A student supporting Hamas holds a Palestinian flag in a rally during an election campaign for the student council at the Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah April 26, 2016.
(photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
Putting aside for a moment the intricacies of international law, anyone with a modicum of intellectual honesty and a basic ability to reason can recognize the weakness of the claim that the West Bank is “occupied” by Israel.
The term “occupied” implies that Israel took, even stole, this land from another people. That is not the case. After Britain’s decision to end its mandate over Palestine, the War of Independence broke out and Jordan unilaterally annexed the West Bank, which Jews refer to as Judea and Samaria.
It is difficult to ascertain what the precise status of the West Bank was at the time Jordan took control of it. Geographically speaking, it makes sense to view the territory west of the Jordan River as an integral whole. Documents such as Churchill’s White Paper of 1922 stated specifically that the Balfour Declaration – which called for the creation of a Jewish national homeland “in Palestine” – purposely did not refer to Transjordan, which was also part of the British Mandate.
At the same time there was an understanding, as reflected in the UN Partition Plan of 1947, that both an Arab and a Jewish state would be created in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.
The Arab nations’ rejection of the plan was not their forfeiting claims to this land. The converse is true: They were declaring their right to the entire land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
In any event, the status of the West Bank was never properly sorted out. Numerous attempts to reach a negotiated agreement have failed since 1988, when Jordan relinquished claims to the West Bank and recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people. The West Bank remains a “disputed” territory with two sides – Palestinians and Israelis – claiming that some, or all, of the land is rightfully theirs.
Now, eliminating “occupied” when referring to the West Bank has become official US policy.
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An annual US government report on human rights worldwide in 2017 dropped the term “occupied” in reference to the West Bank. For the first time since 1979, the State Department report listed Israel and the territories adjacent to it by their names: Gaza – which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007 – the West Bank and the Golan Heights, which has also been defined by the international community as “occupied,” though no one in their right mind is calling on Israel to return it to its “rightful” owners.
The Trump administration and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman should be credited with the change.
The term “occupied” and the biased assumptions implied by its use are a distortion of history. Palestinians could have had a state long ago, whether in 1947 when the UN voted in favor of the Partition Plan, or after the 1967 Six Day War.
Palestinian and Arab intransigence, not Israeli “occupation,” have prevented a pragmatic resolution of the conflict. Jewish settlements are not a purposeful attempt on the part of Israelis to sabotage a potentially fruitful dialogue with the Palestinians and the Arab world. Rather, they are the result of a realization that since reconciliation and dialogue are out of the question, there is no reason for Jews to resist the urge to return to a part of their homeland so resonant with Jewish history and cultural and religious meaning. That is particularly true when such a return – especially to the larger settlement blocs – strengthens Israel’s security.
Seventy years after the creation of the State of Israel, Palestinians remain divided, ruled by two deeply undemocratic political regimes. On the West Bank, a corrupt Palestinian Authority is run like a private fiefdom by Fatah. The man at its head, Mahmoud Abbas, has no democratic mandate and there is no apparatus in place for the democratic transfer of power.
Meanwhile, in Gaza, the Islamist rule of Hamas has been a disaster for nearly two million Palestinians.
Neither Hamas nor Fatah have proven capable of creating stable, let alone democratic, political entities. The likely alternative to an Israeli military and administrative presence on the West Bank would be anarchy and the renewal of Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks directed at Israelis.
The term “occupation” simply does not do justice to Israel’s role on the West Bank. We hope additional nations will follow the US lead and stop using it.
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