It has now been 40 years since the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza started, and it seems as if it happened yesterday. In all those years, one thing has never changed and that is the Palestinian insistence on a total rejection of and continued resistance to this occupation.
These constants, rejection and resistance, have taken many different forms but they have never changed and there is little likelihood that they ever will. In parallel, Israel in its behavior vis-a-vis the Palestinian territories has gone from one approach to another in almost all aspects except one: Israel has consistently continued its illegal settlement expansion project in occupied territory.
The first years of the occupation were an enormous blow to the Palestinian psyche and were characterized by an almost paralyzing sense of shock. Palestinians dealt with this shock by blaming the Arab regimes that were defeated in the war of 1967, and instead built their hopes around the Palestinian guerrilla organizations, especially Fateh.
It took another defeat, this time the defeat of those organizations in Jordan, for the Palestinians in the occupied territories to turn toward self-reliance and a series of waves of popular resistance against the occupiers culminating in the first popular intifada. That intifada was a turning point. It caused both Palestinians and Israelis to realize that there had to be a way out and that a political solution ought to be sought. The Israelis reached this conclusion because they had failed to break the intifada, which with its popular non-violent nature had neutralized Israel's military superiority.
The Palestinians, especially from inside the occupied territories, thus entered the peace process with a great deal of self-confidence. They were convinced they would at first end the consolidation of the occupation, in the form of settlement expansions, and then start a process that would reverse the occupation and lead to independence and self-determination.
Unfortunately, the appetite for settlement expansion and the colonization of the West Bank proved stronger in the Israeli mentality than the appetite for peace. It was for that reason that an Israeli terrorist assassinated an Israeli leader, Yitzak Rabin, who had given the impression that he was about to give up most of the occupied territories in return for peace.
That could have been an insignificant individual act except that the Israeli public voted almost immediately thereafter in favor of the assassin when they elected the Likud party, which had opposed Rabin and the peace process he launched, and its leader Benyamin Netanyahu.
History was to repeat itself. When another Israeli leader, Ehud Barak, was perceived by his fellow Israelis as heading toward ending the Israeli occupation of most occupied territory he too started losing support. He lost his coalition on the way to Camp David and his parliamentary majority on the way back. Three months later, he lost the general election to the same party that had always opposed the peace process, this time the Likud of Ariel Sharon.
The failure of the Camp David negotiations and the subsequent combination of Sharon, who believed in the unilateral use of force to determine the future of the Palestinian territories, and George W. Bush, who decided to abandon any US mediation efforts and instead give Sharon a carte blanche to fix the situation by force, was responsible for the worst deterioration and fiercest violence since 1967.
In turn, this created the conditions for the rise of political Islam in the shape of Hamas, a party that had cultivated the failure of the peace process and the weakness of the peace camp for its own political ends.
And here we are. In a historical context, the past 40 years might not be so long and sooner or later this occupation will come to an end. Palestinians have managed to pass down from generation to generation an absolute rejection of the occupation. This leaves us confident that no matter how long the occupation lasts, Israel will never enjoy occupation and peace at the same time. Logically, therefore, a time should come when an Israeli generation finally prefers peace, security and integration to occupation and colonization.
This end can be reached quicker with a determined and responsible attitude and role of the international community, particularly the United States. That role must be based on the international legitimacy that guarantees Israelis peace, security and economic prosperity and Palestinians their legitimate rights including an end to occupation, statehood and a just solution to the refugee problem.- Published 4/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Suppose in June 1967, after the smoke had cleared from the war, Israel, citing its reluctance to rule over a large Palestinian population, had decided to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem except the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and the Wailing Wall. What new reality would it have then confronted?
We can assume that Jordan's King Hussein, fortified by this decision, would have returned with his army and security services to rule the West Bank. The Gaza Strip, cut off from Egypt by the Israeli occupation of Sinai, might have come under the rule of a few prominent families and remained dependent on United Nations support to feed its huge refugee population.
What would have been the ensuing course of events in the Middle East? Would Israel, having more or less satisfied King Hussein's condition for peace (total withdrawal), have then developed good relations with Jordan? Would Yasser Arafat's Fateh movement have been allowed by Hussein to launch attacks against Israel from the West Bank? Would Jordan's large Palestinian majority have, in the course of the ensuing years, taken over the Hashemite Kingdom? If so, would it have then targeted Israel? Would the Egyptian and Iraqi forces that entered Jordan in 1967 to fight Israel have remained, or gone home? Would Gaza have disintegrated into terrorism and anarchy? How would these and additional developments have affected the ensuing wars and peace process with Egypt and Syria? Would Israel's own Palestinian citizens have become as radical as they are today? Would anything like the Gush Emunim settlement movement have emerged, with its huge influence on the course of events?
Obviously, the moment we make a single hypothetical supposition regarding the events of 1967--in this case, immediate and unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza--we are flooded with unanswerable questions that point to a multitude of possible new decision-making crossroads in a hypothetical history. Perhaps things would have been better; perhaps worse. You can't turn back the clock on history.
But our very capacity to pose such fateful questions reflects the dramatic role the Six-Day War played in the region's history, particularly with regard to Israeli-Palestinian relations. I was a young first lieutenant in IDF Intelligence at the time. Two memories stand out.
I recall standing with a group of fellow officers on a hilltop overlooking the Allenby Bridge, which was partly submerged in the Jordan River after having been bombed during the war. The war had ended a few days earlier, and Palestinian refugees were streaming across the battered bridge, bundled possessions on their backs. "Let them go, the more the better, it's for the best", said my commanding officer, a veteran of 1948. "No, we'll regret this," I offered. But who was I to argue with him?
A second memory was the anticipation of Russian and American intervention. That had been the pattern of the two previous wars, in 1948 and 1956, when the great powers of the day had forced Israel to withdraw from its wartime conquests in Egypt and Lebanon back to the international borders. One reason those refugees were crossing the Jordan River was because Israel, in its haste to lock onto a few ostensibly strategic territorial conquests in Jerusalem and the Latrun and Qalqilya areas and "create facts" that might withstand international pressures, had quickly bulldozed some homes and villages, then thought better of the idea and stopped.
But this time the great power intervention never came. By the time UN Security Council Resolution 242 was passed in November, the Arab League meeting in Khartoum had said "no" to peace, recognition and negotiations. For better or for worse, we were stuck with the territories we had occupied or "liberated" back in June.
For better (and here we are again speculating about alternative histories), in the sense that Egypt would probably not have made peace with us had we not occupied Sinai. Even the Asad family of Damascus might never have considered trying to negotiate peace with us had we not, to this day, occupied the Golan. On the other hand, Egypt under Sadat was apparently ready for some sort of accommodation with us by 1972, and had we not been blinded by our conquests we could have entered into negotiations and possibly saved nearly 3,000 Israeli lives in October 1973.
For worse, in the West Bank and Gaza. While we cannot know what our relationship with the Palestinian people would have been had we withdrawn right away--one could argue, for example, that without the pressure exerted by the settlements the PLO might never have sought to negotiate a two-state solution--it is clear that occupying several million Palestinians has been very bad for Israeli society, for Israel's status as a Jewish and democratic state and for Israel's relationship with its Arab neighbors and the world.
The ideological settlers of the West Bank would undoubtedly argue the benefits for the Jewish people of our return to our biblical heritage in Hebron, Shiloh and Elon Moreh. Nor should the strategic security advantages of our military presence in the Jordan Valley and our intelligence presence on a few West Bank mountaintops be taken lightly.
Yet it is clear to most of us today that the damage of occupying the West Bank and Gaza far outweighs the heritage and security benefits. That insight is a good sign, however slow in coming. It took us only 40 years to get here.- Published 4/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former special adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A balance sheet of occupation
by Camille Mansour
Whatever the factors and justifications behind the Israeli lightning attack on June 5, 1967, the war and the subsequent military occupation of Arab land provoked shock-waves that can be felt to this day. For sure, not all the developments on the Israeli-Arab scene have been a direct outcome of what happened in 1967, but insofar as Palestinian-Israeli relations are concerned it is safe to say that Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has not ceased to constitute the main factor in shaping their evolution as well as the internal dynamics of both polities. If this is the case, it is meaningful to draw a Palestinian-Israeli balance sheet of 40 years of occupation.
On the Palestinian side, the war took place at a time when Palestinian identity was witnessing a revival that had started in the early 1960s among the new elites in Lebanese and Syrian refugee camps and in the Gulf. This renewed identity, a reaction to failed Arab unity endeavors, bore several fruits, among them ideas of self-reliance, armed struggle to return to the homeland, inter-Palestinian networking and self-organization. Thus the shock provoked by both the Arab armies' defeat and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza did not create or recreate Palestinian identity. It did provide a major impetus to this identity's embodiment in a political movement endowed with mobilized popular support and an autonomous decision-making capacity in relation to Arab states. It was thanks to this capacity that the post-1967 PLO leadership could conceive its own program and adopt the idea of statehood, first in the form of a single democratic state for both Arabs and Jews over the whole of British Mandate Palestine (1968-69), then in the form of a Palestinian state limited to the occupied West Bank and Gaza (since 1974).
It is thus not an exaggeration to say that the 1967 war launched a chain reaction within which the Palestinians solidified their political autonomy and at the same time, paradoxically, reconciled themselves with the idea of dividing their original homeland into an Israeli state and a Palestinian state living side by side. However, it is important and fair to add that the kind of legitimacy accorded to Israel in this process was not and could not be a "historical" legitimacy, but an "acquired" legal legitimacy, due to the passage of time, the balance of power and the hope that at least partial justice could be restored.
On the Israeli side, the overwhelming power of the armed forces and the easy occupation of the West Bank and (less so) of Gaza in the aftermath of the war brought with them a false sense of the success of unilateralism. Israel counted on time to both conquer the land and obtain international legitimacy for its conquest. Today, it is possible to say that it has succeeded meaningfully on the first level, by settling the West Bank, including the Greater Jerusalem area. On the second level, Israeli achievement is mitigated: it has not gained international legal support for its expansion beyond the June 4 lines, but it has benefited and continues to benefit from the permissiveness of western countries for whom international law is to be applied only when it fits their own compelling interest.
However, the Israeli policy of conquering the land and at the same time gradually tightening its control over the West Bank and Gaza populations led to the first intifada and made the Palestinians "ungovernable". In turn, this led to Israel concluding that it was no longer possible to exert direct control over Palestinian urban centers and refugee camps. Thus a common ground with the PLO's statehood strategy was found: an interim arrangement lasting five years during which the PLO exercised territorial control over the so-called areas A and functional control over areas B while Israel kept its options open in areas C, over main roads and in East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the PLO recognized the state of Israel and Israel recognized the PLO as representing the Palestinian people.
In hindsight, this imbalanced interim arrangement agreed in Oslo could only have succeeded if the post-1967 policy of conquest of the land had been reversed. By continuing their settlement activities after Oslo, successive Israeli governments cause both peoples to lose a golden opportunity for closing not only the 1967 file, but also that of 1947-48.
In terms of Israeli-Palestinian relations today, the balance sheet is bleak: there is an Israeli government that has lost its sense of direction, except in blindly pursuing settlement activity; Fateh-PLO is on the brink of losing its decision-making capacity and its control over the Palestinian polity; there are continued violent confrontations between the occupier and a meaningful sector of the occupied; the security of Israel has been expanded to include the security of the settlements; strangulating walls and roadblocks have been built within the territories seized in 1967.
In contrast to Moshe Dayan's pretence about an "enlightened" occupation, the coercive Israeli management of the West Bank and Gaza does not indicate a politically strong Israel, whether internally or toward Palestinians' chaotic attachment to their rights. It is an irony of history that exactly when the two-state solution is universally, even if only rhetorically, acknowledged, including by the US and Israel, a common impasse has befallen the two sides. It can only be hoped that this impasse will not lead to a situation where the two-state solution is no longer possible or viable.- Published 4/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Camille Mansour is professor emeritus of international relations. Since September 2004, he has worked as a UNDP advisor on Palestinian judicial reform.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Lest we miss the fruits of the war
by Shlomo Gazit
Throughout nearly 60 years of its existence, Israel has known many wars and almost no periods of peace and quiet. Two of those wars--the War of Independence and the Six-Day War--are the primary landmarks in Israel's history.
The War of Independence enabled the founding of the state. In a bloody struggle and at a very heavy human and economic price, Israel succeeded in thwarting the attempt to prevent implementation of the United Nations decision from November 29, 1947 that established it. The Six-Day War created the conditions for Arab acquiescence in Israel's existence and in the need to reach diplomatic agreements with it.
The Six-Day War surprised us; we had not expected war in 1967. Nevertheless, we always knew that a new war with the surrounding Arab states was inevitable. We knew the Arab states had not come to terms with the outcome of the 1948 war, that they would not suffice with an armistice regime and that they were preparing for war. The Arab summit decided to establish a united Arab command precisely for this purpose; it decided to divert the waters of the Hatzbani and the Banias rivers, thereby dooming the recently completed national water carrier in Israel that would carry water from the Sea of Galilee to the Negev; and it decided to establish the Palestine Liberation Organization under Ahmed Shukairy. The surprise of 1967 was the timing, but not the war and preceding crisis in and of themselves.
Much has been said regarding Israel's decisive and phenomenal military victory. In June 1967, in the course of six days of combat, Israel defeated the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. But in historical perspective, the three weeks of waiting prior to the decision to launch a war were of no less significance. Those three weeks laid the political groundwork both for the war itself and for Israel's demand to hold onto the territories it had captured as bargaining cards, pending peace agreements with its neighbors.
It was this international support that prevented pressure on Israel to withdraw immediately to the June 4 lines and that contributed to UN Security Council Resolution 242, which speaks of Israeli withdrawal from "territories" it had occupied and not from "all the territories". On June 19, 1967, ten days after the war ended, the government of Israel decided to offer Cairo and Damascus an Israeli withdrawal to the borders of Mandatory Palestine in return for comprehensive peace agreements. Egypt and Syria rejected this appeal and replied, at the Khartoum Arab summit, with three nos: no to peace, no to recognition and no to negotiations with Israel.
Nevertheless, ten years later and four years after the Yom Kippur War, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat arrived in Jerusalem and declared "no more war". There and then began the process of Arab recognition and acceptance of Israel.
In order for Israel's Arab neighbors to recognize and accept Israel's existence--from their standpoint, a bitter pill to swallow--three conditions had to be fulfilled. They had to be completely convinced that they could not bring about Israel's destruction through military means; they had to recognize that international political reality would not serve the Arab interest and compel Israel to withdraw; and there had to be a degree of urgency impelling any Arab country, each for its own reasons, to accept a diplomatic settlement rather than postponing a solution to the unforeseeable future.
First, then, was Egypt. We recall that the Yom Kippur War, for which Egypt had prepared during more than six years and which opened, from its standpoint, with total military surprise, concluded with IDF forces positioned 100 km. from Cairo, deep inside Egyptian territory, and besieging the Third Army, half of Egypt's land force. During the ensuing four years, Egypt tried in vain to drive a wedge between Israel and the United States and dilute American diplomatic support for Israel. It was then that the regime in Cairo came under unbearable domestic socio-economic pressures, to the extent that Sadat felt compelled to look for an instant solution in the form of recognition of Israel.
Second was Jordan, which went through a similar military, political and domestic process. But Jordan could not allow itself to engage publicly in a peace agreement with Israel. It had to wait until the Oslo accords awarded it Palestinian "legitimacy".
Third was the PLO. Thirty years of struggle and terrorism ended from its standpoint in total failure inside the Israeli-occupied territories, in a bloody "Black September" confrontation in Jordan and in the First Lebanon War, which led to the PLO's departure to exile in Tunis. It then took fatigue from the first intifada and political isolation after the first Gulf war to lay the groundwork for the Oslo talks and agreement.
Lately we see the president of Syria undergoing a similar evolution in Damascus. Heavy political, economic and social dilemmas are causing him to invite Israel to sit and negotiate.
Finally, there is the Arab peace initiative, offering Israel peace with all Arab countries, albeit under opening conditions that will require prolonged and tough negotiations.
Thus far the Arab side. But it takes two to tango. The peace process cannot advance without the full cooperation of the Israeli side. The Israeli public has tired of war and seeks a political solution. Israelis aspire to a solution of the Palestinian issue based on two states, side by side. They well understand the price of comprehensive peace: the Golan Heights and removal of most of the West Bank settlements. They know that an agreed final border will be drawn on the basis of the historic green line, and they accept this.
Those who are not ready are the Israeli and Palestinian political systems. Both here and there, the governments are weak, unstable and incapable of making the necessary decisions.
Forty years after the Six-Day War, conditions have ripened for Arab acceptance and recognition of Israel's existence and, in parallel, for Israeli recognition and acceptance of the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside it. It will be sad and painful if the leadership on both does not realize this achievement, and if yet more confrontations and more sacrifices--human, political and economic--are required before we can fully reap the fruits of that war.- Published 4/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Major General (ret.) Shlomo Gazit was head of IDF Intelligence Analysis and Assessment in June 1967. He was the first coordinator of Israeli government operations in the occupied territories.
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