America’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, reportedly has asked the State Department to stop referring to Israel’s presence in Judea-Samaria as an “occupation.”
The State Department is reportedly refusing to change its policy.
The ambassador is right, and the State Department is wrong.
Let’s start with the simple fact that a large part of Judea-Samaria is not even under Israel’s control. It’s ruled by the Palestinian Authority.
When Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister in 1992, he faced a dilemma. On the one hand, he recognized that establishing a Palestinian state in Judea-Samaria-Gaza would pose a grave threat to Israel’s existence. Israel would be just nine miles wide in its middle, living next to a state run by terrorists and dictators.
On the other hand, Rabin didn’t want Israel to continue to rule over the Palestinian Arabs who reside in those territories. So he signed the Oslo accords, which ended Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians and gave them something close to statehood, but without endangering Israel.
In 1995, Rabin withdrew from the cities in Judea-Samaria where 98 percent of the Palestinians reside (and Ariel Sharon later withdrew from all of Gaza). That gave the PA control of 40 percent of the territories. The Israeli military administration in that area was dismantled. The Israeli governor left.
That has been the reality for the past 22 years. The Palestinians’ schools are run by Palestinian principals and teachers. The courts have Palestinian judges. The streets are policed by the Palestinian security forces. When elections are held, the candidates and the voters are all Palestinians. Pretty much the only thing the Palestinian Authority can’t do is import tanks, planes, Iranian “volunteers,” or North Korean missiles.
Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid last year pointed out “that the PA has existed for over 20 years and Israelis do not have a presence in Palestinian cities except when there are security needs,” that is, when the Israeli army must chase terrorists whom the PA refuses to arrest. The Israelis go in, catch the killers, and then withdraw a few hours later. An hours-long search-and-arrest mission is not even remotely close to constituting an “occupation.”
An argument could be made that the only “occupation regime” – that is, a regime which is governing illegally – is that of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. His term of office expired in January 2009. He has stayed in power simply by refusing to hold elections. Now that’s what I call an “occupation.”
Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas has governed by one-party rule since its armed takeover of that territory in 2007. Hamas is now beginning its second decade of illegally occupying Gaza. I don’t recall the State Department ever talking about the “occupation” of Gaza.
What about the portions of Judea-Samaria that Israel still controls? Is the State Department justified in calling those areas “occupied”? Not even close.
Israel’s religious and historical claims to the area are far superior to those of the Palestinian Arabs. Sovereign Jewish kingdoms existed in those areas for many centuries, 3,000 years before any Arabs were even calling themselves “Palestinians.” Every major Jewish holy site is situated in Judea, Samaria, or Jerusalem. The biblical patriarchs and matriarchs are buried in Judea-Samaria. That’s not exactly a secret. Just read the Bible.
From the point of view of international law, there is nothing about the Israeli presence in Judea-Samaria that qualifies as “illegal occupation.” First, because the territories belonged to the Jewish people in the first place. Second, because Israel won those areas in self-defense. And third, because the Jordanian occupation of Judea-Samaria from 1948 to 1967 was the result of an act of illegal armed aggression. Israel cannot be “illegally occupying” a territory if that territory didn’t belong to any other country; moreover, Jordan formally waived its claim to those areas back in 1988.
When President Trump announced that he recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he called his decision a simple acknowledgment of an obvious reality: Jerusalem already is the capital of Israel.
The rest of the Trump administration needs to face the reality in Judea-Samaria, too. The Israeli “occupation” of the portion where the Palestinian Arabs reside ended long ago, and the Israeli presence in the remainder of those territories is perfectly legitimate.
If the wordsmiths at the State Department want to be even-handed, they could use terms such as “Israeli-controlled portion of the territories” and “Palestinian Authority-controlled portion of the territories.” But for the State Department to falsely brand Israel an “occupier” while not applying the same term to the PA, flies in the face of history, law, geography, and logic.
Ambassador Friedman is right. It’s time for the State Department to face reality.