After 50 Years of Occupation, It Is Time for Justice and Peace: If Not Sharing the State, then a Fair Sharing of the Land

The year 2017 marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, 70 years since the United Nations General Assembly “Partition” Resolution 181, 50 years of the Israeli occupation, and 10 years of the illegal siege and blockade on Gaza Strip.

However, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not start with the 1948 War— which resulted in the occupation of 78% of Mandatory Palestine which became Israel, and the expulsion of about 80% of the Palestinian people from their homes to become refugees — or with the 1967 occupation of the remaining parts of Palestine: East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The conflict started long before the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917. It started with the creation of the modern Zionist movement, which aimed to bring Jews from all over the world and settle them in Palestine, with a clear intention of creating a Jewish state regardless of what the fate of the original people of the country would be and, later, in disregard of the Balfour Declaration, which stated: “…it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” This promise was not kept by the United Kingdom, and the Palestinian people were expelled from their country, becoming refugees, victims of the UK conspiracy with the Zionist movement. The UK had no right whatsoever to promise the Jews a national homeland in a country that did not belong to it but to the people who had been living there for dozens of centuries — the Palestinian people.

The UK has to apologize to the Palestinian people for the wrong done against them and make up for its mistake. This should happen by way of the UK recognizing the State of Palestine and providing practical help to bring about this recognition to become a reality on the ground.

Means and methods to grab Arab land

Since the beginning of the Zionist movement and to this day, the core of the conflict has been the land. Different means and methods were applied by the Zionist movement before 1948 War, and by the State of Israel after its creation as a result of that war, to obtain land.

Successive Israeli governments and various agencies used and invented all possible tools to grab Arab land and devote it for the Jewish colonial settlement project in Palestine to convert it into a Jewish state. This included taking over the property which the Palestinian refugees left behind— as well as the property of the Palestinians who remained to live under the control of the new Jewish state, but who were displaced and considered “absentees,” even though they were present—in addition to public and state land and Islamic Waqf property.

One of these methods to grab Palestinian land is the issuing of laws and administrative orders that provided legal coverage or “justification” for seizing Palestinian Arab Land.

Through this process after the 48 War, most of the land came under the control of the Israeli Land Authority (Minhal Mikarkiea Yisrael), which used it solely for the benefit of the Jewish community with systematic discrimination against the remaining Arab villages and towns, which were stripped of their lands and deprived from developing their own zoning plans, while 400 – 600 villages were destroyed and taken over by Israel.

These methods, which were shaped from the experience gained during the period between1948 and1967 inside the Green Line — the 1949 armistice lines — were applied later in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) to grab Palestinian land for settlements construction or expansion. These methods included seizing Palestinian public and privately owned land, requisitioning land for “military needs,” declaring or registering land as “State Land”, expropriating land for “public needs,” then transferring these lands to the settlements. The Nakba of the Palestinian people, which began with the 1948 War by uprooting Palestinian Arabs from their lands and settling Jews instead, has not ended. It is an ongoing Nakba as long as there is no halt to the colonial settlements project, and recognition of the Palestinian people's right of self-determination and respect of their property rights.

Governmental sponsorship of settlement activities

Israeli governments led, and directly participated in, the planning, construction, development, consolidation and/or encouragement of settlements in the OPT.

Israeli governments aimed to make the infrastructure of the settlements an integral part of the infrastructure of Israel proper to facilitate de facto annexation of the OPT into Israel. Roads and highways were constructed to allow smooth movement of settlers back and forth, enabling them to work in Israel and return home to the settlements.

Israeli governments also contributed by subsidizing public services, transportation and development projects in the settlements, which were not explicitly in the public budget but were funded by money allocated through hidden provisions in a process that has been described as “partially secretive.”

A governmental scheme of subsidies — long-term loans with no interest, tax exemptions and many other incentives —has been put in place to encourage Israelis in general, and Jewish migrants to Israel in particular, to move to settlements.

Settlements have been defined as “National Priority Areas” and benefit from housing and education subsidies and direct incentives to the industrial, agricultural and tourism sectors. The aim is to boost settlements’ economic development and attract more settlers.

Wealthy right-wing Jews, mainly from the USA, funded the settlement activities in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank directly and through Israeli governmental and semi-governmental organizations.

In spite of this long-term, ongoing Nakba, and 50 years of oppressive occupation, the Palestinian people have not surrendered or disappeared. On the contrary, the refugees of 1948 have continued to demand their Right of Return.

The Palestinian people commitment to their national identity and struggle to achieve their national rights and self-determination has continually deepened. The Palestinian youth is increasingly becoming more actively militant and involved.

PLO moderation and Israel radicalization

In the last 40 years, the Palestinian national movement led by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), made a drastic change from rejecting Israel and claiming all the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, to opting for the two-state solution, a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel living in peace and harmony along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. It was a long process from the PLO’s National Council meeting in Rabat, Morocco in October1974 to its meeting in November 1988 in Algeria and recognition of the UN Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and UNGA Partition Resolution 181, and the principle of the two-state solution.

Parallel to the moderation process within the PLO, Israel underwent a drastic change in the opposite direction. This change constituted a move away from the Israeli claim that the territories occupied in 1967 were a “deposit” in its hands until the Arabs agree to negotiate and make peace, to saying loudly through prominent religious and political leaders that they will not allow the creation of a Palestinian state and will continue doing whatever they can to undermine any possibility of withdrawal from the OPT. Such leaders, mainly from the nationalist religious Jewish Home party (ha Bait ha Yehudi), and from the right of the Likud party (both are part of the current ruling coalition), are calling for the annexation of these territories with limited non-political rights for its Palestinian population.

Enhancing settlement activities while negotiating peace

In the mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, by the exchange of letters between Arafat and Rabin in September 9, 1993 a few days before signing the DOP, Israel recognized the PLO, not Palestine, and de facto continued its policy of undermining any possibility of the creation of the state of Palestine.

Israelis, who had the upper hand in the secret talks in Oslo, which led to the signing of the DOP, deliberately did not define clearly what the outcome of the Oslo process would be. The Palestinians understood that compromising on 78% of Palestine, which was occupied in 1948 and became the state of Israel, entitled them to a state in the remaining 22% — East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian Authority (PA), which was established as an interim arrangement in 1994, was supposed to become a state at the conclusion of the redeployment process of Israeli forces in 1999. But this did not happen because the process did not continue to its final phase after the failure of the Camp David talks in 2000.

Israel rejects the principle that it has a partner in this land and denies the right of self-determination to the Palestinian people. There has never been a strategic Israeli decision to allow the creation of a Palestinian state. The maximum that Israel has been ready to accept is a self-governing authority for the people — not the land — under the full hegemony of Israel, called “overriding security.”

During the 10 years of peace talks, from 1990 to 2000, in Madrid, Washington, Oslo, Camp David and other venues, while the two sides were negotiating peace, the number of settlers surged at a rapid rate. According to Peace Now Settlement Watch, the number of settlers in the West Bank in 1990 was 81,000. By 2000, this figure had risen to 198,300, an increase of 244%. While in East Jerusalem over the same period, the figure rose from 132,400 to 167,078, an increase of 126%. The so-called peace process was used by Israel as a cover for enhancing the colonizing settlements project.

Distorting agreements and turning procedural to permanent

The Oslo process was undermined by the Israeli intensification of settlement activities and the de facto creeping annexation of the OPT through the distortion of what was agreed upon as a procedure to facilitate the redeployment of Israeli forces and the transfer of land and authorities to the Palestinian side.

When the negotiations on the implementation of the DOP started, the size of the Israeli settlements and military locations were estimated to be about 10% of the OPT and their fate was postponed to a later stage, to be included in the negotiations on the final status issues which were supposed to be concluded by 1999. The remaining 90% was supposed to be transferred to the Palestinians in three phases, one every six months. To facilitate this transfer, it was agreed between Israel and the PLO to divide the area into three temporary categories: A, B and C, with the agreement that:

    - Area A would fall under the full control of the PA.
    - Area B the PA would assume civil responsibilities while security remains in the hands of Israel.
    - Area C Israel would assume both civil and security.

Through the three phases of the transfer process of 18 months, Area C would be transferred gradually to B, and B to A, until the whole area came to be categorized as Area A. The parties were then to start negotiating the final status issues: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and military locations, borders and water. But Israel stopped that process after the first phase of transfer under various excuses, including the demand by Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 1999 that the redeployment phases be combined with the final agreement, and demanded to go for a comprehensive deal. And when the parties failed to achieve an agreement in Camp David talks in 2000, the Israeli government refused to continue the process of transferring land and authorities to the PA. The result was that the PA remained with only 40% of the land under its control, while Israel continued to control the remaining 60% of the OPT.

Over time, Israeli leaders ignored the redeployment procedural agreement, which had created the three categories A, B, and C, and the purpose of their classification. Now the Israelis argue that Area C is an Israeli area, using it as a reserve for settlements expansion. Right-wing leaders, led by Naftali Bennett from the Jewish Home party, call on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to annex Area C, including the settlements to Israel under Israeli jurisdiction.

Shifting to national and religious fanaticism

The change in the attitude of religious and nationalist segments of Israeli society, demanding the annexation of the West Bank and the enhancement of settlement activities to create facts on the ground and prevent any future political agreement conducive to Israeli withdrawal, are a reflection and expression of the social, political, religious and ideological changes in the Israeli society. This society is continuously shifting toward religious and nationalist fanaticism. This process finds its expression in the results for the Knesset elections and the behavior of settlers and the occupation army against the Palestinians in the OPT. The current Knesset is overwhelmingly under the control of the extreme right-wing parties. This Knesset is characterized by its legislation of discriminatory laws against Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, and laws legitimizing violations of Palestinians rights in the OPT, including taking over their private property.

It is obvious that the Israeli government, which ignores the existence of the Green Line, does not differentiate between Arabs inside the Green Line, who are Israeli citizens, and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who are Palestinian citizens. The incitement against Palestinian Arabs in Israel and the OPT is similar. Demolishing houses in Umm al-Heran in the Negev, or the Jordan Valley, or East Jerusalem are integral parts of the same policy.

Dehumanizing the Palestinians

Stereotyping Palestinian Arabs in Israel and the OPT is becoming a cross-border phenomenon. Israelis, in the background of their minds believe that they are the chosen people and, as such, have an irrevocable right to the Promised Land, Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), which God promised them more than 2000 years ago, and have a legitimate justification for everything they do to exercise that right.

In this capacity, they see themselves as victims of those who dispute their right as the chosen people on the Promised Land. As victims, they claim the right to defend against those aggressors in the Land of Israel. And according to this way of thinking, the Israeli occupiers are the victims of the occupied Palestinians. Stereotyping the Palestinians as aggressors is to legitimize all atrocities against them.

This process of seeing the occupied as the aggressor is part of the process of dehumanizing the Palestinians. For the proponents of such a perspective, the occupied are not human beings and therefore are not entitled to human rights. A Palestinian is almost synonymous with a terrorist and vice versa. Labeling the Palestinian as terrorist aggressor justifies any action against him: shooting him dead, demolishing his house or targeting him in any possible manner.

These deeply rooted changes in the Israeli society did not come out of a vacuum. They have their roots in the religious books, school systems, army training and education, and yeshiva education. Extremist Jewish rabbis, mostly from settlements in the West Bank, call publicly for killing non-Jews, meaning the Palestinian Arabs. Some of them have written books on the subject, such as Torah Ha Melech (The Kings’ Torah), which caused a lot of protest and later was banned from wide circulation.

Blurring the Green Line

The Israeli policy of creeping de facto annexation of the OPT including East Jerusalem has intentionally blurred the Green Line by making topographic changes, and omitting it from maps, text books and public debate.

The Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, who number around 600 000, have become influential in Israeli politics. They wield a considerable electoral power, such that most Israeli political parties seek their votes. Many settlers occupy important positions not only in the socalled Civil Administration which handles the affairs of the Palestinians in the OPT, but also in the Israeli hierarchy. They are Supreme Court judges, members of Knesset, ministers in the government and senior officers in the army and different security organizations. Peace on the bases of two-state solution and the evacuation of settlements contradicts with their personal interest.

With settlers and settlements, the two-state option would no longer be possible —unless it is imposed on Israel from outside, including by methods such as boycott or sanctions. This does not appear to be on the agenda of the international community in the foreseeable future, though it remains the only path back to a political settlement.

Changes within the Palestinian society

The Palestinians who made a drastic strategic change and opted for a political compromise based upon a two-state solution are losing their faith in that possibility. That loss of faith is leading in different directions. The younger generation is becoming increasingly militant. This is reflected in violence, including stabbings or suicide attacks against Jews. Average citizens believe that there is nothing to do but standstill, sustain their presence and wait for the future. Many intellectuals call for abandoning the negotiations option and pursuing a one-state solution. Some militant intellectuals believe that more effort should be invested in expanding the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement, believing that young generations worldwide are for democracy, human rights and anti-apartheid, and will therefore support the BDS movement, forcing Israel to change its policy. They believe that Israel is developing an apartheid regime in the OPT with a dual legal system, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs.

Since Israelis will not accept the one-state option, nor admit that they are conducting an apartheid regime in the OPT, the situation will continue, as is, possibly for a long time to come. This will be an inevitable path to a stunning apartheid regime which cannot be ignored or last forever. The two peoples may go through a bloody conflict for many years to come, but at the end of the day, if no compromise is achieved at this stage, the one-state option will be the final destination.

Israel cannot keep Palestinians under its control, deprived of their national aspirations and basic human rights, and claim itself a democracy. Israel must either legally annex the occupied territories and grant equal citizenship rights for all Arabs and Jews and become one state, or withdraw and let the Palestinians live freely in their own state. The Israeli occupation cannot continue forever.

The failure to achieve a political settlement to the conflict, which was possible between the late ’80s and early ’90s, opened the door for the growth of racism and fanaticism in Israel, on one hand, and the development of the radical Islamic movement in Palestine as a rival to the national movement represented by Fateh and other national factions members of the PLO on the other. The failure of the negotiating process was used by the Islamic movement to disgrace the national leadership and present itself as an alternative partisan resistance movement. Lately, and due to regional developments, Hamas made changes in its charter and is representing itself as a national resistance movement with a religious background but not a religious movement. Taking a lesson from what is happening in the region against ISIS and various other Islamist groups, Hamas has recently disassociated itself from any Islamist movement outside the borders of Palestine. This new trend within Hamas may open the door in front of national conciliation with the Fateh.

This is badly needed because the division between Fateh and Hamas has caused a lot of damage to the national interest of the Palestinian people and to the chances of appearing unified in their demand to resolve the conflict, giving Israel the opportunity to argue that there is no Palestinian partner and no one Palestinian representative.

Either sharing a state or sharing the land

The two-state option based upon the 1967 borders should not be the only game in town. Avigdor Lieberman, the current Israeli defense minister who himself is a settler, has continuously called for the exchange of land and population with the Palestinians in any future political settlement. In his view, any settlement with the Palestinian should include exchange of land and population. He wants Israel to give the Arab villages and towns in the Triangle area to the Palestinians to decrease the number of Arabs in Israel. This demand by Lieberman can be addressed by the return to the principle of sharing or partition of Palestine. If the Israelis want a Jewish state, and therefore refuse to share a state with the Arabs, they should agree to share the land. That sharing should be just and fair to guarantee a stable, durable peace. This can be achieved either by revisiting UNGA Resolution 181 of November 1947, known as the Partition Plan, adjusting it to reality, or by the implementation of that resolution as is. Since this resolution represents the only international legitimacy of Israel by implementing its part concerning the creation of the Jewish state, it is time to implement the Arab part by creating the Arab state, the state of Palestine as described in this resolution. This resolution gives the Jews in the Arab state and the Arabs in the Jewish state a period of time to choose to move to the state of their nationality. This can contribute retroactively to resolve the problem of the 48 refugees with their compensation rights.

The UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338 were meant to deal with the results of the 1967 War and have nothing to do with the resolution of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict in Palestine. The only resolution in this regard is the above-mentioned Partition Resolution 181. The international community should assume its moral responsibility by adopting this option and advancing its implementation. This is not impossible and it can work much better than the traditional thinking of the two-state option based upon the 1967 borders as has been understood so far.