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 in east Jerusalem 370 (R) (photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
A demolished Palestinian home in east Jerusalem 370 (R)
(photo credit: 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.
Neither was 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.
THERE IS 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.
But 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 realities.
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 contemporary realities.
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 ago.
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 alone.

Tags Occupation