The mostly one-sided Western media commentary on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War – fixated as it was on the theme “50 years of Israeli occupation” – has generated the need for reflection on truths either omitted or marginalized in the coverage.
The highly influential Economist led the way with a 5,000-word May cover story, “Why Israel needs a Palestinian State.” It was illustrated by a Star of David under lock by the Palestinians, implying that only by unlocking – freeing – the Palestinians can Israel hope to be free itself.
Its lead editorial made this abundantly clear: “The reason Israel must let the Palestinian people go is to preserve its own democracy.”
There is a misconstrued implication, which is pervasive in key media and intellectual circles today, that Israel is doing to the Palestinians what the Egyptians did to the Jews millennia ago.
Conveniently ignored were Israel’s repeated offers to the Palestinians of a viable, contiguous state. The initial proposals were presented to Yasser Arafat at Camp David and Taba in 2000-2001. An even more generous offer was made to Mahmoud Abbas in Annapolis in 2008. Most recently was John Kerry’s 2014 proposal. All were rejected by the Palestinians because – bottom line — they reject the basic precept of Jewish sovereignty.
Nonetheless, the Economist claimed, although without follow-up, that “The outlines of peace are well known. Palestinians would accept the Jewish state born from the war of 1947-48…”
Economist writers should have recalled what their colleagues wrote in 2008 during the Annapolis talks. This was a profoundly important, albeit rare, observation in this august publication. At that time they noted, “It is ironic that the fundamental disagreement between Jews and Palestinians today is not about whether there should be a Palestinian state; most Israeli Jews accepted that long ago. It is about whether there should be a Jewish one.”
Unfortunately, this time, The Economist, while failing to acknowledge that the Palestinians refuse to accept the idea of a “Jewish state,” put virtually all responsibility on Israel alone: “To save democracy, and prevent a slide to racism or even apartheid, [Israel] has to give up the occupied territories.”
The fundamental point is that, according to the “land for peace” formula of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which was drafted in the aftermath of the 1967 war, Israel is legally entitled to hold those lands that were taken in a war of self-defence. Changing that situation requires the Arabs to negotiate and make peace with Israel. The Palestinians, in particular, need to offer full recognition, safe and secure boundaries, and “termination of all claims.” This latter condition would require the Palestinians to abandon their claim for a “right of return” of the now-millions of Palestinian refugees to present-day Israel.
In short, “ending occupation” is not something Israel is required, under international law, to do unilaterally. This essential point is rarely understood by media circles that routinely cite “knowledgeable diplomatic sources” and many who pose as experts on the subject.
It’s important to recall that, in 2005, when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza and four northern West Bank settlements, Israel received in return not peace overtures but a series of missile strikes from Gaza.
Reacting to this bitter situation, the leftist, former Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit wrote in his acclaimed 2013 book, My Promised Land: “Here’s the catch: If Israel does not retreat from the West Bank, it will be politically and morally doomed, but if it does retreat, it might face an Iranian-backed and Islamic-inspired West Bank regime whose missiles could endanger Israel’s security. The need to end occupation is greater than ever, but so are the risks.”
Israelis live on a daily basis with this very predicament, which has no safe and acceptable solution.
It’s unfortunate that so much Western hectoring against Israel – “just end the occupation” – fails spectacularly to grasp this most basic reality.