Policy Position

It is the position of the Israeli-American Civic Action Network that the West Bank is disputed territory and that its final status should be determined through negotiations amongst the relevant parties.

The Big Lie:Occupied vs. Disputed Territory and Israel

The enemies of Israel often attempt to justify their hate of the Jewish state on a false premise: that it illegally occupies the West Bank. From this, other faulty conclusions follow: that settlements are an obstacle to peace, that any Jewish presence in the West Bank is a violation of international law and bilateral agreements with Palestinians. And, this perpetuates the worst lie of all, that European Jews displaced Palestinians Arabs, erasing “Palestine” in exchange for the establishment of the modern State of Israel.

Considering historical facts and international law, the West Bank is best understood to be disputed territory, a distinction that makes a meaningful difference.

Control over the West Bank passed to Israel in 1967 in a war of self-defense. For nearly a quarter of a century afterward, the Palestinians rejected every Israeli overture, missing opportunity after opportunity to peacefully resolve the dispute through negotiation.

It is important to remember that Israel’s control of the territories was the result of a war of self-defense, fought after Israel’s very existence was threatened. It has continued due to the intransigence of Israel’s Arab neighbors, who steadfastly rejected Israel’s many offers of peace, including its post-Six Day War message that it would exchange territory in return for peace. Egypt, in 1979, and Jordan, in 1994, signed peace treaties with Israel. But the Palestinians have yet to do so. As long as the future status of the West Bank is subject to negotiation, Israel’s claim to this disputed territory is no less valid than that of the Palestinians.

This territory held the cradle of Jewish civilization during biblical times, and Jewish communities existed there for thousands of years. Modern-day Israel has deep ties to the many historical sites located in the West Bank. Yet Israel’s claim to this territory is based not only on its ancient ties, religious beliefs, and security needs; it is also firmly grounded in international law and custom.

Israel’s presence in the territory is often incorrectly referred to as an “occupation.” However, under international law, true occupation occurs only in territories that have been taken from a recognized sovereign. The last recognized sovereign of the West Bank and Gaza was the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist following the First World War. The Jordanian and Egyptian control over the West Bank and Gaza respectively following 1948 resulted from a war of aggression aimed at destroying the newly established Jewish state. Their attacks plainly violated UN General Assembly Resolution 181 from 1947 (also known as the Partition Plan). Accordingly, the Egyptian and Jordanian control over the territories was never recognized by the international community. Furthermore, no sovereign Palestinian state has ever existed, neither in the West Bank nor anywhere else.

As the West Bank had no prior legitimate sovereign, under international law, these areas cannot be considered as “occupied” Arab or Palestinian lands, and their most accurate description would be that of disputed territories.

However, Palestinian spokespersons not only claim that the territory is indeed occupied, but they also allege that occupation is – by definition – illegal. However, international law does not prohibit situations of occupation. Rather, it attempts to regulate such situations with international agreements and conventions. Therefore, claims that the so-called Israeli “occupation” is illegal – without regard either to its cause or the factors that have led to its continuation – are baseless allegations without foundation in international law.

Palestinian efforts to present Israel’s presence in the territory as the primary cause of the conflict ignore history. Palestinian terrorism predates Israel’s control of the territories (and even the existence of the State of Israel itself). The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in 1964, three years before Israel’s presence in the territories began. Moreover, Palestinian terrorism has often peaked during those periods when a negotiated settlement was closest at hand, whether at the height of the Oslo process in the mid-1990s or after Israel’s unprecedented peace proposals at Camp David and Taba in 2000, which saw the start of the Second Intifada.

Consequently, the West Bank can best be regarded as disputed territory over which there are competing claims that should be resolved in peace talks. The final status of this disputed territory should be determined through negotiations between the parties. Attempts to force a solution through terrorism are ethically indefensible and only serve to encourage further violence and terrorism. Israel hopes that peace negotiations with its Palestinian neighbors will be restarted, and a permanent agreement reached which addresses the aspirations of both parties in an equitable and peaceful manner.

Adapated from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “Israel, the Conflict and Peace: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions”