UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says that the Hamas attack of Oct. 7, 2023 “did not happen in a vacuum.” Guterres is right on the money. In fact, I’m not sure he himself realizes how right he is.
He said, “The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.”
My only quibble here is that the occupation is not 56 years old. It is 76 years old. If we’re talking about the suffocating occupation of the Palestinian people, it is only right to start at the beginning. Guterres’ 56-years would take it back to 1967. Why should he eliminate 20 years of the suffocating occupation of the Palestinians between 1947 and 1967?
I. The threefold occupation of the Palestinians, 1947-1967
In 1947, the Arab occupation of the Palestinian people began. It was threefold.
First is the occupation under Jordan and Egypt. Here’s how it came about:
In 1947, the same UN that Guterres leads voted to create two states in Palestine, a Jewish one and an Arab one. The Arab Higher Committee rejected the UN creation of an Arab state in Palestine. Five Arab armies invaded the Jewish areas to wipe them out —to undermine the UN’s creation of a Jewish state. The Arab armies lost.
Thus, a Jewish state was declared and Jordan took over most of the rest of the areas in which Palestinian Arabs lived. They fell under the occupation of Jordan (West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza).
These years of occupation under Jordan and Egypt ended in the Six Day War of 1967, but there is another date, an earlier one, that signaled the second suffocating occupation of the Palestinians. It is worse than Guterres seems to realize.
The earlier date is 1964.
It was then, during the Jordanian-Egyptian occupation and before Israel’s control of the West Bank and of Gaza (in 1967), that the Palestinian Liberation Organization was founded.
The PLO charter (also called a covenant) is usually remembered by Jews and Israelis for declaring that the UN’s creation of Israel in 1947 was “illegal,” denying any Jewish historical and spiritual rights in Palestine, denying that the Jews are a nation, calling Israel “colonialist, racist, fascist” — and calling for the liberation of Palestine from Israel.
However, it is another article in the founding document of the PLO that is also relevant to our topic of the Palestinians’ suffocating occupation. In the very first article of the document, the PLO asserts:
“Palestine is an Arab homeland that is bound by strong national ties to the rest of the Arab countries and which together form the large Arab homeland.” Then, in Article 4, the PLO charter asserts: “The Palestinian Arab people determines its destiny when it completes the liberation of its homeland . . . ”
There you have it: The PLO charter foresees an Arab state of Palestine only as part of a much larger, liberated Arab homeland, part of what the charter calls “Arab unity.”
This is a critical point, because it introduces a new factor in the suffocating occupation: the mental occupation.
That is, the lack of focus on local Palestinians’ specific needs.
This outward focus of the PLO is also reflected in its founding charter by the extensive attention it pays to rejecting Zionism, Israel, the Balfour Declaration, the UN’s 1947 partition and Jewish self-determination (Articles 17-19).
This outward focus is a severe mental occupation because it prevents a rational Palestinian calculation of the specific needs of the Arabs who live in Palestine.
This mental occupation recurs over and over again, and it is indeed suffocating, for it undermines the self-interests of Palestinians from 1964 to today.
Again and again: The Hamas charter, issued in 1988, is a replica of the PLO charter in all respects but one. Hamas is a religious organization, while PLOis secular. The central plank of both charters is the same: the elimination of Israel. The central consequence of both charters is the same: the occupation of the Palestinians, the focus on destruction rather than on building; the diversion of the Palestinians from their own welfare.
The third suffocating occupation of the Palestinians began in 1949 with the consignment of refugees to refugee camps, first by the UN and then also by Arab countries, including Jordan and Lebanon.
As the post-WW II world was busy resettling refugees — rebuilding lives for the refugee victims of that war — the UN and Arab countries were busy subjecting Palestinians to the suffocating occupation of permanent refugee status in squalid camps.
This third aspect of the occupation — like the mental occupation — continues to today. The first Palestinian camp was founded with 3,000 refugees; now, it has roughly 18,000. By contrast, Israel ended the UN camps for Jewish refugees from Arab countries in 1952.
The Palestinian mental occupation and refugee occupation are related. The mental occupation prevents Palestinians from focusing on their own specific needs; the perpetual refugee status is an implement of the mental occupation. It undermines the self-interests of the Palestinians.
II. The occupation of the Palestinians, post-1967
In the Six Day War of June, 1967, Israel ended Jordan’s and Egypt’s occupation of Palestine, and Israel’s search for a new government in Palestine began. Israel assumed that it itself had the right to govern the areas on which Jewish communities had lived before they were destroyed by the invading Arab armies after the UN partition of 1947.
Israel would resettle the lands it had been granted under the partition. This was status quo ante.
The widespread hope in Israel after June, 1967 was that Arabs interested in peace would step forward, and that all of the various disputes over the lands of Palestine, whose boundaries were delineated in the partition of 1947, would be peaceably resolved. However, Arab nations — part of the “Arab unity” that condescendingly assumed rights over the local Arabs in Palestine — met in August, 1967, in Khartoum, Sudan and issued three “no’s”: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.
Israel had no peace partner, but for several years kept hoping for a peace partner before doing much of anything at all on the West Bank.
• Moshe Dayan, the famous one-eyed defense minister of Israel during the Six Day War, let the Palestinian Arabs rule themselves as they wished.
• One of the oldest Jewish settlements on the West Bank, Kiryat Arba, was not founded until 1972, a full five years after the Six Day War. On the Golan Heights, which Israel also conquered in the Six Day War, just 77 Israelis lived there five years after the war ended.
During this period, the Palestinians’ suffocating occupation — their lack of focus on their own self-interest — was encouraged and sustained by the Arab League’s refusal to be a peace partner with Israel.
Judea and Samaria — the West Bank conquered by Israel in its defensive war of 1967 —are part of biblical Israel. When five years passed with no interest shown by local Palestinians or by Arab countries in negotiating for peace, Israel slowly began to build communities on this ancestral land.
This was done under left-wing Israeli governments.
At what point did this settlement activity come to be seen as an obstacle to peace? I would date it to 1979. That is when the first Arab country stepped forward to make peace with Israel. In the Egypt-Israel peace treaty there is provision for the increased autonomy of the Palestinian Arabs and for the whole Palestinian Arab issue to be formally addressed.
That is, for direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinian Arabs.
Enter — or re-enter — the Palestinians’ suffocating mental occupation. Their leader, Yasir Arafat, refused to negotiate. He favored lethal terrorism instead.
The heavy mental occupation did not begin with him but he powerfully embodied it. The PLO under his leadership bore down on Palestinian Arabs again and again, in two ways.
• First, Israel very gradually, over the decades, began to lose faith in the possibility of peace with Palestinians, since the Palestinians’ leaders rejected one Israeli peace offer after the next, in 1993, 2000, 2008 and 2014. Arafat condemned Palestinians to decades of suffocating occupation, that is, to the absence of hope for independence.
Successive American administrations invested tremendous time and diplomatic capital in helping to forge these peace plans, but Palestinian leaders from Arafat to Abbas rejected them. The most notable effort was Arafat’s dismissal of President Clinton’s plan at Camp David in 2000.
• Second, Israel responded to the Palestinian Arab terrorist murders of Israeli civilians with protective measures on the West Bank, such as by-pass roads and security walls. These were security measures to protect against the self-defeating, lethal Palestinian terrorist attacks that Arafat promoted and took pride in, thus deepening the Palestinians’ suffocating occupation.
Israel also responded to the Palestinian unwillingness to make peace with more settlements. Israel reasoned that if terrorism is not answered — with houses (not guns) —Israeli deterrence is lost.
Is it a contradiction to say that settlements provide deterrence when they do not halt Palestinian terrorist attacks?
Settlements do not halt all terrorist attacks, but they radically minimize them (not to discount the horror of a single one). This became graphically evident on Oct. 7, 2023. Hamas launched a massive invasion of Israel because Israel had squandered its deterrent effect against Hamas. Gauged against the October 7 dimension and desire of Palestinian terrorism, then, yes, Israeli settlements have acted as a firm deterrent against terror.
Every terrorist act by Palestinians against Israel — every sharp turn away from a Palestinian focus on its own best material and political interest — heightens the suffocating occupation. This is especially evident now in Israel’s attempt to destroy Hamas and re-establish its own military deterrence.
Let us return to 1979.
The Palestinians have lacked their own Anwar Sadat, an Arab leader who had the mental and physical courage to change course and make peace with Israel. Somehow, it is lost on Palestinian leaders, from 1979 to today, that Sadat, in the process of making peace, got back from Israel all of the land that his country lost in 1967 (except Gaza, which Sadat did not want).
The benefits of peace are still lost on Palestinian leaders, one group of which unleashed savagery on Oct. 7 and the other group of which called the savagery “self-defense” (Abbas’ word). The benefits of peace fall prey to the suffocating mental Palestinian occupation: not nurturing their own welfare. Palestinians’ own liberation is within their own hands by saying what their overlords refused to say in 1967: yes to peace, yes to Israel, yes to negotiations.
The PLO’s Arafat said all this in 1993, but it was a ruse. He proceeded not to peace but to horrific bus bombings and, seven years later, to an intifada (shortly after rejecting Clinton’s peace proposal). Arafat’s intifada was the brutal murder of some 1,000 Israeli shoppers, pizza consumers and other civilians.
III. Ending the occupation
Mr. Guterres. You are right. The Palestinians have suffered a suffocating occupation, in which the UN is a participant since 1949. Why don’t you now educate the Palestinian leadership as to the simple, if revolutionary, solution: peace, recognition, negotiation?
You could go down in history as the UN’s most consequential leader if you showed Palestinian leaders their self-created and self-defeating vacuum of suffocating occupation.
You hit it on the head. The savagery of Oct. 7 did not happen in a vacuum. It arose from within a vile and violent 76-year stream of anti-historical denial of Jewish nationhood and of Jewish roots in the land of Israel.
I hope you are successful in uprooting the contradiction in the PLO charter, which says that the UN guarantees Arab self-determination, but does not guarantee Jewish self-determination.
This brings us to the final commonality between the PLO and the Hamas charters: subterfuge and gullibility.
In recent years, both the PLO and Hamas have stated that they no longer abide by their respective charters. They no longer call for the destruction of Israel. That is history, they have said.
That is the subterfuge.
Its twin is the gullibility of diplomats and others — including, tragically, Israel’s own prime minister and military leadership — who believed that the PLO and Hamas actually wanted to end the Palestinian occupation by focusing on their own welfare, rather than on Israel’s destruction.
Here is where Secretary Guterres has a particularly eminent opportunity. If he can show Hamas that it is within its hands to end the Palestinian occupation by laying down its arms and acting in its people’s own best interests, then he will not only burnish his own credentials but revive the UN itself as a genuine force for world peace.
If he does so, Secretary Guterres will put an end to the vacuum into which the UNitself seems to have fallen — the vacuum of irrelevance at best, of malevolence at worst.
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