Rana Sabbagh-gargour
June 16, 2008 - 5:08pm

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 problem were based, is clinically dead. The chaotic situation in the Gaza Strip, it is argued, where Hamas has been in control since June 2007, effectively renders the core of this formula "defective." Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 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 of the West Bank and Gaza and 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 Fatah and its strategic choice to make peace by not delivering on the envisaged objectives contained in the 1993 Oslo Accords. This, along with festering corruption in the Palestinian Authority, 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 square kilometers of land occupied by Israel in the Baqura and 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 Palestinian Liberation Organization 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 West Bank, which it ruled over 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 Gaza continues to be the fundamental platform that governs Palestinian and Arab peace thinking. It remains vital 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, not 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 June 5, 1967, is an existential question for Jordan, where half of the population is of Palestinian origin. Amman 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.

Similarly, 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 its 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 percent of historic Palestine. They can swallow the concept of land swaps, provided they do not exceed 2 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 military control.

Syria, moreover, basking in the glory of Hizbullah'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.



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