October 10, 2017
When your politics are failing, your economy is bankrupt and your society is in shambles, blame the "occupation"
Dear Friend of FLAME:
I was standing at the meat counter in the grocery store the other day. The
man next to me wore a tee shirt that had "Freedom for the Palestinians!"
emblazoned on it. I leaned over to him and said, "You know the Palestinians
would have a lot more freedom if they would just hold elections—it's
been almost 12 years now." The man seemed taken aback—I suspect his tee
shirt doesn't get much pushback in Berkeley, California. He mumbled
something about the Israeli occupation and shuffled off.
But of course, "occupation" is at the heart of the Palestinian narrative
and the lynchpin of Palestinian excuses—why no state, why no
elections, why no industrial infrastructure, why rampant corruption, why
dependence on billions in foreign welfare payments.
The "occupation" is also the alleged reason Palestinian leaders say there
have been no serious peace talks with Israel since the Palestinians walked away from Israeli-American land-for-peace offers in 2001 and
2007—when an end to the so-called "occupation" was twice promised.
I've heard two prominent pundits address the question of "occupation"
recently, both with insight. Yossi Klein Halevi said he will not use the
word "occupation" to describe what Israel is doing—because Israel's actions
are not illegal—but he will use it to describe a state of mind in Israel, which he believes is a burden to Israeli
The other commentator was Bret Stephens, the NY Times columnist,
who noted that Israel doesn't want to be in the "occupation business," but
as a consequence of decades of Palestinian terrorism simply has no choice but to protect itself with a substantial military presence
in Judea and Samara (aka, the West Bank).
The real point, of course, is that the Palestinians have Israeli soldiers
in territories they would like someday to control (these lands are not, as we have established many times, "Palestinian
territories"), because they can't just can't peacefully accept two states for two people. In fact, poll
after poll shows that most Palestinians do not believe the Jews have a
connection to the Holy Land (despite Egyptian, Roman and Biblical history
and masses of archeological records to the contrary) and above all deny Jewish rights to a state in the region of Palestine.
In short, to accept historical facts and the self-determination of the
Jewish people to their homeland would negate the Palestinian narrative of victimhood, whose cornerstone
for the last half century has been the "occupation."
This week's Hotline (below) features a brilliant article by
Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and
a Fellow at the Middle East Forum. Romirowsky explains how "occupation"
serves an insidious strategic purpose in Palestinian political
machinations—in essence, if you accept the fact that Israelis are
occupiers, peace talks are futile. The only solution is for the
U.N. (or the "international community") to delegitimize and expel
Next time you hear someone invoke the "occupation," I hope this week's
article has prepared you with a confident response: Blaming the
"occupation" is a circular argument with no exit. Until the
Palestinians stop fighting Israel's existence and terrorizing its people,
Israel will continue to defend itself—if necessary, right in the
In order to achieve Palestinian independence, the Palestinians must agree
to respect and live in peace beside the Jewish state of Israel
—sounds simple, but this is the ultimate sticking point for the Arabs.
Always has been.
President, Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME)
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How Palestine "Occupies" Itself
By Asaf Romirowsky, The Begin Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies Perspectives Paper No. 606, October 7, 2017
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: "Occupation" has become an all-purpose Palestinian
tool. On the one hand, the Palestinians claim the Israeli "occupation"
makes serious negotiations with Israel impossible. On the other, they
claim the "occupation" makes the development of local institutions and
civil society impossible. Western and Israeli diplomats have largely
avoided criticism of this strategy, possibly because it has become a
central tenet of Palestinian identity.
A consistent Palestinian strategy for seeking statehood while blaming
Israel for its absence has been codified through the narrative of
"occupation." The anniversary of the 1967 war brought this to the forefront
in endless accusations regarding the Israeli "occupation" of the West Bank.
There is even an assertion that Gaza is still "occupied."
Occupation is a Palestinian tool to avoid negotiations, since "no tactical
brilliance in negotiations, no amount of expert preparation, no perfect
alignment of the stars can overcome that obstacle." Nor is progress in
Palestinian economics, institution-building, or civil society possible,
because—as Nabeel Kassis, Palestinian Minister for Finance, put
it—"Development under occupation is a charade." Even the Palestinian
Authority's own repression and crackdown on freedom of the press is,
according to Hanan Ashrawi, caused "of course [by] the Israeli occupation."
And despite the palpable underdevelopment of Palestinian institutions and
civil society, Europe must keep funding them, since "Preparedness for
several possible scenarios with a long-term focus on functioning
institutions is what is required from the EU and other donors in
In 2011, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas put forward the
Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) at the UN, we saw this process
in action. The approach is specifically designed to prevent any direct
negotiations with the State of Israel. Some Palestinian supporters even
opposed the UDI precisely because Palestine "lacks the most essential
elements of statehood: independence and sovereignty, and effective control
over its territory. The fact is that Israel, the occupying power, has the
final say in most matters affecting the destiny of the Palestinian people."
Despite the high-sounding rhetoric about the declaration,
which followed the 1998 Palestinian "Declaration of Independence," its goal
was to put the onus for a Palestinian state on the UN. But Palestinians are
already treated by the UN like no other entity, whether state or people.
Vast financial and administrative resources are dedicated to the "Exercise
of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People." Despite these
efforts, which have cost many millions and have lasted almost 70 years,
long predating the 1967 "occupation," there is still no Palestinian state.
Palestinians and their supporters want to have the occupation both ways. It
is the trump card for their own refusal to negotiate and failure to develop
their own society, but it is also a useful tool for further
internationalization of the conflict and prolongation of their
international welfare status.
This pattern has been clear for decades. Even Hillary Clinton, then US
Secretary of State, understood the façade. "There is no substitute for
face-to-face discussion and for an agreement that leads to a just and
lasting peace," she said. "That is the only path that will lead to the
fulfillment of the Palestinian national aspirations … Nor is it
viable to build the institutions of a future state without the negotiations
that will ultimately create it."
Until now, however, successive American administrations have challenged
only Palestinian rhetoric, not Palestinian methods—and the rhetoric of
"occupation" has not been directly challenged at all. This is because,
alongside "refugee-ness" and victimhood, it stands close to the center of
Palestinian identity, at least in political terms.
The UDI strategy was a diplomatic way of selling the so-called
Nothing can happen in Palestinian society or politics, such as the
development of Palestinian state institutions or a culture of peaceful
coexistence with Israel, because of the "occupation." Empty symbolism like
the UDI shrewdly facilitates the long-term Palestinian goal of eradicating
Israel by co-opting the UN and the international community of NGOs. This
long march through the institutions has broadened the global
delegitimization of Israel at a low cost. The inevitable failure of UDI
efforts to create a viable Palestine nonetheless rally the cause, while its
political successes undermine Israel. The speed of change is slow enough to
maintain the illusion of peace and all-important Western aid.
Threats are part of any diplomatic toolbox, and Palestinians excel at them.
Insufficient American trumpeting of "even-handedness," and, above all, any
challenges to Palestinian narratives of victimhood (and the resulting need
for international aid), produce new rounds of threats. The Palestinian
Authority now sees stagnation and lack of appetite within the Trump
administration, especially after Jared Kushner's last visit. Thus did Ahmad
Majdalani, an aide to Abbas, comment after the meeting that "if the US team
doesn't bring answers to our questions this time, we are going to look into
our options, because the status quo is not working for our interests."
A new approach to internationalizing the conflict and promoting the
Palestinian narrative is being developed. Hence the plan to change the
international definition of "Palestinian territories under occupation" into
"a Palestinian state under occupation." This would shift attention back to
the "occupation" while requiring nothing from the Palestinian Authority.
Of course, declaring a de facto state does not make it a reality.
Nor will declaring that state to be "under occupation." The reality is that
both the essential non-existence and the victimized character of the
Palestinian state represent a conscious decision to embrace failure. This
will not change unless there are direct negotiations, a choice the PA has
While a functioning Palestinian state remains desirable, it is telling that
the Palestinian leadership has refused to directly negotiate with Israel
and uses bodies like the UN to endorse a "virtual" state with no viable
institutions. Is the Palestinian goal a state of their own, or just the
erasure of Israel? If the latter, it is to be followed by what? Insisting
upon a Palestinian state must go hand in hand with reviving the moribund
Palestinian political system and institutions that would support it, like a
free press. But these are demands that should come first from Palestinians.
When such demands come from Israel or Western countries, they collide with
the narrative of "occupation."
Palestinian nationalism has never seen the conflict as one between two
national groups with legitimate claims and aspirations. Israel's
existence—indeed, Zionism itself, the very idea of Jewish nationalism—is
regarded as wholly illegitimate. Palestinian acceptance of the two-state
solution was a means of appeasing the West and its stated desire for all
parties to live in peace according to democratic, national ideals. But for
Arafat in his day and now for Mahmoud Abbas, the two-state solußtion was a
mechanism with which to buy time until the Palestinians can finally
overcome and defeat Israel. The language of "occupation" plays a key role.
Whether Palestinians think they are an "occupied state" or
"Palestinian territories under occupation," as long as Palestinians cling
to the notion of being "occupied" and Israel remains the "occupier" we are
destined to see more of the dynamics of the past and fewer possibilities in
the future. Until we see more self-awareness, self-criticism, and a sense
of accountability, Palestinian identity and statehood will remain occupied
in perpetuity. Palestine is indeed "occupied" by shadows of its own making.
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