Beyond Images Challenging myths and presenting facts about Israell
London - published on 14 March 2003
Beyond Images Ref: 17

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“If only Israel would end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the conflict with the Palestinians would end.”

This Briefing outlines why this argument is misconceived.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is not the cause of the conflict with the Arab world, but a result of that conflict

  • The hostility of the Arab world and the Palestinian movement to Israel has continued for over 100 years (during most of which time Israel had no presence in any of the “occupied territories”)

  • Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza came about as the result of the Six Day war in 1967, which was forced upon Israel, and which it did not want. Israel’s offers to negotiate a withdrawal shortly afterwards were rebuffed by the Arab states.

  • The winding down of Israel’s control of the territories within the framework of the Oslo peace process, was wrecked by the Palestinian violence of 2000-1 which froze the withdrawal process, transformed the political climate in Israel, and resulted in Israel’s eventual reoccupation of the West Bank in June 2002 (see Beyond Images Briefing 13).

  • The permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza needs to be resolved as part of a permanent peace agreement with Israel. An “end to the occupation”, achieved in isolation from security issues, and the historic roots of the conflict, cannot bring peace.

The Palestinians demand a “right of return” into Israel, an ambition which is more far-reaching than the “ending” of Israel’s occupation

  • Palestinian spokespeople call for an unconditional right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees, not only to settle in the West Bank and Gaza, but also in “Israel proper”, a country which they still claim to be their homeland.

  • The ‘right of return’ was not surrendered by the Palestinians during the latter stages of the Oslo process. Quite the opposite, it became a central negotiating issue, was upheld without compromise, and was a key reason why the negotiations broke down.

  • The right of return, as the Palestinians themselves express it, would remain a goal of the Palestinian people even after a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. And it would remain a cause for further violence against Israel.

  • “Ending the occupation” is not the limit of Palestinian ambitions. It is not Israel’s ‘hawks’ which makes this point - but the Palestinian leadership.

Many Palestinian groups reject Israel’s existence within any borders. Their stated aim is not to “end Israel’s occupation” but to end Israel’s existence.

  • Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade do not recognise the right of Israel to exist. For them, Tel-Aviv and Haifa are as much “occupied territory” as Nablus or Gaza City. These groups want to see “the Zionist entity” dismantled and replaced by an Islamic state.

  • These groups (and others like the Fatah Tanzim and the PFLP) have launched thousands of violent attacks against Israel in the last 10 years (intensifying in the last 2 years).

  • These groups have exploited Israeli territorial withdrawals and ceasefires to launch fresh attacks in pursuit of their extreme goals. Cities from which Israel originally withdrew in the mid-1990s - such as Jenin, Ramallah, Gaza City and Nablus - became hotbeds of violent rejectionism, training grounds for Palestinian suicide bombers, and launchpads for violence.

  • These cities were under Palestinian Authority control when they evolved in this manner.

  • The process of “ending the occupation” - which Israel went a long way to fulfilling between 1994 and 2000 - did not end this violence. The opposite: the interpretation of most Israelis, borne out by the experience of the last two years, is that it gave the Palestinians freedom to pursue violence at a higher level of intensity.

Beyond Images Conclusion

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank was caused by Arab and Palestinian hostility to Israel, and has been perpetuated by that hostility.

It is not the Israeli occupation which has caused the Palestinian violence – but the Palestinian violence which has prolonged Israel’s occupation.

The current Israeli Government has repeatedly stated that it does not wish to occupy Palestinian cities permanently, or dominate Palestinian society.

But the only way the occupation can be wound down, especially in view of the violence of the last 2 years, is in the context of a durable and secure peace agreement.

This in turn can only result from a change in the attitude of the Arab world and Palestinian society to Israel’s legitimate rights, and from a determination to halt the violence, and the incitement to violence, against the Israeli people.