Max Fisher Undone by ‘Occupation’ Obsession

(Addendum June 25, 2014)

Like a phonograph needle stuck in a scratched groove, Max Fisher repeats “occupation, occupation” as if he’s just been granted an epiphany he must share with—impose on—everyone who comes within hailing distance. He concludes a long, one-note tune (“The end of ‘both sides’: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is indefensible,”June 17) by insisting “the argument that should matter is that the occupation is now the primary driver of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is illegal under international law, and it is a cause of tremendous human suffering.”

And then he asks, “And for what?”

Fisher seems to imagine he’s stating the obvious with telling clarity. In fact, he’s swallowed the line Palestinian propagandists, anti-Israel agitators and others have pushed so long, so loudly it’s become conventional wisdom.

A reality check for Fisher:

* Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank is not illegal under international law, it’s mandatory. Israel gained the territories in self-defense in the 1967 Six-Day War and retained them similarly in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Until Israel and the Palestinian Arabs negotiate an end to the conflict according to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and related international initiatives such as the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement and 2003 U.S., U.N., E.U. and Russian “road map,” Israel remains the legitimate military occupational authority. It’s responsible for maintaining law and order, assuring minimum health and nutritional standards and so on. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is in charge of civil administration of the Palestinian population in all the Gaza Strip (under Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement) and nearly 40 percent of the West Bank, which includes more than 90 percent of the Arab residents (under Fatah, Movement for the Liberation of Palestine).

* The occupation “is a cause of tremendous human suffering”? In 2005, relying on data from 2003, the United Nations’ annual Human Development Report found that despite the terrorism and counter-terrorism of the second intifada (2000 – 2005), Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza ranked 102nd in “human development” of 177 jurisdictions. That placed them in the “medium” range according to the U.N., and ahead of their brethren in Algeria (103), Egypt (119), Morocco (121), Syria (106) and Yemen (151). And they were not far behind those in Tunisia (89) and Jordan (90). The year 2005, it must be remembered, was the last Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, withdrawing unilaterally that September.

By comparison, U.S. citizens ranked 10th—Norway was first, Iceland second—and at the bottom, Sierra Leone placed 176th, Niger 177th.

Reality versus punditry

The point? As CAMERA noted at the time, the reality of Palestinian and other Arab living standards differed from fragmentary feature reporting and blinkered commentary about “life under occupation”—and that was before the current tremendous human suffering in Syria, Iraq, intra-Arab turmoil in Yemen and Libya and so on that not even Fisher has yet ascribed to Israeli occupation. The U.N. report also pointed—if tacitly—to Israeli efforts to normalize daily life for non-violent Palestinian Arabs as much as possible. 

* Perhaps most illustrative of the superficiality of Fisher’s commentary—one dare not call it analysis—is responsibility for continuation of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. If it really is the “primary driver” of the conflict, it’s Palestinian leadership who’s behind the wheel.

For Fisher, Yasser Arafat’s rejection of the Israeli-U.S. proposal at Camp David in July, 2000 of a Palestinian Arab state on 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital—in exchange for peace with Israel—apparently never happened. That both Egyptian and Saudi Arabian leaders criticized Arafat’s refusal and the Palestinian leader launched the second intifada two months later partly to escape blame and “change the conversation” escapes Fisher’s notice.

Likewise Arafat’s rejection of a similar Israeli-U.S. deal at Taba early in 2001. So too for current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ failure to pursue then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a state on all of Gaza, more than 97 percent of the West Bank with land swaps to compensate, and eastern Jerusalem. In exchange for an end to the conflict. In other words, Abbas found two states, one Arab, one Jewish, adjacent and at peace less desirable than continuing the occupation.

Perhaps Fisher must repeat, parrot-like, “the occupation, the occupation” because he’s unwilling to touch the third rail that electrifies the Arab conflict with Israel. It’s not Israeli control of the West Bank, any more than it was Israeli control of the Gaza Strip. Israel left the Strip and has sustained thousands of mortar and rockets attacks, and attempted and actual infiltrations as a result. Turns out it wasn’t the occupation of Gaza after all.

Israel withdrew completely from its southern Lebanon “security zone” in 2000, the evacuation certified by the United Nations secretary-general, and has faced an even greater terrorism
and general warfare threat from Hezbollah as a consequence. The occupation of the south Lebanon zone wasn’t a “root cause” after all.

Anti-Israeli terror and war from the Arab side, including Palestinian Arabs, pre-dates the 1967 conquest of the territories, pre-dates construction of new Jewish communities there, just as it post-dates Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon and Gaza.

Historical revisionism is not history

In 1937, Arab leaders in British Mandatory Palestine—who had incited Arab massacres of Jews in the 1920s and ’30s—rejected partition of western Palestine into Jewish and Arab states as proposed by the Peel Commission. (Three-quarters of the land originally intended for Mandatory Palestine, in which the League of Nations charged Great Britain with assisting in reestablishment of the Jewish national home, had been transformed into Transjordan, today’s Jordan.) In 1947, Palestinian and other Arab leaders turned down the U.N. General Assembly’s partition plan and went to war to destroy the new state of Israel the following year. Maybe the “occupation” of Tel Aviv started it.

Immediately after the ’67 War Israel offered “peace-for-land” negotiations. Palestinian leadership and the Arab League replied with the “three no’s of Khartoum”: “no negotiations, no recognition, no peace.” The 1993 Oslo “peace process” was intended to lead to final status negotiations by 1998, but Palestinian non-compliance and terrorism sabotaged the effort. This April, Abbas refused to continue U.S.-mediated talks with Israel because Israel insisted they should end the occupation with a “two-state solution,” Israel as the Jewish state, a West Bank and Gaza Strip “Palestine” for the Palestinian Arabs. 

Fisher paints a desolate picture of the H-1 Jewish enclave in downtown Hebron. While Arab towns in Israel, some with mixed Arab-Jewish populations, are unremarkable, he finds Jewish communities in the West Bank somehow intolerable. The racism that comes from acceding to Palestinian rejectionism in this regard may escape him.

Fisher seems unaware that the occupied territories are also legally disputed territories, with both Arabs and Jews having claims in them, as the authors of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 pointed out. That’s one reason negotiations are necessary, to resolve the sovereign status of previously unallocated territories, the last sovereign there being the long-defunct Ottoman Empire.  

But there is a primary driver to the Palestinian Arab (and larger Arab-Islamic) conflict with Israel, all right. It remains the refusal to accept a Jewish state in any portion of eretz Yisrael, the Jewish ancestral homeland. The Arabs should have 23 states but the Jews none? The occupation, and Israeli security measures in Hebron and the West Bank at large are consequences of that refusal. When a Jew can walk through Hebron like an Arab, Palestinian or otherwise, can walk through Tel Aviv the conflict will be over. Fisher’s inability to distinguish cause from effect is disqualifying.

In addition to his dogmatic, erroneous summary, Fisher engages in historical revisionism and false moral equivalence. Three of the most egregious examples:

* He claims Jews “began moving” to Hebron in the 19th and 20th centuries and it was these “newcomers” who were attacked by the city’s “native Arabs.” Even if that were true, it wouldn’t justify the 1929 massacre and expulsion of Hebron’s Jews. Fisher mentions the slaughter in passing but British Mandatory officials at the time referred to it as “ferocious” and “savage,” accompanied by “wanton destruction and looting” of which “no condemnation can be too severe.”

But Fisher’s Hebron history isn’t true. Hebron, mentioned numerous times in the Hebrew Bible, had a Jewish community until its expulsion by the Crusaders in the 12th century. Jews returned under the Ottomans in the 16th century and, yes, “newcomers” joined them in the 19th and 20th—the same time the “native Arabs” were being augmented by migrants from the Arabian peninsula.

* Then there’s his moral collapse. Fisher writes “as children, the kidnap victims [three teenaged yeshiva students reportedly seized in June] surely cannot and should not be held personally culpable, but they could be considered an extension of the occupation, which has been far from a peaceful endeavor.” Kidnapping non-combatants is a crime under international law. It doesn’t depend on who’s being kidnapped. Period.

Children aren’t extensions of anything, even their parents, in that they have inherent rights of their own as human beings. They’re certainly not “extensions” of geographic, political or other categories, including linguistic, ethnic or racial. Fisher’s claim that the teenaged kidnap victims “could be considered an extension of the occupation” is extraordinary. It can be read as a moral justification for any such acts of terror, Palestinian or otherwise. It dehumanizes, as does news coverage of murders of “settlers”—not of Israelis, of Jewish, of human beings. When the three boys were seized, Abbas' wife was being treated in an Israeli hospital. Maybe she should have been dealt with as an extension of Palestinian rejectionism and tossed on the street.

This is what the twin lies of “illegal occupation” and “illegal settlements” lead to: dehumanization of Jews, elevation of Palestinian Arabs above legal and moral responsibility. The occupation is legal, as noted above. So are Jewish communities in the disputed territories. The San Remo Treaty, 1920; the League of Nations’ Palestine Mandate, Article 6, 1922; the U.N. Charter, Chapter XII, Article 80, 1945 anticipated, encouraged and acknowledged the Jewish right of settlement in post-World War I Palestine, in particular “dense” settlement west of the Jordan River.

* (Addendum): Fisher says that Israel’s search for the three missing boys swept up numerous members of “Hamas’ political branch (remember that they are also a political party)” as if this is particularly significant. Italy’s Fascists, Germany’s Nazis, the Soviet Union’s Communists—these and others, like Hamas, were political parties in the service of ideological (and material) gangsterism. Hamas’ is the Palestinian derivative of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Its “platform,” its charter, includes a genocidal plank regarding not just Fisher's less-than-equal “settlers,” not only all Israelis but also Jews everywhere.


What’s indefensible is not Israel’s presence in the West Bank (a name coined by Jordanian occupiers in the 1950s to supplant Judea and Samaria) but rather Fisher’s diatribe. 

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