Sunday, November 10, 2019

Guest post by American Zionism

               
If the Arabs are trying to convince the Jews that giving up land will bring Israel peace, they are doing a poor job of it. Unilateral land for peace moves by Israel have been disastrous. The unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon in 2000, with nothing gained in return, strengthened the terror group Hezbollah, essentially collapsed Israel’s ally the South Lebanon Army, and did not bring peace with Lebanon or their de facto rulers Syria. Rocket attacks in the North continued and cross border attacks, including attempted kidnappings, amplified until 2006 when a war lead to a strong response on the side of Israel that served as a deterrent.

Gaza was always considered a quagmire for Israel and most Israelis were tired of sending their children to serve in the dangerous enclave. Many questioned Israel’s reason for being there. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in the hopes that it would serve as a model for transitioning territory to the Palestinian Authority, short of a peace agreement. Israel uprooted 10,000 Jews and even left the Palestinians housing and a commercial greenhouse. It was a huge victory for the peace camp in Israel, who were certain that land is all it took to end the conflict. At the very least, it would earn Israel capital in the international arena. The Palestinians promptly destroyed the greenhouse and Israel’s South has not enjoyed a moments peace ever since. In addition, the international goodwill the peace camp was sure to follow never materialized. It seemed, in fact, that Israel was punished for the move. Two years later, there was a bloody coop in Gaza and the terror group Hamas gained power. The situation continues to deteriorate. Hamas is strengthened. Residents of the south in Israel endure thousands of rockets with little recourse. Unilateral land for peace has been a disaster.

But, what about bilateral land for peace? Surely that has worked. Look at Egypt. In 1979, Israel and Egypt agreed to an historic peace agreement. In exchange for peace, Israel gave Egypt the Sinai peninsula, captured in the 1967 war. By 1982, Israel completed a withdrawal from the entire peninsula, uprooting Jewish communities, and handing the keys to Egypt. On the surface it seems like a success. Before 1979, Israel and Egypt fought in four wars (1948, 1956, 1967, 1972), in addition to constant skirmishes. Since 1979, there have been no wars. The problem is that the peace has been cold. Incitement against Israel and Jews in Egypt, often sponsored by the government, continues. Most Egyptians do not accept Israel’s right to exist and by extension the peace agreement. The Sinai has become a hotbed of Islamist activity, with ISIS establishing a stronghold in the peninsula. Hamas has established smuggling tunnels into Sinai used to bring in weapons and materials to attack Israel and shoot rockets. There have been concerns from Israel that the peace could collapse. In 2008, Egypt conducted war game exercises against an imaginary Israel. At no time was the concern more acute than when Mohamed Morsi, a member of the extremist group the Muslim Brotherhood, an ally of Hamas, won the presidency of Egypt. If not for his overthrow a year later, it not hard to speculate that the peace would have fallen apart. It’s possible that Egypt’s largest motivator for maintaining the peace is the $1.3 billion in military aid that they receive from the United States. If that were ever to disappear, would peace persist?

And so we come to Naharayim. It was suppose to be the model of coexistence between the Jews and Arabs. On the heels of the first Oslo Accords, Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement in 1994. It was suppose to usher in a Pax Romana in the Middle East. Israel and Jordan, two bitter enemies to that point, no longer had any territorial disputes. Jordan has ceded their claim to the West Bank, which they occupied in 1948 and then lost in 1967, to the Palestinians. With peace between Israel and the PLO, rebranded the Palestinian Authority, seemingly imminent, King Hussein and Israeli president Ezer Weizman shook hands near Eilat and the future seemed bright. That Hezbollah was still launching rockets into Northern Israel while the agreement was being signed seemed like a temporary problem.

Between Israel and Jordan lies an area called the Jordan Valley. Israel’s connection to the Jordan Valley is both historic but more importantly strategic. It is strategic because it offers a natural barrier between Israel and Jordan (and by extension other Arab countries to the East) and a strong defensive position. In the Jordan Valley is a small town called Naharayim, which in Hebrew means two rivers, because it is the junction between the Jordan River and the Yarmouk River. The land was purchased by a Jew named Pinhas Rutenberg, a staunch Zionist, who established the Palestine Electric Corporation and began building hyroelectic power plants to modernize Mandatory Palestine. One of those plants was located on the land that he would call Naharayim.

The problem with Naharayim is that even though it was legally bought by Jews and inhabited by Jews, it was on the other side of the Jordan river, the Jordanian side. The river forms a natural border between the two countries. So, when Israel and Jordan signed their historic peace agreement, Israel decided in good faith to give this small piece of land to Jordan. Land...for peace. However, there was an obstacle. Jews - Israelis - were living on the land for over 70 years. They had built kibbutizim, working farms, and made a living off the land. For several generations of Jews, it was the only home they knew. This was not in the West Bank but rather Northern Israel near Tiberias, one of the four holy cities in Judaism. Not wanting to displace the Jewish residents, Israel agreed to give up the land and Jordan agreed to lease the land back to Israel for 25 years, with an understanding that the lease would be renewed in perpetuity. It was the model of cooperation. So much so, that they built a park near by called the “Island of Peace”. It was suppose to usher in a new era of coexistence in the region. Both Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Jordanians, could enjoy the park. Land...for peace. But like so many things in life, things aren’t always at as they seem.

If the peace with Egypt was cold, the peace with Jordan was freezing. Incitement against Jews and Israel in Jordan continued. Not only could antisemitism be found in Jordanian media and schools, but in the Jordanian parliament itself. For example, Jordanian MP Yahya al-Saud supported terrorism against Israel, not uncommon in the parliament, but even publically called to “liberate our holy places from the plundering Jews”. Another MP, Khalil Attieh, went on Jordanian TV and railed, “It is an honor to incite against the Jews. It is a great accomplishment to provoke and incense them.” He also publically called Jews “descendants of apes and pigs” and stated “Hating the Jews is a great honor for me and it makes me walk with my head high because they are worthy of hatred...They are not decent people. Any man of honor should hate the Jews.” These are not isolated incidents. They often praise terror attacks against Israel in the parliament, including the Har Nof synagogue massacre in Jerusalem, where terrorists killed 5 worshipers with axes, knives, and gun. They have also blocked the extradition from Jordan to the United States of Ahlam Tamimi, the woman who helped carry out the Sbarro Massacre in 2001 at a pizzeria in Jerusalem where 16 were murdered, including eight children 18 or younger (two of which were toddlers aged 2 and 4). She often goes on Jordanian television laughing and praising her roll in the murders, saying “I admit that I was a bit disappointed, because I had hoped for a larger toll.”

But through all that incitement, the Island of Peace persisted as a symbol of cooperation. That is until 1997, three years after its creation, when a group of Jewish school girls aged 13 and 14 were on a school trip to visit this historic park - the park of peace. On that day, there was no peace. A Jordanian soldier named Ahmed Daqamseh decided he wanted to kill some Jews, went to the park now part of Jordan with no Israeli protection, and started shooting the children. He killed seven girls and wounded six others. Reviled by some, a hero to others, he was sent to prison in Jordan unrepentant, proud of what he did. His mother telling Al Jazeera, “I am proud of my son, and I hold my head high. My son did a heroic deed.” Why did he go to jail in Jordan? Because, the land has been handed over to Jordan three years earlier. It was no longer under Israeli jurisdiction. You would think that for the murder of seven children and near murder of six others one would spend more than ten years in jail, but the calls to release this national hero started in the Jordanian parliament shortly after his imprisonment. In 2017 he was release, not quietly, but with great fanfare. There were parades on the street. People handed out candy. The symbol of coexistence became the symbol of hate. A memorial exists to this day for those seven young girls. There are no parades for them. Only a lifetime misery for the families. No one hands out candy, only tears.


This brings us to 2019, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the historic peace agreement between Israel and Jordan, and the expiration of the twenty-five year lease to the Jewish farmers who live near the Island of Peace park, and who make a living from it - the automatic lease renewal in perpetuity. Except, it never happened. Jordan decided that they did not want to renew the lease. They stated that they never meant to renew in perpetuity. The problem is, they didn’t even renew it once. Jewish farmers be damned. On November 10th, Jordan took back possession of the land. Jews who live and work there, some for multiple generations, on land bought by their ancestors, have an uncertain future. Even if the Jordanian government agrees to let them stay, how long will that last? When will they finally tell then to get lost once and for all? That is the problem with “Land for Peace”. Land is tangible and peace is intangible. Once you hand over the land the other side possesses it. You possess nothing in return. If the peace gets broken, the land does not get returned. Here is the land, but where is the peace? It’s a cautionary tale for the Israelis. I support a peaceful resolution between the two ethnic groups, Jews and Arabs, that share the tiny strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. I’ve even supported land for peace. But it’s become increasingly harder to argue with those that say it doesn’t work. Israel’s neighbors are not helping with the argument. How can you convince an Israeli that exchanging land for peace will work or that it is the best solution when it has been so ineffective until now. It’s becoming apparent that for peace to work, something tangible has to be exchanged for something tangible. 


Disclaimer: This article is meant to highlight the potential pitfalls of theoretical, asymmetric land for peace deals only. It is not intended to criticize any peace deals Israel has signed with her neighbors nor oppose any future peace agreements. The author believes in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians without preconditions.


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