Israel Palestine Conflict: The Truth About the West Bank

Often on the news we hear the terms: "occupied territories", "67 borders" and "illegal settlements." And the story we usually hear sounds very simple: “During the Six Day War, Israel captured the West Bank from the Palestinians; refused the United Nation's demand to retreat; and illegally built settlements" But, is that really the case? 

Let's try to understand the situation a little bit better. Who captured the West Bank We'll start with a simple, but extremely important, question: From whom did Israel capture the West Bank? From the Palestinians? 

No. In 1967, there was no Arab nation or state by the name of "Palestine." Actually, was there ever? Israel took over the West Bank from Jordan in an act of self-defense, after Jordan joined a war launched by Egypt and Syria to destroy Israel. Oh, by the way, destroying countries IS rather illegal. 

The United Nations, back in 1967, rejected repeated Arab and Soviet attempts to declare Israel as the aggressor. Security Council resolution 242 did not demand a unilateral Israeli withdrawal. Rather, the United Nations called for negotiating a solution which would leave Israel with “secure and recognized boundaries,” in effect: defensible borders. 

But wait a second, what was Jordan doing in the West Bank in the first place? What was its legal justification? Well Jordan had the... you know what? It had no legal justification! Jordan simply occupied it during its previous attempt to destroy the newly established State of Israel in 1948, changing the commonly accepted name “Judea and Samaria” to “the West Bank". 

But that did not really convince anybody; and–almost no one recognized the legality of Jordan’s occupation, not even any of the other Arab states. 

So if Jordan had no legal claim to the land, and a "Palestine" did not exist–whose territory is it? Let's go a little further back in time. Don't worry, not to the days of the Bible, only about 100 years. 

Until 1917, the Ottoman Empire occupied the whole region. After losing in World War One the Ottoman's relinquished their 500-year control to the Allied Forces, which decided to divide the old empire into countries. Britain’s Foreign Minister, Lord Balfour, recognized the Jewish people's historical right to their homeland. A small area, equivalent to about half of 1% of the Middle East was designated for this purpose. Britain received a mandate from the League of Nations to promote the establishment of a Jewish Homeland. 

But, wait a second. Do you realize what happened? The Jewish Homeland originally included not only the West Bank, but also the east bank of the Jordan River. I guess you cannot say the Jewish people have not accepted some painful compromises already.

Anyway, the League of Nations' recognition of a Jewish Homeland -which includes the West Bank- was reaffirmed by the United Nations after the Second World War With the British Mandate ending, United Nations General Assembly resolution 181 recommended the establishment of two states: one Jewish and one Arab.

The Jews accepted it and went on to create the State of Israel, while the Arabs refused the compromise and launched a war to destroy the newly established Jewish State. Resolution 181 - a non-binding recommendation in the first place- remained with no legal standing.

At the end of the war a ceasefire line was formed where the Israeli and Arab forces stopped fighting. At the insistence of the Arab leaders, this line was defined as having no political significance. So, although this line is commonly referred to as “the 1967 border,” it is not from 1967 and it was never an international border.

This is why a more exact legal definition for the West Bank, according to International Law, is really the same as in so many other areas where there are, or were, territorial disputes but which are NOT defined as "occupied." For example: Zubarah, the Tumbs Islands, the Western Sahara amongst many others. They are not "occupied territories" but rather "disputed territories."

So let's return for a moment to our illustration and examine the complete chain of events. Israel's presence in the West Bank is the result of a war of self-defense. The West Bank should not be considered "occupied" because there was no previous legal sovereign in the area and therefore the real definition should be "disputed territory.” The 1947 partition plan has no current legal standing, while Israel's claim to the land was clearly recognized by the international community during the 20th century. That is why the presence and construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank should not be considered illegal.

These are not just my own opinions; they are based on conclusions made by world renowned jurists, like Professor Eugene Rostow, Justice Arthur Goldberg, and Stephen Schwebel, who headed the International Court of Justice.

So what's the solution for the dispute over the West Bank? Unfortunately, there is no magic solution. But the only way a solution will ever be reached, is if we base our negotiations on legal and historical facts.

So please, let's stop using the terms "occupied territories", and "'67 borders"…they're simply not 'politically correct.'

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