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What is the status of the territories?

Control over the West Bank and Gaza passed to Israel in 1967 in a war of self-defense [the Six Day War]. For nearly a quarter of a century afterwards, the Palestinians rejected every Israeli overture, missing opportunity after opportunity to peacefully resolve the dispute through negotiation. In 2005, Israel then decided to leave Gaza unilaterally, passing control over this territory to the Palestinians themselves in the hope that they would use it to establish the base of a peaceful future Palestinian state. Sadly, Israel's hopes were dashed.

As long as the future status of the West Bank is subject to negotiation, Israel's claim to this disputed territory is no less valid than that of the Palestinians. This territory held the cradle of Jewish civilization during biblical times and Jewish communities existed there over thousands of years. Modern-day Israel has deep ties to the many historical sites located in the West Bank. Yet Israel's claim to this territory is based not only on its ancient ties, religious beliefs and security needs; it is also firmly grounded in international law and custom.

Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip dated back to 1967 and the Six Day War. It is important to remember that Israel's control of the territories was the result of a war of self-defense, fought after Israel's very existence was threatened. It has continued due to the intransigence of Israel's Arab neighbors, who steadfastly rejected Israel's many offers of peace, including its post-Six Day War message that it would exchange most of the territory in return for peace. In 1979, Egypt and in 1994, Jordan both signed peace treaties with Israel. But the Palestinians have yet to do so.

It has been asserted that Israel's presence in the territories violated UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967, one of the cornerstones of the peace process. This allegation ignores both the language and the original intent of 242. The framers of this resolution realized that the pre-1967 borders were indefensible, and deliberately chose to use the term withdrawal "from territories" (and not "from all the territories" as the Palestinians claim) in order to indicate the need to change any future borders.

Moreover, Resolution 242 (and Resolution 338 of 1973) places obligations on both sides. The Arab regimes cannot demand that Israel withdraw while they ignore their own responsibilities and the need for negotiations. They deliberately overlook the fact that 242 calls for the "termination of all claims or states of belligerency" and the "right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force."

Israel's presence in the territory is often incorrectly referred to as an "occupation." However, under international law, occupation occurs in territories that have been taken from a recognized sovereign. The Jordanian rule over the West Bank and the Egyptian rule over the Gaza Strip following 1948 resulted from a war of aggression aimed at destroying the newly established Jewish State. Their attacks plainly violated UN General Assembly Resolution 181 from 1947 (also known as the Partition Plan). Accordingly, the Egyptian and Jordanian seizures of the territories were never recognized by the international community. As neither territory had a prior legitimate sovereign, under international law these areas could not be considered as occupied and their most accurate description would be that of disputed territories.

Palestinian spokespersons not only claim that the territory is occupied, they also allege that occupation is - by definition - illegal. However, international law does not prohibit situations of occupation. Rather, it attempts to regulate such situations with international agreements and conventions. Therefore, claims that the so-called Israeli "occupation" is illegal - without regard either to its cause or the factors that have led to its continuation - are baseless allegations without foundation in international law.

Palestinian efforts to present Israel's presence in the territory as the primary cause of the conflict ignore history. Palestinian terrorism predates Israel's control of the territories (and even the existence of the State of Israel itself). The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in 1964, three years before Israel's presence in the territories began. Moreover, Palestinian terrorism has often peaked during those periods when a negotiated settlement was closest at hand, whether at the height of the Oslo process in the mid-1990s or after Israel's unprecedented peace proposals at Camp David and Taba in 2000.

There are those that claim that if only the clock could be turned back to 1967 (i.e. a full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories) the conflict would be resolved, and no border issues would need to be resolved. It is important to remember that in 1967, there was no such entity as a Palestinian state and that there was no link between Gaza and the West Bank. Yet still its Arab neighbors threatened Israel with destruction. What Israel is now being asked to create a totally new construction, whose product must be the result of direct negotiations between the two parties.

The West Bank can best regarded as disputed territory over which there are competing claims that should be resolved in peace talks. The final status of this disputed territory can only be determined through negotiations between the parties. Attempts to force a solution through terrorism are ethically indefensible and only serve to encourage further violence and terrorism.

 


These texts are taken from material published by the Israel Ministry of Foreign affairs. with additional comments and hyperlinked materials. They were apparently published in connection with the Annapolis peace conference of 2007, but they have extensive applicability beyond it. They explain fundamentals of Israeli policy as well as the meaning of Zionism and history of the conflict.

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Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs text is at Israel, the Conflict and Peace. Original text  is copyright by Ami Isseroff and Zionism-Israel Center.

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