Borderline Views: To occupy or not to occupy
Why is it so difficult to understand that the growing Palestinians people, regardless of whether they stretch back 2,000 or 200 years, are here to stay?
A demolished Palestinian home [illustrative] Photo: Ammar Awad/Reuters
So what have we achieved by the publication of a political report, under the
guise of a legal opinion, which arrived at a conclusion that the occupied
territories are not occupied, that the illegal settlements are not illegal, and
that everything Israel has done in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) during the
past 45 years is really okay? Now that the world has read this learned opinion,
which flies in the face of every other legal opinion, both Israeli and
international, from foe and friend alike, they are now sure to be convinced that
they have been wrong all along, that Israel is in the right and they will now
stop demanding the withdrawal of Israel from the territories under dispute and
the establishment of an independent Palestinian State.
Of course, if the
world refuses to accept this dubious report, it is because they are all
anti-Semites. Why else would every considered legal opinion reject the
conclusions of a committee appointed by a right-wing government, whose
objective, from the outset, was to reach a political conclusions which would fly
in the face of the accepted discourse. Lets conveniently forget the facts – that
Israel’s control of the West Bank is based on military conquest (even if it was
in a legitimate war of self defense), that all international conventions forbid
the transfer of civilian population to territories which are under military
control, and the little matter of a Palestinian people numbering well over two
million (in the West Bank alone) who do not share the basic rights of autonomy,
equality and independence, which lie at the heart of what Israel’s own democracy
is all about.
It is true that the West Bank is different to most other
territories under dispute in today’s world. It does not face the contradiction
of self-determination and secession which is common in many other disputed
areas. While the entire world, including many Israeli governments of recent
years, recognizes the rights to Palestinian self determination, the problem of
secession – the desire to separate from the state and to establish an
independent state, does not apply.
Regardless of whether the area is
defined as “administered” or “occupied,” the area is not, never has been, part
of the recognized sovereign territory of the State of Israel.
Jordan the sovereign power between 1949- 1967. On almost all international and
neutral maps, the West Bank is defined correctly as a “territory without formal
jurisdiction – to be determined,” with no one at present exercising sovereignty
in the accepted sense of international statehood.
And all past Israeli
governments, including those of rightwing leaders such as Menachem Begin,
Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon, knew exactly why they did not pass laws in the
Knesset annexing the West Bank and Gaza to Israel.
They knew that Israel
had no legal right to lay claims to sovereignty, that the long-term demographic
implications for the Jewish State would be disastrous and that, anyway,
absolutely no one in the world – friend or foe – would ever recognize such
claims just because they were passed in the Israeli Knesset – thus bringing the
country’s parliament and democracy into international disrepute.
no need to prove the historical phases through which this region has passed. The
West Bank, or in its more correct historical and geographical term, Judea and
Samaria, has strong historical connections with the Jewish people. The Bible
narrative is focused on this area, as expressed through the choice of Biblical
names (such as Shilo, Bet El, Elon Moreh – to name just a few) to rename the
Jewish settlements. Judea and Samaria were as much part of ancient Jewish and
Israelite kingdoms as parts of the coastal plain, where the overwhelming
majority of the residents of the State of Israel reside, never were.
I know of no one who is prepared to trade the densely populated hill regions of
the West Bank for the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. For almost 2,000 years we were
absent and during that time, other peoples came and went, created new realities,
and the fact that their antecedents may not be as long as those of the Jewish
people is totally irrelevant to the contemporary political and geopolitical
The miracle of the Jewish return to its ancient homeland took
place within certain territorial configurations, was accepted and eventually
supported by the international community. But this did not include the area of
the West Bank, neither in the UN Partition resolution or in the outcome of
Israel’s War of Independence – both of which constitute our contemporary claim
to sovereignty and international legitimacy.
WHY DO we insist on playing
with semantics rather than make a real attempt forge a political solution which
will ensure greater stability and security for both peoples? We need to get back
to basics and understand the political and demographic implications of the
Why is it so difficult to understand that the
growing Palestinians people, regardless of whether they stretch back 2,000 or
200 years, are here to stay. They are not going to disappear into Jordan and the
Saudi Arabian desert tomorrow, just as the Jewish people are not going to be
swallowed up (or pushed into) the Mediterranean Sea or return to their European
Diaspora. Each of us is here to stay – and the options ahead are actually much
more simple than the complexities of the legal and the historical arguments
would have us believe.
We can go on contesting each other’s right to be
here, or we can – each of us – make those painful compromises which require each
of us to make do with only part of the territory between the Mediterranean and
the Jordan River. We each require guarantees that the other side will no longer
threaten our safety and security, and that the human rights and democracy of
both peoples will be respected.
This will almost certainly require a
clear line of separation, a border, but this is becoming increasingly difficult
to demarcate as more and more settlements are constructed throughout the region.
The border has become increasingly blurred and the two-state solution has become
almost impossible to implement.
The only problem with this is that all
other alternatives – ranging from a one-state solution which will no longer be a
Jewish State or the continuation of long-term occupation which will bring us
ever closer to apartheid – are even worse.
The farcical claim, after 45
years of Israeli administration, that suddenly everything is legal and that
there is no longer an occupation has not convinced a single person to change
their position. What it has done however is to worsen, even further, Israel’s
position and image in a world which has always questioned Israel’s right to
continue to control and administer a territory captured in a war almost 50 years
There will now be renewed calls for sanctions, BDS and boycotts by
those groups who are continuously seeking ways to delegitimize Israel. Only this
time they will no longer be forced to make a distinction between sovereign
Israel and the “occupied territories.” By trying to justify an unjustifiable
situation, all we will have managed to do is to weaken even further the
foundations on which the sovereign state exists.
For all those of us out
there in the battle to deflect and defuse the boycott attempts, this report has
just made our task a hundred times more difficult. It has simply played into the
hands of our detractors, weakened even further our international standing, and
reflects the failed policies of a right-wing government which is doing its best
to lead Israel into a new era of international isolation.
The writer is
dean of the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University
and editor of the international journal Geopolitics. The views expressed are his