Are 40 Years of
By Marcia Freedman,
Israel celebrated the 59th anniversary of its founding just
recently. On June 5 we mark 40 years of occupation of Arab lands
captured in the 1967 war. That is, for two-thirds of its 59
years of its existence as a sovereign state, Israel has been an
Though Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for
the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, it still occupies East
Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.
In Gaza, even without settlements, Israel continues to control
all movement in and out of the Strip and is legally the
occupying power. In all the other territories, Israel has built
neighborhoods, large and ever-expanding settlements and at least
one entire city (Ariel, some 10 miles inside the West Bank).
Two of Israel's three post-state generations have grown up
with the fact of occupation as a norm, serving in an army of
occupation, visiting friends and families living in settlements,
and slowly erasing the Green Line, the pre-1967 border, from
consciousness. Traveling through Israel today, it is impossible
to know where Israel-proper ends and where occupied territory
Yet, for all that, a growing consensus has taken hold that an
end of conflict can be achieved only through a land-for-peace
formula culminating in the establishment of a Palestinian State
alongside Israel; the great majority of Israelis are prepared to
withdraw from most of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the
Golan Heights in return for an enduring peace.
Since 1967, the Israeli leadership has been caught between
these polar opposites, listing for decades between support for
the settler movement, even as the politicians profess to seek
peace. The resulting paralysis has made it easy for the very
determined settler movement to expand its hold, not only over
territory but also over the government's bureaucracies, which
now routinely feed the movement's endless appetite for more
land, more infrastructure, more housing, more subsidies.
And so, while it is true that Israel's neighbors have not
always been willing to negotiate, even when they have been, they
have not been met -- contrary to conventional wisdom -- with
similar willingness on the Israeli side.
This was certainly true in 1972 when the Egyptians put forth
a land-for-peace option, and Golda Meir's government rejected
it, leading to the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It was true again in
2000, when Ehud Barak broke off negotiations with Syria over a
few disputed miles of the Sea of Galilee's shoreline, and again
later that same year, when the Israeli-Palestinian Camp David
negotiations broke down -- not, as we've been told, because of
Palestinian refusal to accept a "generous offer," but as a
result of intransigence on both sides. Within months, the Second
Intifada had begun.
This aversion to negotiation continued to hold sway in 2004
and 2005, when Ariel Sharon refused to recognize the opportunity
presented by Yasser Arafat's death, and subsequent rise to
leadership of the moderate leader Mahmoud Abbas; a bloody
escalation of violence ensued, Hamas was elected to head the
Palestinian Authority, and Israel's south now faces regular
rocket attacks. Today, Ehud Olmert refuses to respond positively
to clear and open overtures by Syria and the Arab League, and
experts ponder the likelihood of another war with Syria. Active
maintenance of the settlement enterprise continues to trump the
pursuit of peace.
One major casualty of 40 years of occupation has been the
decades-long weakening of Israel's political, military and moral
fabric. Last summer's Lebanon War, and Israel's failure either
to win or to defend the home front shredded what remained of the
public's confidence in its leaders, political, military and
moral. The interim report of the Winograd Commission's
investigation into the conduct of the war has confirmed, loudly
and publicly, that Israel's security has been seriously
compromised, that its leadership has failed the country badly,
and that none of this can be easily fixed.
But there is one significant change in the political mood as
a result of all these grim tidings: The Second Lebanese War
finally raised questions in the public's mind about whether
Israel can, in fact, rely solely on military might to guarantee
its security. There is a sense of vulnerability that never
existed before, which may create a more welcoming attitude to
the possibility of a negotiated resolution -- though such a
prospect most definitely would require the kind of willingness
for serious territorial compromise that Israel's leadership has
chronically lacked. Ironically, a somewhat weaker Israel from
the military point of view may mean a stronger Israel as a
Is Israel ready for peace? Certainly its people are, and have
been for quite a long time. Can Israel's political leadership
find the courage, the foresight, the vision to move in that
direction? One can only hope so. Israel's friends do it no
favors by encouraging further intransigence and missed
a negotiated solution to decades of
Time is not on Israel's side. The settler population grows,
and the settlements and new neighborhoods take up more and more
Palestinian land. So, too, does the Palestinian population grow,
and thus the space for compromise shrinks from one year to the
next. There are many who think that it is already too late
for a viable two-state solution; that is not yet the case, but
the fact is that the danger grows with each passing year of
occupation and settlement expansion.
So, as we celebrate Israel's independence, let us also wish
a speedy end to the occupation.
Marcia Freedman, a former Knesset member, is founding
President of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance
for Justice and Peace
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