The way 'land for peace' could work in the Middle East

As I was reading the news of the latest flare-up between Gaza and Israel, in which two Israeli soldiers were hit by sniper fire and an 80-year-old woman was badly wounded by shrapnel from one of two hundred rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and that, in the estimate of Israeli military analysts, "both Hamas and PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] have restored their military capabilities to their pre-2014 strength," I naturally thought, "How could this have happened?"

The answer, I suspect, is simple: though Egypt does what it can to stop cross-border smuggling between the near lawless Sinai and the Gaza strip, materiel still gets into Gaza, to be made into rockets, and arms still get smuggled, too.  Stop the smuggling, and Gaza's armament industry will grind to a halt, and with it Hamas's and Jihad's ability to fight.  Create an Israeli-controlled buffer zone at the south of the strip that is, say, 15 miles wide — wide enough to make tunneling impractical — and you put a stop to rockets. 

This brings us to the good old concept of "land for peace."  Granted, it left a bitter taste in Israelis' mouths, strengthening, entrenching, and empowering Hezb'allah in Lebanon, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.  I get this — but I am not suggesting that it be used as it was used in Lebanon and Gaza.  "Give the land and hope for peace" is only one use of "land for peace" formula; its other use is "take the land to enforce peace."  It is this application of the "land for peace" that needs to be put to the test, first and foremost in Gaza.

This formula worked well in preventing shelling of Israel from the Golan — because much of the Golan is in Israel's hands.  It prevented smuggling of arms to the West Bank from Jordan because Israel controls the border and the Jordan valley.  Create a buffer zone in the south of Gaza — and it will work well there, too.

I know I will be asked: "But can the calm that results from that application of the 'land for peace' formula really be called peace?  Is peace a mere absence of war?"

I think absence of war is, in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all that is achievable.  Hamas is driven by religious motivations that prevent it from accepting Israel under any conditions, and the more secular Fatah is equally implacable, as we see from its desperate efforts to derail President Trump's peace initiative before it has even been unveiled: Abbas correctly senses that it would give Palestinians mere prosperity, but remove forever the hope of erasing Israel — and what kind of life is that?  So peace as warm embraces is a fool's hope; one should aim for peace as absence of rocket and sniper fire.  Calm may not be peace, but it is a very good substitute.

The "land for peace" as in "give land to achieve peace" ended in colossal, bloody failure.  But the "land for peace" as in "take land to achieve peace" has, based on available empirical experience, a good chance of success.  So, reading of what is going on in Gaza, I say: Don't despair.  Give "land for peace" a chance.  It might well work — and work well."