March 30, 2011
In politics words matter and, unfortunately, the misuse of words applying to the Arab-Israeli conflict has shaped perceptions to Israel's disadvantage. As in the case of the term "West Bank," the word "occupation" has been hijacked by those who wish to paint Israel in the harshest possible light. It also gives apologists a way to try to explain away terrorism as "resistance to occupation," as if the women and children killed by suicide bombers in buses, pizzerias, and shopping malls or murdered in cold blood in the the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria were responsible for the plight of the Arabs. Given the negative connotation of an "occupier," it is not surprising that Arab spokespersons and unfortunately irresponsible posters on this web-site use the word, or some variation, as many times as possible when in the former case being interviewed by the press or in the latter case when trying to deligitimise Israel. The more accurate description of the territories in Judea and Samaria is "disputed" territories.
In fact, most other disputed territories around the world are not referred to as being occupied by the party that controls them. This is true, for example, of the hotly contested region of Kashmir or even Tibet in the case of China.
Occupation typically refers to foreign control of an area that was under the previous sovereignty of another state. In the case of the West Bank, there was no legitimate sovereign because the territory had been illegally occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967. Only two countries — Britain and Pakistan — recognized Jordan's action but even then did not recognise that country's annexation of Jerusalem. The Palestinians never demanded an end to Jordanian occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank. In fact the PLO called for the destruction of Israel not Jordan.
It is also important to distinguish the acquisition of territory in a war of conquest as opposed to a war of self-defense. A nation that attacks another and then retains the territory it conquers is an occupier. One that gains territory in the course of defending itself is not in the same category. And this is the situation with Israel, which specifically told King Hussein that if Jordan stayed out of the 1967 war, Israel would not fight against him. Hussein ignored the warning and attacked Israel. While fending off the assault and driving out the invading Jordanian troops, Israel came to control the West Bank.
By rejecting Arab demands that Israel be required to withdraw from all the territories won in 1967, the UN Security Council, in Resolution 242, acknowledged that Israel was entitled to claim at least part of these lands for new defensible borders.
Since Oslo, the case for tagging Israel as an occupying power has been further weakened by the fact that Israel transferred virtually all civilian authority to the Palestinian Authority. Israel retained the power to control its own external security and that of its citizens, but 98 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza came under the PA's authority. The extent to which Israel has been forced to maintain a military presence in the territories has been governed by the Palestinians' unwillingness to end violence against Israel. The best way to end the dispute over the territories is for the Palestinians to fulfill their obligations under the Oslo agreements (and the later Road Map) which call for the dismantling of the terror groups, reform the Palestinian Authority, stop the terror and negotiate a final settlement.