Inflexible and intransigent Arab negotiating positions

Should Israel Swap Land For War or Peace

By —— Bio and Archives--October 17, 2007

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Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are reportedly looking at swapping land in the West Bank for land in Israel as a means of overcoming the PA’s long standing demand that all 6,205 square kms of the West Bank be handed over to the PA by Israel as a necessary precondition for peace.


In the best traditions of a Middle East bazaar, it seems a great idea for Israel to horse trade 500 sq kms of vacant Israeli land for 500 sq kms of land heavily populated by Jews in the West Bank.

Land swaps are not unknown in the Middle East. In 1965, Jordan exchanged 7,000 sq kms of inland desert for 6,000 sq kms of Saudi Arabian land fronting the sea shore.

The announcement of a planned land swap to be negotiated within a time frame of six months would certainly go down well at President Bush’s international meeting next month and probably be hailed as a major breakthrough in resolving the 130 years conflict between the Jews and the Arabs over the former territory once called Palestine.

It might also just act as the fig leaf necessary to persuade Saudi Arabia to attend the meeting even if the more contentious issues—Jerusalem, water and permitting millions of Arabs to emigrate to Israel—are put on the diplomatic backburner.

President Bush desperately needs a lifeline to prevent his two state vision disappearing forever into the quicksand stirred up by totally inflexible and intransigent Arab negotiating positions.

Certainly the resolution of the territorial dispute over the proposed land to comprise the future Palestinian State would be a notable achievement.

It would herald an important change in the present racist stance of the PA and the Arab League that demands the West Bank be ethnically cleansed of all its Jewish residents—that Jews be tossed out of their homes in breach of international humanitarian law as encompassed in a number of United Nations Conventions.

It would signify the first crack in the negotiating stance of the Arabs that has remained unchanged for the last 40 years—showing a willingness to now be prepared to give something and not demand everything.

Unfortunately, the announcement and eventual resolution of such a proposed land swap will not resolve the conflict unless all the other outstanding core issues - -Jerusalem, refugees, water—are also resolved.

Even if such issues were miraculously settled, what guarantee could then be given to Israel by the PA that the border between Israel and the newly created State would become a no go zone for Hamas, Hezbollah and the myriad other terrorist groups hell bent on Israel’s destruction—having already unanimously indicated their violent opposition to any proposed settlement with Israel other than its total dismantling?

What guarantee would there be for Israel that those parts of the West Bank accepted by Israel in the land swap deal would not come under mortar fire and rocket attacks from within the borders of the new Arab State as emanated from Gaza virtually without respite when the PA ruled there?

The reality is that until any PA agreement with Israel is endorsed by Hamas, Hezbollah , Islamic Jihad and the Arab League, that agreement runs the risk of being abrogated overnight by the actions of well armed and trained terrorist groups whom PA President Abbas has been too weak to oppose or control in the past.

The risks of continued dealing with the PA alone are therefore so great that any responsible Government in Israel would be putting the lives and security of its citizens at grave risk unless these other belligerent parties were signatories to any peace agreement.

The position would be entirely different if the West Bank was divided between Jordan and Israel—two sovereign countries already possessing a peace agreement that has proved its resilience for the last 12 years.

Land swaps would only be necessary as a last resort if dividing some relatively small areas of the West Bank between Jordan and Israel could not be amicably resolved. A lease to Israel of some Jordanian land as part of their peace agreement shows what can be achieved.

It would not be in Jordan’s national interest that any terrorist groups be allowed to flourish in Jordan’s newly acquired West Bank territory since they could represent a threat to the Hashemite regime ruling in Jordan. These groups might be tempted to try and overthrow Jordan’s King Abdullah if allowed to develop a formidable military infrastructure in the West Bank.

The attempt by the PLO to do just that in 1970 is deeply ingrained in the Jordanian psyche. Jordan has a well trained and disciplined Army and police force—unlike the PA’s forces—to meet any such new threat.

Jordan is not faced with the political problems arising out of the falling out between Abbas and former Prime Minister Haniyeh that has split the PA and Hamas into two bitterly opposed factions—destroying any semblance of unity between the Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza. Jordan’s close ties with West Bank Arabs would be a unifying factor of enormous significance in countering terrorist activities.

The path to resolution of issues such as Jerusalem, refugees and water are already sign posted in the existing peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

The return of Jordan to rule the Arab sections of the West Bank would recognise the status quo that existed in the Arab occupied areas between 1948-1967. It would bring the hope of stability to the region rather than the chaos and uncertainty that the PA currently represents as one of the principal players responsible for the slide into despair that has befallen Jordan’s Arab brothers in Gaza.

Any belief that an agreed land swap involving the PA will be a step on the road to peace is yet just another mirage like so many others that have marked politics in the Middle East since the euphoric endorsement of the Oslo Accords 14 years ago by most of those countries assembling at President Bush’s meeting next month.

How wrong they were then and how wrong they will be next month if they rapturously endorse the announcement of this “historic breakthrough”.

Land swaps with the PA are land swaps for possible war. Land swaps with Jordan are land swaps for possible peace.

Which one Israel chooses will make a huge difference to millions of Jewish and Arab lives.


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David Singer -- Bio and Archives | Comments

David Singer is an Australian Lawyer, a Foundation Member of the International Analyst Network and Convenor of Jordan is Palestine International—an organization calling for sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza to be allocated between Israel and Jordan as the two successor States to the Mandate for Palestine. Previous articles written by him can be found at: jordanispalestine.blogspot.com

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