By Roger Cohen
June 16, 2017
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli victory in the 1967 war and of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. The jubilation of military victory, quicker and more comprehensive than seemed possible, has long since subsided into a grinding status quo: the oppression of 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, the confrontation with 1.8 million in encircled Hamas-run Gaza and the corrosion of Israeli democracy that accompanies this extended exercise in dominion. Often called unsustainable, the occupation has proved altogether sustainable.
Jews need no instruction in the agony of exile. Yet their modern statehood, achieved after the millennia of diaspora existence and persecution, has come to involve the statelessness of another people. I asked four friends — two Israelis and two Palestinians — to write briefly of their feelings on this anniversary. I will write of my own in a subsequent column.
Salam Fayyad, Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister:
At 50, the occupation remains highly oppressive to us and corrosive to Israel. Yet it lingers on. Arresting this highly adverse dynamic requires that we Palestinians genuinely seek to empower ourselves and take full agency in our own liberation. This entails unifying the Palestinian polity and mobilizing grass roots support around the central objective of projecting the reality of Palestinian statehood on the territory Israel occupied in 1967, in spite of the occupation.
Some would say that the pursuit of empowerment in the face of a capricious occupation regime designed to disempower the occupied is doomed to failure, or that even if we manage to attain some progress toward building our state, we merely succeed in normalizing the occupation. This dangerous combination of defeatism and self-doubt is a perfect prescription for paralysis and entrapment.
I used to be very supportive of the Palestinians. But after Arafat rejected what I call the 98 percent solution I basically gave up on them....
We must break away from this inaction trap. We must, under all conditions, persist and persevere in our pursuit of empowerment. That said, it should be realized that the political viability of this endeavour would be highly questionable in a context in which our national rights remain unrecognized and settlement activity, military raids, land confiscation and home demolitions continue.
This is the way forward. After all, Palestinian empowerment and ending the Israeli occupation are two sides of the same coin.
Itamar Rabinovich, Yitzhak Rabin’s Ambassador to Washington and Author of a Biography of Him:
“The Cursed Blessing” was the perceptive title that the Israeli historian Shabtai Teveth gave to his book about the impact of the Six-Day War on Israel. A blessing it was; it released Israel from a dangerous crisis, consolidated its standing vis-à-vis the Arab world, turned it into a regional power and transformed its relationship with the United States. Most important, it provided Israel with the bargaining chips for peacemaking with its Arab enemies.
Another decade was needed to convert the abstract principle of “territories for peace” into peace with Egypt and another 15 years for the peace process to be renewed and to produce peace with Jordan and the Oslo compromise with Palestinian nationalism. But the Oslo process, an attempt to resolve peacefully two peoples’ claim to the same land, was only implemented in part and suspended. An Israeli zealot assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Fifty years after June 1967, Israel is still encumbered with the occupation of the West Bank and with the perception of lingering control of Gaza.
Both Israelis and Palestinians pay dearly for the impasse. Keeping the settlement project in the West Bank saps Israel’s resources, compromises its international legitimacy and injects negative norms into Israel proper. It is time to seek a final status agreement that will separate the two peoples or at least stop the current drift into one-statehood.
We all know what the shape of a final status agreement should and would look like. Realistically we may not be able to achieve it now. The state of Israeli and Palestinian politics, the upheaval in the region and the question marks regarding the Trump administration could prove insurmountable. But there is a way to stop the gradual sliding into the abyss through an interim agreement that would give Palestinians a provisional state in a large part of the West Bank territory. This is anathema to both the Israeli right and the Palestinian leadership, but is the only realistic option today for those who seek to salvage a two-state solution.
I was barely 2 years old when my mother clutched me close to her chest when we saw the Israeli soldiers taking control of our street in Ramallah; it was June 1967. Fifty years of a life tarnished by injustice, subjugation and daily anxieties ensued.
Living under military occupation meant coping with the shooting of my best friend in high school, turning a fearful blind eye when seeing soldiers beating a Palestinian boy with a baton, rescuing my husband from the grip of soldiers on a cold winter night, contending with my 10-year-old son’s night terrors after weeks of relentless bombardment, not being allowed to enter the city of my birth, Jerusalem, and living in daily anguish knowing that my people remain refugees after more than 70 years and have lived under siege for decades.
Myriad human rights abuses by brutal Israeli occupation forces have not been sufficient to amplify solidarity with Palestinians to a level that would fundamentally change American foreign policy. The double standard, complacency and failure of the international community to acknowledge the authenticity and morality of my people’s struggle are disheartening. The Palestinian plight, grounded in decades of ethnic cleansing, dispossession and apartheid, is brushed off with baseless counterarguments — claims that there is no partner for peace, that Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews, that Israel’s excessive force is retaliatory, that settlements are a legal right.
As is the case for many Palestinians, it seems that despite my belief in nonviolence and coexistence in one democratic state, I have been dehumanized and deemed an anti-Semite — a non-partner — even before I utter a word.
Dan Meridor, Former Likud Israeli Deputy Prime Minister:
Until 1967, the Arab goal was to wipe Israel off the map. Given the dramatic asymmetry between Israel and the Arab states in territory, population and natural resources, the Arabs were not irrational in assuming that in the long run they may succeed. The united Arab position was: No recognition, no negotiation and no peace. The Arab means included diplomacy, terrorism and economic boycott.
On the eve of the Six-Day War, when Egypt marched its forces into the Sinai Peninsula, blocked Israel’s southern port, created a united Arab military command with Syria and Jordan and declared it wanted to destroy us, Israel faced an immediate existential threat.
The decisive Israeli victory against all its enemies within six days changed the Middle East dramatically.
Not only was Israel victorious, but also it was understood to be a strong nation that cannot be defeated. Arab rulers who earlier had attacked Israel began to understand the need to find a way to accept Israel. Some eventually chose the road to peace.
President Sadat met Prime Minister Begin. Both showed remarkable leadership and signed the first Arab peace treaty with Israel. King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin followed in signing the second peace treaty.
The Oslo accord was signed with the P.L.O., negotiations for peace have been held with Syria, other Arab states developed informal economic and touristic relations with Israel. There is Israeli-Arab cooperation in intelligence and security areas.
This process of relinquishing the aim to defeat Israel and of accepting Israel in the Middle East is a direct result of the strong Israel that emerged from the Six-Day War. Present turmoil in the Arab world offers a unique opportunity to further enhance this trend with more Arab states.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved. Occupation is damaging to Israel, but even a dovish Israeli government proved unable to find agreement with the Palestinians. The “creeping status quo” is hurting both sides. It moves in a dangerous direction. It urgently calls for courageous leadership on both sides to resolve it.