It has now been 40 years since the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza started, and it seems as if it happened yesterday. In all those years, one thing has never changed and that is the Palestinian insistence on a total rejection of and continued resistance to this occupation.
These constants, rejection and resistance, have taken many different forms but they have never changed and there is little likelihood that they ever will. In parallel, Israel in its behavior vis-a-vis the Palestinian territories has gone from one approach to another in almost all aspects except one: Israel has consistently continued its illegal settlement expansion project in occupied territory.
The first years of the occupation were an enormous blow to the Palestinian psyche and were characterized by an almost paralyzing sense of shock. Palestinians dealt with this shock by blaming the Arab regimes that were defeated in the war of 1967, and instead built their hopes around the Palestinian guerrilla organizations, especially Fateh.
It took another defeat, this time the defeat of those organizations in Jordan, for the Palestinians in the occupied territories to turn toward self-reliance and a series of waves of popular resistance against the occupiers culminating in the first popular intifada. That intifada was a turning point. It caused both Palestinians and Israelis to realize that there had to be a way out and that a political solution ought to be sought. The Israelis reached this conclusion because they had failed to break the intifada, which with its popular non-violent nature had neutralized Israel’s military superiority.
The Palestinians, especially from inside the occupied territories, thus entered the peace process with a great deal of self-confidence. They were convinced they would at first end the consolidation of the occupation, in the form of settlement expansions, and then start a process that would reverse the occupation and lead to independence and self-determination.
Unfortunately, the appetite for settlement expansion and the colonization of the West Bank proved stronger in the Israeli mentality than the appetite for peace. It was for that reason that an Israeli terrorist assassinated an Israeli leader, Yitzak Rabin, who had given the impression that he was about to give up most of the occupied territories in return for peace.
That could have been an insignificant individual act except that the Israeli public voted almost immediately thereafter in favor of the assassin when they elected the Likud party, which had opposed Rabin and the peace process he launched, and its leader Benyamin Netanyahu.
History was to repeat itself. When another Israeli leader, Ehud Barak, was perceived by his fellow Israelis as heading toward ending the Israeli occupation of most occupied territory he too started losing support. He lost his coalition on the way to Camp David and his parliamentary majority on the way back. Three months later, he lost the general election to the same party that had always opposed the peace process, this time the Likud of Ariel Sharon.
The failure of the Camp David negotiations and the subsequent combination of Sharon, who believed in the unilateral use of force to determine the future of the Palestinian territories, and George W. Bush, who decided to abandon any US mediation efforts and instead give Sharon a carte blanche to fix the situation by force, was responsible for the worst deterioration and fiercest violence since 1967.
In turn, this created the conditions for the rise of political Islam in the shape of Hamas, a party that had cultivated the failure of the peace process and the weakness of the peace camp for its own political ends.
And here we are. In a historical context, the past 40 years might not be so long and sooner or later this occupation will come to an end. Palestinians have managed to pass down from generation to generation an absolute rejection of the occupation. This leaves us confident that no matter how long the occupation lasts, Israel will never enjoy occupation and peace at the same time. Logically, therefore, a time should come when an Israeli generation finally prefers peace, security and integration to occupation and colonization.
This end can be reached quicker with a determined and responsible attitude and role of the international community, particularly the United States. That role must be based on the international legitimacy that guarantees Israelis peace, security and economic prosperity and Palestinians their legitimate rights including an end to occupation, statehood and a just solution to the refugee problem.