Sunday, May 27, 2007

The 40-Year Occupation

Americans believed they won the War in Iraq just months after the invasion, but it is losing and perhaps has already lost the occupation. Israelis were in a similar state of mind after the Six Day War of 1967. Our occupation has lasted 4 years. But Israel's has lasted 40. The speed and scope of that war led many Israelis to see a divine hand in their victory. This changed Israel itself, giving birth to an irredentist religious-nationalist movement intent on permanent colonization of the occupied lands. After six days Israel had conquered not just Sinai and the Syrian Golan Heights but also the old city of Jerusalem and the West Bank—the biblical Judea and Samaria where Judaism began. In theory, these lands might have been traded back for the peace the Arabs had withheld since Israel's founding. That is what the UN Security Council proposed in Resolution 242. But Israelis were intoxicated by victory and the Arabs paralysed by humiliation. Israel then embarked on its hubristic folly of annexing the Arab half of Jerusalem and—in defiance of law, demography and common sense—planting Jewish settlements in all the occupied territories to secure a Greater Israel.

Palestinians were scattered by the fighting that accompanied Israel's founding in 1948. Some fled beyond Palestine; others became citizens of the Jewish state or lived under Egypt in Gaza and Jordan in the West Bank. After '67 the disputed territories (Gaza and West Bank) were reunited under Israeli control and so sharpened their own thwarted hunger for statehood. Gaza and the West Bank were technically already occupied by Transjordan and Egypt before 1967. And according the British Palestinian Mandate, Egypt had no rights to Gaza. And decades later, Egypt and Jordan did make peace with Israel, the Palestinians did not recover Gaza and the West Bank. This has left some 4m Palestinians desperate for independence but in a confined land choked by Jewish settlements—along with the fences, checkpoints and all the hardships and indignities of military occupation. Ariel Sharon, it is true, dragged Israel out of the Gaza Strip two years ago. But it hasn't made any difference. The Palestinians will not consider peace unless they get the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem too. And Hamas, basically now the Palestinian government, says it will not make a permanent peace even then.

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