By Bilal Al-Hassan
A new plan has emerged from Israel that realigns the Zionist state from being an aggressive occupier to being a partner with its Arab neighbours. In a strategic reorganisation of the region, similar to the World War I Sykes-Picot Agreement which carved up the Ottoman Empire's Arab provinces, the new plan establishes Israel in the heart of the Arab world with the blessing of Arab countries and the support of the international community.
The public face behind the plan is Israeli Army Reserve Major-General Giora Eiland, who was Chairman of the Department of Planning in the Israeli army and Chairman of the National Security Council. He is a prominent participant in the annual Herzliya Conference, at which Israel's strategies and security are discussed; past topics have included the "transfer" (ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians from their homeland in order to maintain Israel's status as a Jewish state. Behind the scenes, however, is Israeli geo-scientist Joshua Ben-Arieh, who was formerly head of the Hebrew University. He formulated the new plan which was then adopted by Major-General Eiland.
Although the plan itself goes back to the failure of the Camp David talks between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak, its recent resurrection is linked to the political crisis between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In an article in Yedioth Ahronot on 31 March, Eiland said that the United States, especially the Democratic Party, has since 2000 adopted the two state solution – Israel alongside a new Palestinian state – as announced by former president Bill Clinton just before the end of his term of office. According to Eiland, the "two state solution" is a code for the Clinton plan and President Obama's omission of any differently-worded plan is evidence that Netanyahu understands that support for "two state" is support for Clinton's plan.
Benjamin Netanyahu, of course, rejects a two state solution, and thus rejects the Clinton plan. At this point, Giora Eiland suggests that the conflict will continue even if there is a two state solution and proposes his own strategic plan, based around a land-swap deal between Israel, the West Bank, Egypt and Jordan. Ariel Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was supposedly part of this plan, which failed at the time to get international support.
Eiland proposes that Egypt gives some land from Sinai to the Gaza Strip, approximately 720 square kilometres. The land in question would be a triangle 24 km long on the coast from Rafah to El-Arish, driving 20 km inside Sinai. In addition a small strip of land along the current Egypt-Israel border will be added, so that the area of the Gaza Strip will effectively be tripled. In return for this, the Palestinians will be expected to give up 12% of the West Bank, to be annexed to Israel and to include large settlement blocs and the settlements surrounding Jerusalem (and Jerusalem itself if Netanyahu has his way).
Egypt's loss of some of the Sinai will be compensated by an area of the Negev Desert in southern Israel "almost" equivalent in size. Israel will allow Egypt to have a land crossing with Jordan through a 10 km tunnel between the two countries that passes under part of Israel's southern tip near Eilat.
Eiland presented this plan last February in research documents he prepared for the Begin–Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at the Bar-Ilan University, which is considered a centre of right-wing Israeli ideology. He suggested that the plan should be presented to President Obama as an alternative to the two state solution. This was not the first time that the plan has been presented to Washington. Ex-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was given details in 2004. Reports also suggest that Eiland put his plan to the former Foreign Minister of Germany, Joschka Fischer, and even some Arab politicians.
In 2004 the plan called for Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and for the Strip's Jewish settlements to be evacuated; Sharon, with American blessing, implemented the first step, leaving the rest of the plan for further research and discussion.
Eiland's plan appears to be an attractive solution but it has dangerous potential. It creates strategic change in the whole region in order to guarantee the survival of all of Israel's illegal colonial-settlements, especially those around Jerusalem. This will also guarantee Israel's military strategic interests by expanding the state's narrow "waist" across to the Dead Sea. In addition, by giving Israel the facade of a "partner" of the Arab world to cover its aggressive occupation, the plan goes way beyond what could reasonably be termed a "normalisation process". Eiland proposes solving the problems of occupation (which according to international law should be ended completely) at the cost of yet more Arab land, Egyptian territory in particular; the land in the Negev which he intends as a swap was in fact occupied by the nascent Israeli state in 1948 in excess of that allocated by the UN partition plan.
Finally, Eiland's proposal rejects the right of return for Palestinian refugees; the expansion of Gaza will, he believes, cater for those who wish to move back from their current places of exile.
Israel has always refused any kind of political compromise by insisting on an aggressive expansion, and this plan does not alter that image. Israel's Arab neighbours must realise that expansion is at the core of Israel's founding Zionist ideology and Eiland's proposal is yet another expression of that ideology. There is enough in the public domain already for this plan to be rejected outright.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.