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Land for Peace: A Good Deal or Too High a Price

THEY SAY: Israel is a tiny country - smaller than many U.S. states - with little strategic depth. Asking Israel to give up land to the Arabs is the same as asking Israel to sacrifice its security.

We say: The argument that Israel needs to hold onto land in order to ensure its security is past its sell-by date. While in the past Israeli strategists saw a need to hold onto territory in order to provide the country with strategic depth, modern technology has changed this equation. Moreover, holding onto land has clear security liabilities for Israel, giving terrorists a convenient pretext and the veneer of rationality when they attack Israel. It also burdens the Israeli military, forcing it to police and manage a large, densely-populated territory.

This is not to say that Israel should just hand over land to the Palestinians (or Syria, or Lebanon) and hope for the best. Rather, Israel must negotiate peace agreements that include security arrangements that are consistent with Israel's vital security needs. This is exactly what Israel did in its agreements with Egypt and Jordan. Achieving a peace agreement will not be easy, requiring a combination of political will, courage, and leadership (on all sides, including from the United States). But it is not just a dream - past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and Israeli-Syrian negotiations have already narrowed the gaps between the sides regarding such arrangements. Land and security arrangements, while certainly complicated, are clearly within reach.

They say: Israel was the victim, not the aggressor, in 1967. If the Arabs had not attacked Israel, then Israel would not have had to fight for its survival, in the process taking over the land the Arabs now demand. It is absurd to argue that Israel, as the victim of Arab aggression, should now be forced to give back land in order to buy "peace" with its enemies.

We say: The argument that Israel should not have to give up land for peace misses the point: Israel must trade land for peace to serve its own interests: in order to survive as a Jewish, democratic state. Today, 11 million people live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River; Jews comprise about half that number, and Israeli experts predict that by the year 2020, Arabs will outnumber Jews by 20%. In this reality, if Israel continues to rule over the West Bank, it can continue to be a Jewish state only by continuing to disenfranchise the Palestinians. But this is not a realistic option, both because it conflicts with Jewish values and because the international community will not tolerate a long-term situation in which such a large population - eventually the majority of the population of the area - is disenfranchised. While we all find comparisons to Apartheid-era South Africa distasteful and inappropriate, there is no doubt that such comparisons will increase if things continue as they are.

There is another significant difference between the Middle East of 1967 and today's Middle East. Following the Six-Day War, the Arab League - a coalition of all Arab states - passed a resolution which articulated that there would be "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it." These "three no's of Khartoum" revealed the Arab world to be united in dogmatic rhetoric and enmity to Israel. There are real indications that in the forty years since that resolution the Arab world has become much more pragmatic in its approach to Israel. In 2002 the Arab League unanimously adopted a peace initiative based on a two-state solution and which subjected the Palestinian "right of return" to Israeli consent. The Arab League has since re-affirmed its proposal. The Israeli government has welcomed this peace initiative, which is one important indication of the deep change that the Arab world has undergone. It would be foolhardy to ignore these changes.