As Israel struggles to deal with the implications last week’s embassy attack and last month’s terror attack from Egyptian soil, it’s worth revisiting the concept of “land for peace,” a concept that has dominated Middle East negotiations ever since the Six Day War in 1967. Until now, the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty was — by the very low standards of the Middle East — a smashing success. Whereas Egypt and Israel had fought pitched battles in 1948, 1956, 1967, during the War of Attrition (1967-1970), and in 1973, the two countries had been at peace for more than thirty years. They normalized diplomatic relations, Israel gave back the Sinai (an immense buffer zone against invasion), and America bribed Egypt to keep the peace to the tune of tens of billions of dollars of military and economic aid. But if the agreement cannot survive the Mubarak regime, will Israel have been wise to give up the Sinai?
The Arab Spring has taught us (as if we needed reminding) that the Middle East is volatile, governments come and go, and world history is littered with the burning scraps of broken peace treaties. As a result, the proper formulation is not “land for peace” but more accurately “land for truce” or “land for potential peace.” In return for something temporary and easily-revoked (such as recognition, diplomatic relations, or demilitarization), Israel is asked to decrease its strategic depth and increase its vulnerability.
The bottom line? When the world community asks Israelis and Arabs to “take a chance for peace,” Israel is the only party actually taking that “chance.”