In Ramallah yesterday President Bush declared there “should be an end to the [Israeli] occupation that began in 1967.”
Invoking the word “occupation,” which Israeli leaders have also used, strikes me as an odd and unhelpful thing. The West Bank and Gaza, as well as the Sinai desert and Golan Heights, were lost in an Arab war of aggression against Israel–and yet the aggressor states took on the mantle of the aggrieved. This historical fact cannot be stressed often enough: Israel did not set out to conquer anything; it seized the land in a war of self-defense. And Israel ceded—at Camp David in 1979—more land in pursuit of peace than virtually any victor in history. Israel gave up more than 90 percent of the land, including oil-rich land, it won in a war in which it was not the aggressor state. Post-World War II Germany lost land compared to pre-World War II Germany—but Germans do not refer to that lost land as “occupied territory.” It lost the land in a war—and when you lose a war, you often lose land, and the claims on that land.
It’s worth adding that if Arab nations have such a deep, abiding interest in a Palestinian homeland, why didn’t they give them one when they could. During their 19-year rule (1948-1967) neither Jordan nor Egypt made any effort to establish a Palestinian state in either the West Bank or Gaza. No demands for a West Bank and Gaza independent state were heard until Israel took control of these areas in a defensive war for its survival.
This does not necessarily mean that Israel should not cede land in the West Bank; it might be in Israel’s interest to do such a thing, given the demographic and security realities it faces. But to keep referring to the West Bank as “occupied territory” perpetrates a myth—holds Israel to a double standard that is often used and always wrong.