. Moreover, the successful emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza in their entirety along the borders of pre-June 5, 1967 is an existential question for Jordan, where half of the population is of Palestinian origin. It cannot back any deal that does not safeguard such a "cardinal" Palestinian national right.

In the same spirit, Jordanian officials are clear and adamant in rejecting any attempt at luring Jordan into constitutional or administrative arrangements with the West Bank, or to assume any role therein before the de jure emergence of an independent Palestinian state that is acceptable to both Palestinians and Arabs. Jordanians from all walks of life also do not want to have their country seen as circumventing Palestinian national rights and thus endangering the Jordanian state.

Equally, Palestinians in the occupied territories and in the diaspora will never support a peace process that is not predicated on the recovery of all lands seized in 1967 as the basis for their future independent state.

In reality, all Arab states have accepted the existence and the legitimacy of Israel within the pre-June 5, 1967 borders. But they will only support a solution that establishes a state in the entirety of the occupied territories, or 22 per cent of historic Palestine.

They can swallow the concept of land swaps that might be needed, provided they do not exceed two percent of the entire area of the West Bank including East Jerusalem. But they would never accept any scenario that envisages Israel returning only isolated bubbles of land in the West Bank stretching between the separation wall and the Jordan Valley and that would remain under Israeli army control.

Syria, moreover, basking in the glory of Hizballah's latest political success in Lebanon, will not entertain any talks with Israel that are detached from the land for peace formula whereby Syria would regain the whole of the Golan Heights.

In a nutshell, the contention that there will never be a coercive or military solution to the Palestinian problem and to the Arab-Israel conflict remains as true today as it was in 1967.- Published 5/6/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Rana Sabbagh-Gargour, an independent journalist, is former editor of the Jordan Times.

No case for revision
 Abdel Monem Said Aly

The land for peace formula was born as legal terminology when Resolution 242 was adopted by the UN Security Council in November 1967. Yet, that was only the first step in developing an overall concept to resolve the Arab-Israel conflict. It described a kind of "just" exchange in which the two parties to the conflict gain something of strategic value in order to achieve goals of historic magnitude.

In theory, the resolution was to provide Jews with a country they had fought hard for and the Arabs with territory and hard-fought rights. Operationally, it has had three meanings: an exchange of Arab land occupied by Israel in the June 1967 war for recognition of Israel as a sovereign country; a two-state solution for the Palestinian question in which Israel and Palestine live side by side in peace along the June 4, 1967 lines; and an overall relationship between Arabs and Israelis of recognition and normalization following Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, i.e., the Arab peace initiative.

As clear and as positive as it seems, the land for peace formula has always encountered doubters in both the Arab and Israeli camps. In the Arab world there were those who thought that an aggressive society like Israel should not be granted an expanded state that went even beyond the 1947 partition resolution. A Palestinian state extending over only 22 percent of original Palestine represented anything but justice in a conflict mired in blood and violations of human rights. For some Israelis, giving up the West Bank in such an exchange is to deprive Zionism of its religious depth in addition to the strategic depth needed in a confrontation with a deeply hostile regional environment.

As the conflict evolved over the years since 1967, there was no shortage on both sides of references to the inevitability of returning "historic land" to its "rightful owners", and in Israel to changing the formula to "peace for peace" or "land for peace and security" and similar word combinations. Nor has the experience of 40 years been very encouraging for both parties. Despite rays of hope for peace, despair has been the norm in a region beset by the demons of fear and the nightmares of doubt.

Yet there is no substitute for the land for peace formula to resolve the Arab-Israel conflict. The concept has informed every step of progress in this long and bloody confrontation. It was behind the Egyptian-Israeli and Israeli-Jordanian peace treaties. In a way, it was the doctrine that changed an existential Arab-Israel conflict into one about how the two sides can live with each other and created the foundations for resolving the hard core of the conflict within the Palestinian historical space. It was the guiding principle behind the Oslo process, the Camp David summit in the summer of 2024, the Clinton parameters and all negotiations that followed. It set the standard for the exchange of territories that has paved the way to a solution to the obstacle presented by the Israeli settlements. Finally, it was the concept that made it possible to start negotiations under the Madrid and Annapolis umbrellas.

In fact, any attempt to revise the concept would mean the destruction of four decades of hard work by diplomats and politicians. Starting over with a new concept, whatever that might be, would mean embarking on a new path with no guarantee of improved performance. Moreover, the land for peace formula is the only game in town for the recently restarted Israeli-Syrian negotiations and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and is the concept without which the Arab peace initiative would lose all meaning. Indeed, eliminating the concept would wipe out an entire bargaining framework and base future negotiations strictly on the balance of power.

That the concept of land for peace guarantees the success of these peace endeavors between Arabs and Israelis is a fanciful proposition. Never in history has a legal, political or even moral concept proved sufficient to lead warring states or communities to peace. Concepts can only create a framework, an initial understanding, define the issue and probably the bargaining steps; but they cannot substitute for the political will of the parties or the hard work of diplomacy in translating words into substantive meaning.- Published 5/6/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Abdel Monem Said Aly is director of Al Ahram Center for Political & Strategic Studies in Cairo.

The Syria-Israel track revisited
 Elias Samo

The anniversary of the June 1967 war warrants reflection with regard to its impact on developments in the region. The present peace process between Arabs and Israelis is essentially an attempt to undo the war's damage.

It has been said that the only thing worse than losing a war is winning it. This is clearly applicable to the June war. For the Arabs, in addition to their territorial losses, there were two additional consequences of great magnitude. First, the impractical position they took with the three Khartoum no's: no peace, no negotiations and no recognition. Second was the defeat of the Arab nationalist movement, the beginning of its decline and the discrediting of the regimes symbolizing it on the one hand, and the beginning of the rise of both Islamism--an ideology competing with Arabism--and non-state military actors on the other. Furthermore, the Soviet Union's Arab allies discovered that Moscow would never supply them offensive weapons to threaten the existence of Israel. Such a development would precipitate an American-Soviet confrontation, something Moscow would not welcome.

Yet Israel, presumably the victor in the June war, was in fact the biggest loser. A concept developed in Israel that the Arabs had been vanquished and would not rise for a long time to threaten Israel. This led unfortunately to Israeli arrogance in dealing with the Arabs, and to the grabbing, annexing and settling of the occupied territories.

The purpose of the 1973 war was to reverse the consequences of the June war. Neither side could claim a clear-cut military victory. The real winner was the peace process. For the Arabs, there was a gradual move away from the Khartoum no's toward the yeses of UNSC resolutions 242 and 338. For Israel, it was the beginning of a move away from the arrogant concept of eternally defeated Arabs.

The first step toward peace was the Camp David agreement, which was supposed to have a domino effect on the rest of the Arab states. Since the major Arab military power made peace with Israel, the other Arab states would follow suit. The domino effect was finally fulfilled with the convening of the Madrid peace conference in 1991 that symbolized Arab resignation and the real beginning of the "land for peace" formula. In retrospect, though, from Syria's perspective Madrid was not fruitful since the late Hafez Assad played a major role in convening the conference but Syria got nothing while all the other players benefited.

Syrian-Israeli negotiations following the conference lasted nine years. The two sides resolved 85 percent of the contentious issues but the end result was no agreement. Then came eight years of a frozen peace process coupled with the emergence of many national and regional problems that complicated matters.

The question now is, what are the chances of success if negotiations resume? A realistic view would suggest that the Syrian-Israeli peace process has taken a giant step backward since its hopeful era during the 1990s. The issues then were simpler, mainly bi-national and the leaders in Damascus, Tel Aviv and Washington wanted peace and could make it. Now the process is not bi-national and no longer centers on Rabin's four legs of the table, nor is it certain that all three relevant leaders want peace and can make it.

For Syria, there are three red lines that cannot be crossed: the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty entailing total Israeli withdrawal, Rabin's commitment to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 line and the 85 percent of the agreed-upon issues that the Syrians would be reluctant to reconsider.

In Israel there is the notion among some that the Golan has been silent for decades, hence why tamper with it. And there is a weak and divided leadership with no clear vision except demanding of Syria to divest itself of a potentially nuclear Iran, a militarily victorious Hizballah and a politically victorious Hamas--demands that provide a prescription for failure.

As for the US, negotiations will get nowhere without Washington's full participation. No one, Turkey included, can provide what is needed for success except Washington: pressuring both sides, assisting in the security arrangements and providing billions in funds needed to complete the deal. Washington's participation is not forthcoming in view of Bush's hostile attitude toward the Syrian leadership.

Granted, it's a gloomy picture, but there is room for hope. The Israelis must get their act together and start preparing to resume negotiations based not only on the principles set forth in Madrid but also on what was accomplished in past negotiations. And they certainly can twist Bush's arm to come along; he will depart soon anyway.

Syria is here and will continue to be here and therefore can wait. But can Israel wait? Aren't there any more Jewish prophets or sages to tell the Israelis that time is not on their side if it ever was and to stop missing every opportunity to miss an opportunity to make peace? The writing is on the wall: demography, Islamism and resistance combined will spell doom for Israel. The progress of these three factors can't be stopped but it certainly can be slowed down.

In view of the not very promising Israeli-Palestinian negotiations--that in any case entail a long-range process--peace with Syria is short-range and doable. If concluded, it will certainly be followed by a peace agreement with Lebanon. Settling the two conflicts will provide positive input for a Palestinian-Israeli peace. It will also provide Syria with the incentive to push the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups toward moderation, to limit its relations with Iran to bilateral interests and to look for improved relations with Washington.- Published 5/6/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Elias Samo is a professor of international relations at American and Syrian universities.

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