Israel PM Renews Offer of Land for Peace
Peace with Palestinians tops the Israeli prime minister’s agenda.
At the graveside of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, in Sde Boker on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated his intention to evacuate parts of the West Bank after the model of last year’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Israel “will agree to the evacuation of many territories and communities we have created,” Olmert stated. To accomplish this, Olmert has suggested that Israel would engage in bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians.
Israel’s media greeted Olmert’s speech with mixed emotion. Though some lauded the plan as courageous, others condemned it as defeatism in the face of adversity. Yuval Steinitz in the Jerusalem Postwrote that the speech “represents the ultimate burial of Israeli determination and the military and diplomatic triumph of Hamas. … And so our cities are doomed and our citizens condemned to keep living under the growing threat of rocket fire from both the north and the south, until we recover our senses and return to our neglected culture of military resolve.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian media took a more opportunistic approach. An editorial in Al-Qudsstated, “This was a new tone of voice for someone who used to make hard-line and ringing speeches. … It is probably too early to judge this statement to see how serious it is but, nevertheless, it could be a new sign of a readiness to reinvigorate the political process that we have all been searching and calling for.”
During the speech, Olmert cited two stipulations that the Palestinians must first meet. First, a government which “accepted Western terms” would need to be in place, and also, Israeli soldier Corp. Galid Shalit would need to be released. Shalit was abducted by Hamas June 25.
The land-for-peace policy by the Israelis is not new to Middle East peace efforts. Since 1973, the last year it decisively won a major war, Israel has preferred to address its differences by giving away land to the Arabs. The precedent for this approach was established in the 1978 Camp David Accords, signed and implemented in 1979, under which Israel handed the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt.
The most recent use of this tactic was last year’s Gaza pullout, implemented under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon withdrew from Gaza, even as Palestinians waged a violent intifada against the Israelis, to try to better secure Israel’s borders and, hopefully, to break a stalemate in the peace process. However, immediately after Israel evacuated, armaments flooded into Gaza, terrorists fortified their position. “Army intelligence has documented that terrorists since the August 2005 Israeli retreat from Gaza have stocked up with tons of military-grade explosives, as well as millions of rounds of ammunition and advanced weaponry,” reported IsraelNationalNews.com (November 28). Rather than making Israel safer, Israel’s giving up of the Gaza Strip has enabled the Palestinians to substantially increase the tempo of their Kassam rocket attacks on Israel.
More than a year since the Gaza pullout, Israel is in an even worse position. Since the abduction of Corporal Shalit, Israel has conducted a number of short-term incursions into Gaza in an attempt to free the Israeli soldier and stop the Palestinian missile attacks.
In the midst of this unsuccessful campaign—with Palestinian attacks continuing and Shalit still in captivity—Prime Minister Olmert agreed to a ceasefire on Sunday, in direct disregard of idf recommendations. Israel National News explained, “His decision in essence undermines the idf and intelligence communities, which continue to warn the hiatus in idf counter-terror operations in northern Gaza serve Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorists only, permitting them an opportunity to restock and prepare for the next round of warfare” (ibid.).
So what happens next? Once the ceasefire is shattered with a major Palestinian attack, Israeli forces will be compelled to reenter Gaza yet again to try to neutralize the terrorists. What they will be met with is a rested and rearmed Hamas, all the stronger for the temporary ceasefire.
Clearly, the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip has not provided Israel with the security Ariel Sharon promised it would. This reality demonstrates the folly of assuming that giving land for peace will improve Israel’s security or should be used as a tool to nudge a peace process forward. Enough conclusive evidence exists to demonstrate that this strategy is a complete disaster for Israel. With the failed Gaza Strip experiment in mind, it is not hard to predict that Olmert’s efforts to give the West Bank away to the Palestinians can only end badly for Israel.