What were the reasons why this evolved into such an intense dispute, beyond the religious attachment of the parties to the land?

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It was thought in the past that our territorial withdrawals would reduce the hostile intent of our adversaries, but we learned from the Gaza disengagement in 2005 that withdrawal can actually increase the hostility on the other side. Just look at the number of rocket launches from the Gaza Strip into Israel; they actually mushroomed in the year after we pulled out, shooting up from 179 to 946.

Now, what is the problem with the term “annexation” that is at the heart of the political debate today?

On July 10, 1967, Israel had just incorporated eastern Jerusalem into western Jerusalem. Pakistan drafted a resolution at the United Nations calling this “annexation.” Our foreign minister, Abba Eban, wrote to the UN secretary-general, saying that this language was “out of place.” He had a specific problem with the term “annexation,” preferring the “extension of Israeli law and jurisdiction” to eastern Jerusalem.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) defines “annexation” as “a unilateral act of a state through which it proclaims its sovereignty over the territory of another state” (emphasis added). But did the West Bank belong to “another state,” when only the United Kingdom and Pakistan recognized Jordanian sovereignty there?

According to the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), annexation is a war crime. It is a subset of aggression. So I ask you: Should Israel agree to have itself placed in that context? The Soviet Union tried to have us branded as the aggressor in 1967 in the UN Security Council and then in the General Assembly, but it failed in both.

Back in 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank, it was plain as day that Israel was not an aggressor, but rather a victim of aggression and acting in self-defense.

Another fault in the current debate is the tendency to call this a “unilateral act.” This is an American plan in which both sides gain. We get 30% of the West Bank, the Palestinians get 70%. It is not a unilateral gain for Israel. It is ultimately a territorial compromise.

There are those who insist that Israel must pull out of every square inch of West Bank territory. These people never read UN Security Council Resolution 242 from November 1967, with its call for a withdrawal “from territories” and not “from the territories.” They are wrong, and their interpretation has been opposed by all Israeli governments.

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin strongly believed in Israel retaining territory, including the Jordan Valley. He declared in the Knesset on October 5, 1995, one month before he was assassinated, “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest sense of that term.”

He was very clear about Israel’s future boundaries: “The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.”

Again, he supported the creation of a territorial compromise. This should become our new point of departure today.

Dore Gold is the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and the current president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. This article was adapted from the remarks of Ambassador Gold to the AJC Global Forum 2020, and first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.