Monday, April 11, 2016

Israel and the Occupation that Isn't - Steve Postal

by Steve Postal

What these economic and political warriors don’t seem to realize is that Israel is not occupying anything.  There was never an Arab state known as Palestine.  In fact, the Arabs have rejected multiple offers to establish such a state.

March saw a return of economic warfare against Israel, masked in discontent with Israel’s “occupation” of “Palestine.”  On March 24, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted 32-0-15 to create a database of companies that have profited from Israeli settlements, which the Israeli government has called a “blacklist.”  A petition by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace, CODEPINK, and others, which has surpassed 144,000 signatures, calls for Airbnb to “[s]top listing vacation rentals in Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land and deemed illegal under international law.”  On March 7, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called on its members and all other countries to “ban products produced in or by illegal Israeli settlements from their markets.” 

The “occupation” theme also made a recent appearance in the 2016 presidential race. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, in his first major policy statement on the Middle East, stated that “peace will mean an end to what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory.” 

What these economic and political warriors don’t seem to realize is that Israel is not occupying anything.  There was never an Arab state known as Palestine.  In fact, the Arabs have rejected multiple offers to establish such a state. 

Before Jewish sovereignty was reestablished with the modern state of Israel in 1948, the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire ruled the Holy Land for approximately 400 years up until 1917.  Following the defeat of the Ottoman Turks in World War I, the British and French administered it in a period of joint military administration (1917-1920).  The San Remo Conference (1920) formally established the British Mandate of Palestine’s borders to encompass modern day Israel, Jordan, the Gaza Strip, and what is today often referred to as the West Bank.    

Britain Created “Palestine” for the Jews…  

The legal document that created the Mandate recognized the “historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home” and called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish People.” The document also obligated the British to “facilitate Jewish immigration” and “encourage…settlement by Jews on the land…” The British, with the approval of the League of Nations (the predecessor to the United Nations) took on the obligation to help Jewish immigration and settlement of the Mandate, which included the West Bank.  Indeed, Jews lived in this area in historic (Hebron, today’s “East” Jerusalem, Nablus/Shechem) and new (Gush Etzion) communities during the Mandate period.  

…And Then Gave 75% of it to the Arabs.  

In 1922, Britain partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine into two separate mandates, Palestine (west of the Jordan River) and the Transjordan (east of the Jordan River).  Transjordan eventually became sovereign Arab territory.  Despite the partition, the land that is now known as the West Bank still remained within Palestine and was still slated to be included in a new home for the Jewish people.   

The Arabs Rejected the West Bank Twice.  

Arab leaders did not accept any further partitions.  The Arabs rejected two offers (in 1937 from Britain and in 1947 from the United Nations) that would have established Arab independence from Jewish sovereignty west of the Jordan River, including the West Bank.  The Jewish community in Palestine, on the other hand, accepted both of these offers.  So, before Israel’s War of Independence (1947-1949), there was no Arab ownership of the West Bank, and no sovereign from which to occupy it.

1949 Green Line is Armistice Line, Not Border.  

Transjordan captured the present-day West Bank in Israel’s War of Independence, and renamed itself Jordan, as it now had territory on both sides of the river.  But once peace was reached between Israel and Jordan, both sides refused to recognize the armistice line, called the “Green Line,” as a formal border between them.  In fact, the 1949 Israel-Jordanian armistice agreement stated that that line shall not “prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto,” with “the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.”  The armistice agreement thus did not settle the sovereign status of the West Bank.

Jordan Lacked a Legitimate Claim to the West Bank.  

In a move that violated the status quo of the 1949 Armistice Agreement, Jordan annexed the West Bank in 1950.  Britain and Pakistan formally accepted this annexation, while the rest of the world, including most notably the entire Arab world, did not.  The international community, the original Mandate, and the subsequent partition of 1922 did not recognize a Jordanian claim to the West Bank.  In 1988, nearly forty years following the annexation, Jordan relinquished its claim to the West Bank. 

Israel Had the Best Claim to the West Bank Before 1967.  

An Arab state west of the Jordan River could not claim the West Bank; the Arabs made sure, in their rejections of 1937 and 1947, that no such state came into existence.  The Arab state east of the Jordan River (Jordan) did not have a legitimate claim to the West Bank, and regardless relinquished all claims to it in 1988.  So Israel, based on the original Mandate, confirmed by the League of Nations, had the most legitimate claim.

Israel Took the West Bank (Back) in Self-Defense.  

While many see Israel’s taking of the West Bank in the Six-Day War (1967) as one of “occupation,” Israel was in fact re-claiming, in an act of self-defense, what was previously granted to the Jewish State under international law.  So how could Israel “occupy” territory that was rightfully hers? 

The Arabs Refused the West Bank Another Five Times.  

Despite the Arabs losing military control over the West Bank in a war that they had initiated, Israel and the world continued to offer the Arabs sovereignty in at least some of it.   True to form, the Arabs continued to reject these offers.  Opportunities for Arab sovereignty in the West Bank were rebuffed in 1967 (the Khartoum Resolution), 1967-1968 (the Allon Plan), 2000 (Camp David), 2001 (Taba) and 2008 (Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas).  The latter two offers would have granted Arab sovereignty to roughly 95% of the West Bank. 

The Palestinian Authority Recognized Jewish Sovereignty Within the West Bank. The Arabs did accept sovereignty within the West Bank during the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.  In the Oslo II Accord (1995), Israel recognized Arab sovereignty (Arab military and civilian control) in Area A, while the Palestinian Authority recognized Israeli sovereignty (full Israeli military and civilian control) in Area C, which is where the Israeli settlements are located.  So, by signing this agreement, the Palestinian Authority recognized that Israel has a right to administer and build in Area C (given the above-mentioned international law, Israel already had that right anyway).  In fact, building Arab structures in Area C (by either the Arabs or the Europeans) is a violation of the Oslo Accords.

So what does this mean?  Israel is not occupying “Palestine” but is the legitimate heir to the British Mandate of Palestine.  The West Bank is, at best, a disputed territory.  That being said, Israel has every right to build in the West Bank, especially in Area C.  Given their past history of rejectionism and instigation of wars, the Arabs, not the Israelis, should be pressured to make peace.

Steve Postal works in health care policy in Washington, DC.  His blog, Hebraic Mosaic, can be found at, Facebook (Hebraic Mosaic) and on Twitter @HebraicMosaic.  He can be reached at


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