Can we talk about Israel's 'occupied' territories, please?
While Sir Isaac Newton’s third law wasn’t intended to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is very much relevant here: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
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In 1956, regional tensions over the Straits of Tiran escalated in what became known as the Suez Crisis, when Israel invaded Egypt over the Egyptian closure of maritime passageways to Israeli shipping, ultimately resulting in the re-opening of the Straits of Tiran to Israel, as well as the deployment of the United Nations Emergency Force along the Egypt-Israel border.
In the months prior to the outbreak of the Six-Day War in 1967, tensions again became dangerously heightened: Israel reiterated its post-1956 position that another Egyptian closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping would be a definite act of war.
In May 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced that the Straits of Tiran would again be closed to Israeli vessels, while subsequently mobilizing Egyptian military into defensive lines along the border with Israel, and ordering the immediate withdrawal of all United Nations Emergency Force personnel.
The next month, as the United Nations Emergency Force was in the process of leaving the zone, Israel launched a series of preemptive airstrikes against Egyptian airfields and other facilities. By the war’s end, Syria and Jordan also attacked Israel, and the Jewish state emerged victorious over all three Arab countries.
At the time of the cessation of hostilities, Israel seized Syria’s Golan Heights, the Jordanian-annexed West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip — all of which are considered today “the occupied territories.”
Following the Six-Day War, several prominent left-leaning Labor Zionists created the more right-leaning Movement for Greater Israel, which subscribed to an ideology of biblical Israel — the so-called “Land of Israel” — and called upon the Israeli government to keep and populate all areas captured in the Six-Day War.
Other Labor Zionists, staying true to their left-leaning roots, became strong advocates for relinquishing the territory won during this war. But not all captured lands are created equal.
Since the 1949 Armistice Agreements, both Israel and Syria sought to take advantage of the territorial ambiguities regarding the Golan Heights. After Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, it has administered the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights, whereas the eastern third remains under the control of Syria, and the Syrians have dismissed any negotiations with Israel.
As part of Israel’s normalization with Egypt, the Israelis returned the Sinai Peninsula in 1979.
East Jerusalem and the West Bank are, of course, incredibly contentious topics. A 2022 poll of nearly 400,000 East Jerusalem Arabs found that half of them prefer to be citizens of Israel, 42-percent want the State of Palestine, and nine-percent desire Jordanian citizenship.1
At the Camp David Summit in 2000, Israel stood ready to offer the Palestinians 92-percent of the West Bank, but Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat not only declined; he refused to negotiate or make a counteroffer.
To understand the situation in Gaza, we have to go back to 1928, when the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt, but remained a fringe group in politics across the Arab world. After Israel’s resounding victory in the Six-Day War, Islamic fundamentalism started to replace the popularity of secular Arab nationalism.
Following the war, Gaza’s iterations of the Muslim Brotherhood did not actively participate in armed resistance against Israel, preferring to focus on social-religious reform and the restoration of Islamic values.
This outlook changed in early-1980s Gaza, and Islamic organizations became more involved in Palestinian politics, led by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a Palestinian of humble origins and a quadriplegic.
The idea of Hamas began to take form in late 1987, when several members of the Muslim Brotherhood convened the day after an incident in which an Israeli army truck had crashed into a car at a Gaza checkpoint, killing four Palestinian day-workers. They met at Yassin’s house and decided that they too needed to react in some manner, as protest riots sparking the First Intifada erupted.
A leaflet issued in December 1987 — calling for resistance — is considered to mark Hamas’ first public intervention, though the name Hamas itself was not used until 1988.
To many Palestinians, Hamas appeared to engage more authentically with their national aspirations, since it provided an Islamic version of what had been the Palestine Liberation Organization’s original goals: armed struggle to liberate all of Palestine (“from the river to the sea”), rather than territorial compromises to which the Palestine Liberation Organization acquiesced.
Creating Hamas as an entity distinct from the Muslim Brotherhood was a matter of practicality; the Muslim Brotherhood refused to engage in violence against Israel, but without participating in the First Intifada, the Islamists tied to it feared they would lose support to their rivals, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Palestine Liberation Organization. They also hoped that, by keeping its militant activities separate, Israel would not interfere with its social work.
In 1988, some two decades before it assumed governing power of the Gaza Strip, Hamas published its official charter, wherein it defined itself as a chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood and its desire to establish “an Islamic state throughout Palestine.”2 This charter includes declarations like:
Hamas is an Islamic Resistance Movement with an ideological program of Islam.
Its roots and connections are to Salafism (Sunni Muslim) and the Muslim brotherhood, respectively, with Islam as its official religion and the Koran as its constitution.
Hamas is one of the links in the chain of the struggle against the Zionist invaders and references a hadith (an Islamic commandment) which states that the Day of Judgment would not come until the Muslims fight and kill the Jews.
Allah is Hamas’ goal, the Prophet is the model, the Qur’an its constitution, jihad its path, and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.
There is no negotiated settlement possible. Jihad is the only answer.
In 1993 and 1995, the Oslo Accords resulted in a pair of agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, aimed at achieving a peace treaty and fulfilling the “right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”
Regarding the Oslo Accords, Arafat infamously said:
“This agreement, I am not considering it more than the agreement which had been signed between our Prophet Muhammad and Quraish, and you remember the Caliph Omar had refused this agreement and considered it ‘Sulha Dania’ (a despicable truce). But Muhammad had accepted it and we are accepting now this peace accord.”3
In other words, Arafat compared the Oslo Accords with the Hudaybiyyah peace treaty, a 10-year truce between Muhammad and the Quraish Tribe of Mecca, which Muhammad broke two years later when he attacked them and conquered Mecca.
Arafat even went as far as to tell a Palestinian journalist:
“I am entering Palestine through the door of Oslo, despite all my reservations, in order to return the Palestine Liberation Organization and the resistance to it, and I promise you that you will see the Jews fleeing from Palestine like mice fleeing from a sinking ship. This will not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen in your lifetime.”
Still, Israel adhered to the Oslo Accords, withdrawing its troops from Gaza in 1993. The Palestinian National Authority was promptly created to administer self-rule over 98-percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza. It has received an estimated $25 billion in financial aid from the U.S. and other Western countries, the highest-per-capita assistance in the world, but the money ended up going to places not named peace or prosperity for the Palestinian people.
“Instead of creating the independent and robust civil institutions necessary for good governance, promoting peace with Israel, and improving the lives of its people, the billions of dollars of international aid were used to create a corrupt dictatorship focusing on enriching its elites, inciting its people against Israel, advocating terrorism, and waging a massive international campaign to demonize, delegitimize, and destroy the Jewish state,” according to Ziva Dahl, a Senior Fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.4
For example, the Palestinian National Authority, run by Mahmoud Abbas since 2004, refuses to use its considerable international aid to relocate more than 100,000 Palestinians from Palestinian-controlled refugee camps to residential locations in the territories, preferring to leave them confined under extremely unpleasant conditions.
Abbas, now in the 18th year of a four-year term, has built a family consortium that dominates the West Bank’s commerce and labor markets, including ownership of shopping centers, media, and insurance companies, as well as distribution of food, cigarettes, cosmetics, and other consumer products. Many believe that Abbas has refused to hold elections because he would likely lose by a landslide to Hamas.
According to Aaron Menenberg, Executive Director of the Public Interest Fellowship, many of the Palestinian National Authority’s supporters tend to look for ways to explain away their problems.
“They have composed a popular narrative in which, despite the Palestinian Authority’s corruption — or perhaps regardless of it — the Palestinians’ problems are primarily Israel’s fault,” Menenberg said. “Economic and political development in the Palestinian territories, it is claimed, can only move forward if Israel withdraws from the West Bank, voids its security requirements for border movement, and allows the free flow of people and goods.”5
What’s more, both the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas allocate monthly salaries and benefits to reward imprisoned and released Palestinian terrorists, as well as for the families of “Martyrs” — amounting to $300 million annually at one point.
This is all to say that the Palestinians, under their current and historic leadership, are very much an existential threat to Israel. When you add the fact that they are backed by Iran and its affiliates, which for years have vowed to wipe the Jewish state off the map, it’s clear and obvious that the only way to ensure Israel’s survival is through formidable deterrence.
This ought to include strategically seizing and populating disputed territories, much like the Israelis did after the 1967 Six-Day War, and the return of these lands only after true peace treaties can be realistically achieved (just like Israel did with Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula).
In the meantime, it is plainly ignorant and self-defeating to expect Israelis to sit idly by as the Palestinians become increasingly violent toward everyday Israelis — starting with the first and second intifadas, and persisting to this day.
Furthermore, it is completely understandable that Israelis have reacted to the rise of virulent Palestinian nationalism with our own expanding nationalism. While Sir Isaac Newton’s third law wasn’t intended to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is very much relevant here: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
“New Poll Reveals Moderate Trend Among East Jerusalem Palestinians.” Fikra Forum. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/new-poll-reveals-moderate-trend-among-east-jerusalem-palestinians.
“Hamas Charter.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamas_Charter.
“The Oslo deception: New evidence.” JNS. https://www.jns.org/israel-palestinianconflict/palestinian-authority/23/9/13/318598.
“Palestinian kleptocracy: West accepts corruption, people suffer the consequences.” The Hill. https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/306179-palestinian-kleptocracy-west-accepts-corruption-people.
“Terrorists & Kleptocrats: How Corruption is Eating the Palestinians Alive.” The Tower. https://www.thetower.org/article/terrorists-kleptocrats-how-corruption-is-eating-the-palestinians-alive.