Israel’s Occupation Ended 20 Years Ago This Week
Twenty years ago this week, Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians came to an end. So why do Israel’s critics keep claiming that Israel is still occupying the Palestinians?
On September 28, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo II accord, also known as the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement. It provided for Israel’s withdrawal from the cities in Judea-Samaria (the West Bank) where 98% of Palestinian Arabs reside.
And in the weeks that followed, Israel did just that.
Israel’s forces retreated from the cities of Nablus (Shechem), Jenin, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Jericho and almost all of Hebron. Later, they withdrew from all of Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority took over all those areas. For the past 20 years, the PA has policed the streets, collected the garbage, issued the building permits, and administered the elections — that is, when the PA deigned to have elections at all. In Gaza, the PA ruled at first; today, Hamas is in charge there.
The portion of Judea-Samaria that is completely ruled by the PA is called Area A. The PA also has civilian control over another portion of the territories, where Israel is still in charge of security. That’s called Area B. Altogether, the PA has full or partial control of 39% of the territories, and 98% of the Palestinian population, and Hamas rules 100% of the Gazans. The occupation of the Palestinians ended.
The only debate now is over issues such as whether the PA should be given additional portions of the Israeli-controlled section of Judea-Samaria, and whether the PA should become a sovereign, independent state.
These are legitimate issues for debate. But it’s not the kind of debate that Israel’s critics want to have — because their arguments are so weak.
They would have to argue that the PA can be trusted to use additional territories exclusively for peaceful purposes. That’s laughable.
Israel’s critics would have to argue that the Palestinians have more of a right to the territories than the Jews. That argument flies in the face of history, international law and the Bible. They would also have to explain why “West Bank” is a more accurate term than “Judea-Samaria” — something that every legitimate historian, geographer and archaeologist knows is nonsense.
Israel’s critics also would have to argue that the Palestinians are somehow being deprived because they do not have a sovereign, independent state. The problem with that claim is that the only thing the PA as been “deprived” of is the ability to import tanks and planes.
Yet, incredibly, you can open almost any major U.S. newspaper, almost any day, and still find matter-of-fact references to Israel’s supposed “occupation” of the Palestinians. To pick just one example at random, a Reuters dispatch in the Washington Post on September 19 referred to Palestinian protests in “cities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus” — even though Israel stopped occupying 100% of Ramallah and Nablus, and 80% of Hebron, 20 years ago.
Once in a while, some in the media slip. In a September 15 report, The New York Times‘s Gaza correspondent, Majd Al-Waheidi, tripped himself up when trying to explain why Palestinian protesters in Gaza “have no clear target for their ire.” The problem, Al-Waheidi wrote, is that Hamas “is in rivalry with the government of President Mahmoud Abbas, which presides over the Palestinian communities in the West Bank.” One can imagine Al-Waheidi biting his lip in frustration as he was forced to back-handedly acknowledge that it is the PA, not Israel, which “presides” over the Palestinians.
The problem for Israel’s critics is that they need “the Israeli occupation” as a club with which to bludgeon the Jewish state. They can’t turn public opinion against Israel if they can’t portray Israel as a cruel and illegitimate occupier. Acknowledging what Prime Minister Rabin did on September 28, 1995, deprives them of their most effective propaganda weapon.
And so Israel’s critics refuse to lay down that weapon. They ignore reality. They continue pretending that there is an occupation — even though it ended 20 years ago this week.
Mr. Korn, chairman of the Philadelphia Religious Zionists, is former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and the Miami Jewish Tribune.