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The Myth of the Occupied Territories By: Isaac Yetiv
The San Diego Union-Tribune | Sunday, January 05, 2003


A recent poll showed a majority of the French people believed there was a Palestinian state, which Israel had conquered in 1967 and "occupied" since.

The French are certainly no exception. This widely held misconception is a vivid testimony to the efficacy of Arab propaganda and to the failure of Israel to counter it.

The truth is that there has never existed in history a sovereign Arab-Palestinian state; hence, no "occupation" could have occurred. Even former Secretary of State James Baker, not known for his sympathy to the Jewish state, when asked in 1998 by an Egyptian journalist if the "territories"
were "occupied," responded in the negative: "They are clearly disputed territories;" he said, "that's what U.N. resolutions 242 and 338 are about."

This distinction is not academic; it cuts through the heart of this seemingly intractable problem. The word "occupation," with its loaded geopolitical connotations, has become the rallying cry of the
Palestinians, inflaming their passions and inciting them to violence, thus rendering an already difficult situation practically unmanageable.

It is enough to remember that the "territories" of the West Bank and Gaza were taken by force, by Jordan and Egypt respectively, in a war of aggression against newborn Israel in 1948. Later Jordan annexed the West Bank, making its inhabitants Jordanian citizens (the term "Palestinian" was not current then).

In 1967, Jordan joined Egypt and Syria in another war of aggression, lost the war and the West Bank to Israel. Even a status quo ante in the framework of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan would have returned the territories to Jordan, not to a new "entity," but the decision of King Hussein to "wash his hands from the Palestinians" kept Israel in control of these territories.

Another important fact, practically unknown, is that, since Oslo, 98 percent of the territories are governed by the Palestinian Authority, not by Israel.

Another bone of contention, usually accompanying "occupation," is the question of Jewish settlements. Some call them "illegal;" some say they are "an obstacle to peace;" but there is not one international legal document that supports either of these opinions. On the contrary: In 1920,
the San Remo International Conference "recognized the historical connection of the Jewish people to Palestine ," found "grounds for reconstituting their national home" and "encouraged close settlement of the land," which then meant all of Palestine, including today's Jordan.

Even the Oslo agreements did not call for the dismantlement, or even a "freeze" of Jewish settlements; on the contrary, they stipulate the right and obligation of Israel to defend them. In 1967, U.N. resolution 242 called for Israel to withdraw from "territories" [not the territories]
to "secure recognized boundaries", to be arrived at "through negotiations."

In 1993, Israel initiated these "negotiations" with the Oslo agreement in order to put an end to the "occupation," which culminated in the far-reaching Clinton- Barak peace offer of Palestinian statehood which is not even mentioned in the Oslo accord.

The rejection by the Arabs of the 1947 U.N. Resolution 181 establishing a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, which Israel accepted, was followed by a disastrous war in 1948 that gave more territory to Israel; they again attacked in 1967 and lost more territory; even the surprise attack on
Yom Kippur 1973 ended in failure. The Camp David offer in 2000 was followed by the bloody war of terror.

As early as 1970, Stephen Schwebel, former head of the International Court of Justice, wrote in The American Journal of International Law: "As between Israel, acting defensively in 1948 and in 1967, on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors acting aggressively on the other, Israel has better
title to the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem, than do Jordan or Egypt."

Oslo, Camp David and Taba have shown that the people of Israel have made the strategic change toward peace with security. Will the Arab world, especially the Palestinians, respond to the challenge or will they revert to their century-old rejectionism and miss another opportunity to bring
peace and prosperity to the Middle East?

Yetiv is a retired professor and specialist in Middle Eastern affairs.




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