In politics, language matters, and the misuse of words applying to the Arab-Israeli conflict has shaped perceptions to Israel’s disadvantage. As in the case of the term “West Bank,” the word “occupation” has been hijacked by those who wish to paint Israel in the harshest possible light. It also gives apologists an excuse to describe terrorism as “resistance to occupation,” as if the women and children killed by suicide bombers in buses, pizzerias, and shopping malls were responsible for the plight of the Palestinians.
Given the negative connotation of an “occupier,” it is not surprising that Israel’s detractors use the word, or some variation, as many times as possible in their propaganda and when interviewed by the press. The more accurate description of the territories in Judea and Samaria, however, is “disputed” territories.
Israel’s international legal claim to the land goes back to the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which recognized the Jewish right to a “national home” in Palestine. This position was reiterated in the San Remo Resolution (April 1920), Treaty of Sevres (Art. 95, Aug. 1920), Mandate for Palestine (Art. 6, July 1922), Anglo-American Treaty (Dec. 1925), and UN Charter (Art. 80, June 1945).
The hypocrisy of critics of Israel’s administration of the West Bank is compounded by the fact that other disputed territories around the world are not referred to as being occupied by the party that controls them. This is true, for example, of the hotly contested regions of Kashmir, Cyprus, and Tibet, none of which attract the attention or opprobrium direct at Israel (Douglas Murray, “‘Occupied Territories’: What about Cyprus, Kashmir, Tibet?” Gatestone Institute, July 23, 2013).
Occupation typically refers to foreign control of an area that was under the previous sovereignty of another state. In the case of the West Bank, there was no legitimate sovereign because the territory had been illegally occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967. Only two countries—Britain and Pakistan—recognized Jordan’s action. The Palestinians never demanded an end to Jordanian occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state. They also never called for the end of the Egyptian occupation of the Gaza Strip.
It is also necessary to distinguish the acquisition of territory in a war of conquest as opposed to a war of self-defense. A nation that attacks another and then retains the territory it conquers is an occupier. One that gains territory while defending itself is not in the same category. This is the situation with Israel, which told King Hussein that if Jordan stayed out of the 1967 War, Israel would not fight against him. Hussein ignored the warning and attacked Israel. While fending off the assault, and driving out the invading Jordanian troops, Israel came to control the West Bank.
By rejecting Arab demands that Israel be required to withdraw from all the territories won in 1967, UN Security Council Resolution 242 acknowledged that Israel was entitled to claim at least part of these lands for new defensible borders.
Since the Oslo Accords, the case for tagging Israel as an occupying power has been further weakened by the fact that Israel transferred virtually all civilian authority in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. Israel retained the power to control its own external security and that of its citizens, but 98 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, and 100 percent in Gaza, came under the PA’s authority.
The extent to which Israel has been forced to maintain a military presence in the territories has been governed by the Palestinians’ unwillingness to end violence against Israel. The only way to resolve the dispute over the territories is for the Palestinians to negotiate a final settlement. Until now, the intransigence of the PA’s leadership has prevented the resumption of talks, which offer the only path to an agreement to ensure a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Published at Jewish Virtual Library: Myths and Facts