Another plan, another insult, another failure

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For the last few years, Middle East peace initiatives have become somewhat fashionable. Unfortunately, so have their shortcomings. Almost all have failed to realise, or even recognise, the human, legal and political rights of the Palestinian people, who are victims of the longest military occupation in modern history, and who constitute the largest, most enduring refugee population in the world.

Coming hot on the heels of the disastrous "disengagement" plan, the latest proposal – drawn up by Israel’s National Security Council chief Major General Giora Eiland, and reported by the country’s top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot as having the approval of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – is further evidence that the mistakes of the past are still trendy.

Interestingly, however, this plan not only short-changes the Palestinians, but also the Egyptians.

Eiland proposes nearly tripling the size of the Gaza Strip – the most densely populated area on earth – through an Israeli-Egyptian land swap. At first glance this seems fair, even generous towards the Palestinians.

But he calls for Egypt to allocate 600 square kilometres in the Sinai Peninsula to the Palestinians, while Israel would hand over only 200 square kilometres in the southern Negev desert to Egypt, including a tunnel linking it to Jordan. So this imbalanced 3:1 ratio means Egypt would lose 400 square kilometres of land, larger than the present size of the Gaza Strip.

This is not only sure to be flatly rejected by Egypt, but could well be seen as an Israeli slap in the face, a message that Egyptian land is worth much less than Israel’s. This would come at a time of increasing frustration among Egypt’s leadership with Israeli policies and US support for them.

As fanciful as this idea seems, Yediot Aharonot reported that the plan has already been presented to White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and is intended to be released as a European initiative to which Israel is meant to agree.

Well, you may say, at least the Palestinians benefit. You’d be wrong. Agence France Presse reported on May 7 that "Eiland’s plan also stipulates that the Palestinians would be granted sovereignty over 89 percent of the West Bank."

However, in its negotiations Israel has never included East Jerusalem as part of the West Bank. It has expanded the boundaries of the city – in contravention of international law and binding UN Security Council resolutions 252, 267, 298, 446, 465, 476 and 478 – to cover some 10% of the West Bank.

So we may reasonably assume that in actual fact, Eiland’s plan envisions Israel keeping over 20% of the West Bank, or more than 3 times the size of the Gaza Strip. Thus Israel will cede 200 square kilometres of its land, and gain around 6 times that much. It is important here to put things in perspective – the West Bank and Gaza Strip are themselves only one-fifth of historical Palestine.

One must also consider the quality of the land in question. The Sinai and Negev are desert land, while the West Bank is fertile and arable. Israel’s major settlements in the West Bank, which it intends to keep in any peace deal, are built on the most fertile land, and on top of the Palestinians’ main water aquifers, which Israel already controls and exploits.

The settlements have also been built in such a way as to cripple the viability of a Palestinian state by fracturing its territorial contiguity.

The unjust components of Eiland’s plan – an imbalanced land swap in terms of size, quality and contiguity – are nothing new from previous plans, most notably Camp David. This plan sees Israel ceding 200 square kilometres of desert in exchange for 6 times as much fertile land containing major water acquifers, leaving Egypt and Palestine smaller, and Palestinians thirstier and more isolated.

It is reasonable to assume that with Sharon’s blessing, Eiland’s proposal will follow that of his "disengagement" plan in terms of forbidding Palestinians control of their borders, land and sea. Thus the prison guard’s control over his inmate will continue, but not from inside the jail.

But this probably makes no difference to a strong supporter of Israel’s illegal assassination policy who wrote in June 2003 that the Palestinian struggle "is not a matter of occupation."

His plan will no doubt also endorse Sharon’s complete rejection of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and/or receive proper compensation from Israel for their dispossession.

This hardly seems an equitable peace deal, but I suspect it is not meant to be. Egypt and the Palestinians will reject it. So too will Sharon’s own government and Likud party for being "too generous" (as they did with his "disengagement" plan), leaving the "Butcher of Beirut", once again, looking like an embattled visionary trying in vain to make peace with his neighbours. Sadly, many in the media will fall for this facade, and those in the corridors of power will endorse it.

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