‘Land for Peace’ (1967 – 2012)
Next week will mark the forty fifth anniversary of one of the greatest periods of drama in Israel’s history, the Six Day War. Mortal danger was overcome in a victorious routing of Israel’s enemies, however amid the jubilation, was born the bastard child of foreign interests and youthful Israeli naiveté, the ‘Land for Peace’ concept.
Just nine days following the termination of hostilities, the National Unity Government of Israel voted unanimously to return the Sinai to Egypt and the Golan Heights to Syria in return for peace agreements. Following Israel’s lead, the United Nations Security Council quickly drafted Resolution 242 broadening the ‘Land for Peace’ concept to include ‘territories occupied in the recent conflict’ which was adopted unanimously on November 22nd 1967.
From that moment on, this concept has served as the basis of most all diplomatic discussion pertaining to the cessation of hostilities in the region. Yet almost half a century later, while much land has been surrendered, there is still no peace. Recent developments in Egypt have placed the oft touted Begin-Sadat ‘Land for Peace’ success case study on very thin ice.
Western governments led by the United States were committed to pursuing the politics of pragmatism and paraded this banner for years, but time and again their designs were foiled by Arab insistence on terms that would secure Israel’s demise, and, Israel’s insistence on survival.
With the gift of hindsight, considering the future of the general global approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict on the occasion of this momentous milestone, it may be time to once and for all lay the terminal ‘Land for Peace’ formula to rest. As we examine it for signs of life, the truth is that its prospects have never looked bleaker.
For years the driving force behind seeking the implementation of Resolution 242 has been the United States, and various American Presidents have made it the center point of their Middle East policy, cajoling the parties involved to varying degrees. As such, some have claimed that the upcoming U.S. elections are responsible for stagnation in Israeli-Arab discussions, as Obama is reluctant to risk alienating voters, the vast majority of whom strongly support Israel.
The truth however is that whatever the result at the polls the same holds true.
If Obama were to win, he would likely sharply turn the Israel pressure knob, along the lines of what we have seen earlier in his administration and possibly even wrangle some biting concessions from Netanyahu’s broad coalition government.
However, it is highly unlikely that this unilateral action would result in any form of reconciliatory Arab response, as they have stated quite clearly that reconciliation is by no means their aim. To this end, it is crucial for them to maintain demands that are at least one step further than that of the Americans. The Israelis of course would risk the collapse of their government if agreeing to further concessions and would stick to their guns. In short the aggressive Obama doctrine would drive the Palestinian cat even further up the tree than it already has.
Most detrimentally of course the continued acceptance by Obama of Arab claims and narratives would result in even harsher international diplomatic isolation for Israel.
The presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has expressed support for the ‘Two State Solution,’ but there is an increasing understanding among many in the Republican Party that this path is not wise, especially following the ‘Arab Spring’ and the instability that it has brought in its wake. This week Ambassador John Bolton who has been advising Romney on foreign policy told me regarding the ‘Two State’ concept: “Personally I have felt for some time it is broken, it’s not going to succeed.” If Romney will pursue this policy, it is likely to take on a ‘lip service’ manifestation.
It is time that policy makers begin to internalize that the Kissinger language of Realpolitik is barely spoken in the Middle East. It was Israel’s idealistic pursuit of peace that led to its initial offer of sweeping concessions at a time that the politics of realism would have dictated that this was unwise. It is Arab aspirational idealism of territorial dominance that led to its rebuttal and now it is Israel’s idealistic belief in its survival as a nation that has held back its accession to further territorial concession.