When Giora Eiland says that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is currently impossible, he speaks with some authority.
Unlike other veterans of the negotiations, he never held political office, instead serving different governments as a senior representative to the never-ending talks. As a colonel, he commanded the Givati Brigade through some of the most difficult years of the first intifada in Gaza and then went on to prepare the IDF, as head of its planning branch, for the second intifada fighting. As a major-general and head of the National Security Council, he was in charge of planning the disengagement from Gaza.
“The conflict with the Palestinians is stuck in an unsolvable paradox,” he says today, seven years out of uniform. “Everyone agrees that a solution to the conflict is an international necessity; almost everyone agrees that in the 21st century, Israel shouldn’t be ruling another people, and almost everyone agrees on the basic concept of solution — two states divided by the 1967 borders. But we are stuck because the maximum any Israeli government can offer and survive politically is less than the minimum any Palestinian leadership can accept while surviving.”
But this does not mean there is no solution. For the past five years, Mr Eiland has been working on a diplomatic plan — in fact, two plans. Regional Alternatives to the Two-State Solution was published last month by the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University and Mr Eiland is now trying to convince decision-makers of the merits of his ideas.
Mr Eiland divides the main sticking points into “sensitive issues” and “real issues”. The future of Jerusalem and the refugee question, he believes, are sensitive, but in the end mainly symbolic and are not the core problems. These, he says, are the two sides’ security concerns and lack of mutual trust and, most of all, the territorial issue. To these he is proposing two different solutions, either of which, or both, can be chosen.
The first solution is what he calls the United States of Jordan, in which a central government in Amman takes control of a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and in the future perhaps, another Palestinian state in Gaza. These states remain autonomous in their local and financial affairs with foreign and defence policy remaining in the hands of the central government.
Mr Eiland believes that “both the Jordanians and many Palestinians will go for this as it is the best solution to dilute the power of Hamas, which threatens them all”.
The other solution, he says “is more complex but it is a real attempt to solve the fact that in the 1967 borders, there simply is not enough territory”.
He proposes a three-way territorial swap in which the Gaza Strip is expanded into Egyptian Sinai, Israel compensates Egypt by giving it land in the southern Negev and Israel retains control of the settlement blocs in the West Bank near the Green Line, where 80 per cent of the settlers live.
Are the two sides ready for it?
“No,” says Mr Eiland. “I don’t believe anyone will adopt either of these ideas tomorrow morning. But if the Israeli leadership, like Sharon six years ago, decides that they have to come up with a radical new idea, or if the American administration understands that they have to reassess their efforts and try out something new to end the conflict, I think these are the most plausible ideas.”