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Photo: Ofer Amram
Giora Eiland
Photo: Ofer Amram
Let’s do what’s good for us
In some cases, it is in Israel’s interest to comply with enemy’s demands
When engaging in diplomatic negotiations, we tend to assume that the closer a certain state is to us on fundamental issues, the more similar our interests will be, on any front. Based on the same assumption, the more hostile a state (or entity) is towards us, the more its interests contradict ours, on any front.

 

Yet reality is quite different. In practice, there are quite a few situations where our interests match those of our worst enemies, while a conflict of interest emerges between us and our greatest ally.

 

Three years ago, elections were held for the Palestinian Legislative Council. The main question at the time was whether Hamas would be allowed to participate in the elections. Who wanted Hamas to take part? The group itself, and the United States. Who objected? Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We therefore saw the emergence of strange coalitions.

 

A more pressing issue has to do with the situation in Gaza. Hamas is apparently willing to accept a ceasefire, but it conditions it, among other things, on the opening of the Rafah Crossing. The crossing connects the Gaza Strip to Egypt, and is located at a site where there is no Israeli presence in any case.

 

Who has an interest in seeing the crossing open? Hamas, and yes, Israel as well. Who has the opposite interest? Egypt. The Egyptians are objecting, because they do not wish to be responsible for Gaza. And what about Israel? It is in our interest to have the crossing opened. Arms are reaching Gaza anyway, and opening the crossing would once and for absolve Israel of accusations of "occupation."

 

Moreover, Israel has agreed in the past to withdraw from the Philadelphi Route (the road separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt) in order to "disengage," and we are paying a heavy security price for that, while not enjoying any benefits. The way the world sees it, as long as the Rafah Crossing remains closed, Israel (and Israel alone) is responsible for supplying Gaza residents.

 

A similar situation emerged in respect to Lebanon as well. In the wake of the Hariri assassination, the US, France, the UN, and Saudi Arabia joined forces and took a determined decision to remove Syria from Lebanon. Israel joined this initiative with great enthusiasm. Yet who had a contradictory interest? Syria, of course, and yes, Israel too.

 

A Syrian lesson

It was clear (or at least should have been clear...) to Israel that the removal of Syrian forces from Lebanon would prompt two developments: First, Iran would enter the vacuum created. Indeed, Hizbullah's political and military power increased dramatically upon the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Secondly, once they lose Lebanon, Syria's focal point of interest would shift to the Golan Heights. As long as the Syrians had to struggle to maintain their hold on Lebanon (which is much more important to them than the Golan Heights) there was no pressure exerted on the Golan front.

 

The question of whether to sign a peace treaty with Syria and return the Golan Heights is a legitimate one. However, it is clear that it would be preferable for such negotiations be held while the Syrians are still in control of Lebanon. Had they stayed in Lebanon, the Syrians would have to be committed to comprehensive peace that includes Lebanon as well, including the dismantlement of Hizbullah (they were forced to agree to it in 1999.) Today, Syria is not responsible for what goes on in Lebanon. We may be able to make peace with Syria, but the Hizbullah problem will not be resolved.

 

In respect to both Gaza and Lebanon, the proper policy requires us to properly assess the overall interests involved, rather than automatically backing our allies and automatically objecting to our enemies' demands.

 

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