lördag 25 september 2010

Palestine - how the occupation began in 1967


Most people alive today where not even born when the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began. Too much comment is made without an understanding of the background.After 1948, the Gaza area of Palestine was annexed by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan. This was the situation until 1967.

After the 1956 war, a contingent of United Nations troops was placed in Gaza, in a buffer zone between Egyptian and Israeli territory. In the early part of 1967, the Egyptians built up a concentration of military forces in Gaza and then asked the UN force to leave. The aim was an invasion of Israel. Considerations of sheer numbers made it certain that the Israelis would be wiped out, with an invasion from the Jordanian side to deliver the final blow. It is said that there was some kind of agreement made with the Jordanians that they would not attack Israel, the rationale being that the Jordanians were not keen on the idea of a Palestinian state as neighbours, and the Israelis were not keen on fighting a war on two fronts.

In the event, the Israelis knocked out the Egyptian forces through an attack on Egyptian airfields, leaving them with air superiority, and the Egyptians were quickly routed. The Jordanians attacked nevertheless even before the Egyptian defeat, and were also defeated.

The end result was that Israel ended up in control of the whole of the West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai peninsula. Initially, the occupation was as peaceful and benign as any occupation can be. The Israelis were anxious to talk to representatives of the Palestinians and get themselves out. Unfortunately, no Palestinian representative with any authority emerged. The leadership eventually coalesced around Yasser Arafat and his terrorist group Al Fatah - who began their career with a series of aircraft hi-jackings. They refused to actually talk to any Israelis as they regarded the country's entire existence as illegitimate. Thus were sown the seeds of the present troubles. It was all unnecessary as the Israelis at that time would have happily departed with a peace agreement in their hands.

From the early 1970s, things changed. Settlers started to move in to the West Bank, leading to conflicts at a local level. And then the Israeli government changed. Since 1948, the Israeli government had been a benign left-leaning social democratic alliance. The 25-year dominance came to an end with the election of the nationalistic Begin government and the rise of hawks like Ariel Sharon. The Palestinians had missed their opportunity.

Even so, the Israelis have not been completely intransigent. Following the 1973 war, there was a final peace treaty with Egypt. The Sinai peninsular was returned and normal diplomatic relations established. But Egypt did not want Gaza and that remains as a problem too.

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