Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories by Ahron Bregman: a Summary by Colin Chapman

‘This is the story of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula since its sweeping victory over the combined forces of its Jordanian, Syrian and Egyptian neighbours in the Six Day War of 1967… The story that follows is about the politics and practice of the Israeli occupation …’

 This summary of the main themes – with extended quotations – answers questions like these:

– Is Israel justified in arguing that it is not an ‘occupation’?

– How has Israel managed the occupation? What has it meant in practice for ordinary people?

– Why did Israel withdraw from Sinai (after Camp David 1999) and from Gaza (2005), but not from the West Bank or the Golan Heights?

– Is there any hope of the occupation coming to an end?

Bregman describes himself as an ‘insider-outsider’. He remembers his first visit as a nine-year old to the Old City of Jerusalem soon after the Six Day War in June 1967, and patrolling the streets of Gaza as a young officer in the Israeli army in 1977. He writes: ‘It was then that it dawned on me for the first time that, in fact, Iwas an occupier, theythe occupied, and the land I was treading on in my army boots was, like it or not, an occupied territory’ (xxii). In 1987 he was horrified at Israel’s brutal response to the Intifada, feeling that it was ‘wrong, immoral and a disgrace. I could not be a part of it, and as a result …I felt I had to find another country to live in until the insanity came to an end’ (xxiii). He now teaches at the Department of War Studies in King’s College, London.


 Explaining the title of the book

‘… with the benefit of hindsight, it is safe to say that the great 1967 military triumph, which at first seemed such a blessed moment in Israeli – indeed Jewish – history, turned out to be, as the title of the book puts it, a cursed victory.

‘After seizing these lands Israel placed most of them under a military government, whereby army officers were in direct charge of daily life there, emphasizing that these captured territories would be a “deposit”, lands kept as a bargaining chip until the Arabs recognized Israel’s right to exist peacefully in the Middle East and publicly put an end to their dreams of destroying their neighbour by force. In the meantime, the Israelis assured the world that, with their unique and appalling experience of what it is to be persecuted, the Jewish state would establish a truly “enlightened occupation” (“Kibush Naor” in Hebrew).

‘But, as historians of empires everywhere are increasingly aware, an enlightened occupation is a contradiction in terms, “like a quadrilateral triangle”; and with the passage of time Israel’s “enlightened occupation” turned sour. Like many others before and since, the Israelis had failed to grasp the simple fact that, by definition, no occupation can be enlightened. The relationship between occupier and occupied is always based on fear and violence, humiliation and pain, suffering and oppression – a system of masters and slaves, it can be nothingbuta negative experience for the occupied, and sometimes also for the individual occupier who is obliged to execute policies he might not necessarily agree with …’ (xxv-xxvi).

The three main pillars supporting the Israeli occupation

‘There are three main pillars supporting the Israeli occupation. The first is the use of military force to subjugate the occupied, including the use of military orders, arbitrary arrests, expulsions, torture and prolonged imprisonment. The second consists of laws and bureaucratic regulations, which maintain Israeli control over appointments to official positions, access to employment, restrictions on travel, the issuing of all sorts of licences and permits, including those needed for development and zoning. The third pillar is the establishment of physical facts on the ground; this includes land expropriation, the destruction of Arab villages and the construction of Jewish settlements and military bases, as well as the setting up of security zones, and control over water and other natural resources’ (xxviii).

Israeli policy swayed ‘between two opposing impulses’

‘I follow the zigzagging of Israeli policy in the occupied territories, which has swayed between two opposing impulses for more than four decades and has determined the fortunes of millions of ordinary people living under occupation. At one end of the scale, Israeli policy has imposed de facto annexation of occupied lands (thought not of the peopleliving there) by constructing large Jewish settlement blocs and installing military hardware. At the other end has been the occasional bout of political will – often as a result either of growing international pressures or of attacks by the occupied – to disengage from the territories, or at least from a good portion of them. There is a persistent tension within Israeli politics and society between these two opposing forces, which has, at times, even led Israeli governments to pursue bothpolicies at the same time: offering peace and disengagement, while simultaneously continuing to build settlements. As clearly emerges in the story that follows, Israel’s indecision between these two courses has led to much confusion about the fate of the occupied lands’ (xxix).

Israel’s indecision during the first decade of occupation was its biggest strategic mistake

‘Perhaps the biggest of these mistakes was made by the Israeli Labor governments during the first decade of the occupation, when they had a unique opportunity to resolve, perhaps once and for all, their long-running conflict with the Palestinians. This opportunity emerged as a result of the 1967 victory, which, indeed for the first time, brought almost the entire Palestinian nation under Israeli control and was an exceptional moment to tackle the roots of the conflict head on and perhaps offer the Palestinians some concessions which could have provided them with a more dignified life and some hope for a better future.’ (xxix – xxx)

‘… lack of decisive American pressure on Israel to withdraw …’ (xxxi)

‘Israel … chose to cling to occupied land, preferring land to peace …’ (xxxi)


The 1907 Hague Convention and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention lay down certain rules governing any occupation:

 – demographic changes within occupied territory are prohibited

– the occupying force is not allowed to ‘transfer parts of its own civilian population to the territories it occupies’

– ‘deportations … from occupied territories … are prohibited’

– an occupier must protect the people it occupies and their property

– no destruction or confiscation of personal property is permitted

– the occupying power ‘must ensure the food and medical supplies of the population’

Israel disputes the concept of occupation, seeing these territories as ‘disputed land’, to which the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply

 – They argue that the ‘High Contracting Parties’ in the Convention mean ‘sovereign rulers of distinct states’, and that in June 1967 Jordan was not the sovereign or legitimate ruler in the West Bank and Egypt was not the sovereign and legitimate ruler in Gaza. Jordan and Egypt therefore cannot be regarded as the ‘High Contracting Parties’ mentioned in the Convention.

– The demarcation lines drawn between Israel and her neighbours in 1948 were not proper borders, but only ‘armistice lines.’ The borders which Israel crossed in 1967 were therefore not internationally recognized borders.

– In 1967 Israel went to war in self-defence.

– Israel has stronger claim to the West Bank than the Palestinians as ‘the Land of Israel has played a far more important role in Jewish history than in Palestinian or Arab history, and there has been a continuous presence there for at least three millennia…’ (xxxv).

The majority of legal experts reject the Israeli argument

‘The vast majority of legal experts reject the main tenet of the Israeli argument, namely that the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention are not applicable just because the previous status of the territories may have been slightly different from what those who negotiated the Conventions had in mind. In truth, behind closed doors, Israeli leaders do recognize that their view that Palestinian areas under their control since 1967 are not occupied lands is not convincing, and can hardly be sustained. In a 1967 “Top Secret” letter to the prime minister’s office and a “Most Urgent” memorandum, a Foreign Ministry legal adviser, Theodor Meron, noted that the international community rejects Israel’s argument that “the [West] Bank is not ‘normal’ occupied territory”, and goes on to say that “certain actions taken by Israel are even inconsistent with [its own] claim that the [West] Bank is not occupied territory.”

‘It is quite safe to say that the Israeli government and its defenders stand relatively alone in their denial of the nature of the occupation and, indeed, where Israel has sought to obfuscate or redefine what that occupation means, others see no room for interpretation. The UN General Assembly, for instance, has resolved that the situation in the lands seized by Israel in 1967 is one of occupation, and has urged it to respect the principles contained in the Fourth Geneva and other Conventions. And the UN’s International Court of Justice, for the most part a sober, mainstream, conservative legal organ, is unequivocally clear, both its individual judges and as a whole, that “Few propositions can be said to command an almost universal acceptance … as the proposition that Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza is one of military occupation governed by the applicable international regime of military occupation.”’  (xxxvi)


1967 – 1977. Indecision enables Israel to hold onto the status quo

– In 1948 Jordan took control of the West Bank and formally annexed it in 1950. Only Britain and Pakistan recognized the annexation, while the international community disapproved because the 1947 UN Partition Plan had allotted the West Bank as part of an Arab state alongside Israel. West Bankers were ambivalent towards Jordanian rule, but saw it as ‘the lesser of two evils compared to potential rule by Israel’, and became reconciled to Jordanian rule.

– In Jerusalem ‘what Israel sought above all was a complete geographical and demographic transformation: to enlarge the city’s municipal borders, bring together the Arab East and the Jewish West sectors, and turn the hitherto divided Jerusalem into one united city ruled by Israel’ (9). 26 June ’67 a de facto annexation of East Jerusalem was presented to the world simply as an ‘administrative step.’ The annexation was opposed by the UN General Assembly in July ’97.

– The philosophy of occupation:

(a) Encourage emigration. Very few refugees who left WBank for Jordan were allowed to return. There was a deliberate policy of ‘transfer’ – encouraging Palestinians to leave. Dayan: ‘We want emigration [out of the WBank] … we want to create a new map … our intention [is] to encourage emigration …’ (20).

(b) Reward collaboration with Israel

(c) Require permits for many activities. ‘Palestinians were required to obtain permits and licences for virtually everything: for engaging in financial activities, building homes, travelling abroad, studying, living outside a village or city where one is registered, grazing livestock in certain areas – even growing certain kinds of fruits and vegetables’ (28).

Dayan’s policy was one of ‘Invisible Occupation’:

‘“Don’t try to rule the Arabs … Let them rule themselves …” … he thought that an “invisible occupation”, where his troops were not seen and there were no overt symbols of occupation such as Israeli flags, would foster apathy among Palestinians, diminishing their appetite for change, and thus let Israel hold on to the occupied lands permanently. Although secular, Dayan nevertheless regarded the West Bank – Judea and Samaria – as the cradle of Jewish history and wanted Israel to keep it for good, but he also knew that a more visible form of occupation would only foment resistance’ (14-15).

(Speaking to a Palestinian poet) ‘It [the occupation] is analogous to the relationship between a man and the woman he’s abducted, who doesn’t love him and doesn’t want to marry him. Once their children are born, they view the man as their father and the woman as their mother. The abduction no longer has any significance for them. You too as a people do not want us today, but we are imposing ourselves upon you’ (38).

– Israel sought ‘to actively remould… the Palestinian educational system’ (eg through changing school text books).

– Draconian measure to suppress protests.

– It was a military government manned by military personnel.

– After June ’67 Arafat came from Jordan and established a base in North WBank and started guerrilla tactics.

– Legalizing the land grab: ‘Since new settlements required land free of existing inhabitants or owners, the Israeli government proceeded to compose a legal-bureaucratic structure of laws in order to allow the “legal” acquisition of Palestinian land. The idea was to set up a system whereby land could be converted from privateinto state property and then settlements and bypass roads could be built on it, thus creating fact on the ground’ (39). Methods used: army closes off land for military purposes; or confiscates uncultivated land or land where owner not present.

– Hebron; after ’67 Jews wanted to return to re-establish their community. A group of settlers took over part of a hotel at Passover, raised the Israeli flag and announced they intended to stay. Dayan allowed them to establish the Kiriath Arba settlement outside Hebron on ‘private land expropriated from its Palestinian owner on the orders of the military governor for “security reasons”. He regretted that he had compromised with the settlers, realising it had ‘dangerous implications for the future’(43-44).

– The occupation transformed WBank’s agriculture; but when it prospered, imports into Israel were blocked. Permit system used ‘to restructure WBank industry in line with Israel’s needs and avoiding competition’.

– Aug ’67 Israel transferred control of water supplies to military authorities.

– Palestinians were used to fill gaps in Israel’s labour market.

What led to the meeting between Begin, Sadat and Carter at Camp David in 1978 and Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai

Background:Israel ruled Sinai from ’67 to ’82, when it was handed back to Egypt. Few changes introduced by Israel, but forceful ejection of Bedouin from NW Sinai to make way for settlements and growing flowers and vegetables. For several years fighting across the Suez Canal. Then October War ’73 when Egypt advanced into Sinai but was soon driven back. November ceasefire. Sadat urged US to put pressure on Israel to withdraw, and new agreement led to further Israeli withdrawal from Suez Canal area and promise of huge financial US support for Israeli defence.

– ’77. Begin becomes PM of right wing Likud government after nearly 30 years of Labour. Dayan appointed Foreign Minister and Sharon Agriculture and Settlements. President Carter was critical of settlement building.

– Nov ’77 Sadat’s offer to go to Jerusalem, where he addressed the Knesset.

– Dec ’77 meeting between Sadat and Begin in Ismailiyya ended in stalemate. Sadat insisted on linking Israeli withdrawal from Sinai with withdrawal from other occupied lands. But Begin refused to accept the principle of ‘the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’ (which had been written into the preamble to Security Council Resolution 242 in ’67).

– Carter called the Camp David summit in Sept ’78 out of frustration with Begin’s stance. After fierce clashes between Sadat and Begin, Carter kept them separate and became a go-between. At one point Carter exploded to Begin: ‘What you want is to make the WBank part of Israel.’

– Turning point: ‘In a brutal four-and-a-half hour conversation with the prime minister, Carter demanded that Israel should give up all its settlements in the Sinai, particularly now that Sadat had agreed to drop his demand to have the “non-acquisition of territory by war” phrase in the emerging treaty. Carter warned the prime minister that a failure at Camp David might well lead to a break in US-Israeli relations and his pressure finally yielded results’ (116).

– Sadat insisted on linking the Egypt-Israel treaty with a wider deal for the Palestinians. They agreed to work towards ‘full Palestinian autonomy’. Why did this not materialise?

‘It seems that Begin – the brains behind the Palestinian autonomy plan – did recognize the danger that negotiations set out by the Camp David Accords could lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state – to which he vehemently objected – rather than a mere Palestinian autonomy. Indeed, on more than one occasion he admitted that any form of Palestinian self-government or Palestinian autonomy would inevitably lead to statehood as “this is the ironclad logic of things …” His aforementioned consent to negotiations aimed at creating a Palestinian autonomy which he surely knew would probably lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state should, therefore, be regarded as tactical; he knew that President Sadat had to do something about the Palestinian problem or he would otherwise be blamed for abandoning the Palestinians. So while Begin was willing to give Sadat the cover he needed, he almost certainly had no intention of going through with the agreed talks aimed at full Palestinian autonomy. Indeed … once Begin was confident that Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt was secure enough, he went all out to demolish the autonomy idea and kill the negotiations aimed at achieving it … He was able to do this because Sadat, try as he might, had ultimately failed to link the two sides of the deal – Palestinian and Egyptian – tightly enough; peace with Egypt was not strictly conditional on progress on the Palestinian issues in the wording of the agreement’ (118, 121).

– Palestinians were furious about the deal and felt betrayed by Sadat. To quell this opposition Israel set up ‘Village Leagues’ as a way of weakening the PLO. In fact ‘it was intended purely to provide the occupation with a civilian façade’ (122).

– Sharon’s thinking behind the June ’82 invasion of Lebanon: ‘Sharon believe that if Israel could defeat Arafat’s guerrilla army in Lebanon, and destroy the PLO infrastructure there, then it could force the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to accept permanent subjugation, and forgo their struggle for independence’ (128).

What led to the first Intifada 1987, one of the most pivotal and bleakest phases in the history of the occupation’ (130)?

 – A road accident (?deliberate) outside Gaza in December ‘78, in which 4 Palestinian workers were killed and 7 injured, led to violent riots in Gaza and WBank, which began ‘as a spontaneous popular uprising’, turned into ‘an all-out but unarmed civilian uprising’, and by Jan ’88 ‘developed into a full-fledged, organized and orchestrated rebellion.’

– The situation in Gaza as described by a former CIA official: ‘Gaza resembles a pressure-cooker ready to explode. The Palestinian population is daily becoming more resentful and rebellious. The military occupation responds by becoming more insecure …’ (133). ‘… no particular group of individuals were behind the riots: instead it was simply ordinary Gazans who were at the end of their tether with the occupation’ (133).

‘There is no doubt that Israel’s economic system and policies in the occupied territories – the exploitation of Palestinian labourers, heavy taxation and other such measures – were the real driving force behind the radicalization of the Palestinian public and a major cause of the intifada’ (134).

– Israel’s response: mass arrests, curfews, house demolitions, targeted assassinations.

– Intifada led to anti-Jordanian feeling, with WBankers aligned more with PLO than with King Hussein. Hussein therefore decided to disengage entirely from WBank and transfer full responsibility to PLO. On 31 July he gave up all claims to WBank and severed all administrative and legal ties.

– Nov ’88. Arafat and the Palestine National Council declared ‘the establishment of the State of Palestine’ in a declaration of independence, accepting UN Security Council Resolution 242 for first time. This was ‘merely a political declaration of hope and intent without immediate practical meaning’. ‘Arafat transformed the PLO in one bold move and had laid down a challenge to Israel to open negotiations with him’ (159). ‘Over the coming years the attempts by Arafat to continue the armed struggle against Israel while at the same time moving towards a negotiated political solution with it would gradually erode his credibility, delaying the prospect of a Palestinian state’ (161).

The Oslo Accords 1993

– After Saddam Hussein was forced to withdraw from Kuweit in August ’90, James Baker convened the Madrid Peace Conference (30 Oct to 1 Nov ’91), which led to negotiations in Washington and the secret Oslo channel, which explored the ‘Gaza first’ option.

‘The thinking was that, over time, as conditions improved for most Palestinians, relationships could be strengthened and suspicions broken down, thereby making the tougher questions easier to resolve – in hindsight, however, things did not turn out that way’ (177).

– 13 Sept ’93. Oslo Accords signed at White House: Arafat to take control of Gaza and Jericho, then extend Palestinian rule to other areas and negotiate permanent settlement. Arafat returned to Gaza ’94 as head of the Palestinian Authority.

‘Although 1994 is seen as a critical time in Palestinian history when they effectively started ruling themselves, on the ground it was a very limited self-rule, confined to a very little geographical area – some of the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area – and which existed in the shadow of a continuing Israeli occupation’ (182).

– 1995. WBank divided into 3 areas: Area A – 3%. Palestinian cities and areas where no settlements – under full PA control; Area B – 25%. Many Palestinian villages and no settlements, where PA responsible for civilian affairs, with joint Israeli-Palestinian security control; Area C – 72%. Settlements, ruled by Israel.

‘ … their [the Palestinians’] growing suspicion that they had fallen into an Israeli trap, and that Israel had no intention of completely withdrawing from the remaining occupied lands, mainly from areas “B” and “C”. They had good reason to be suspicious, as the Israelis, although they did draw their forces back from some areas, went on to construct bypass roads to enable Jewish settlers to travel between settlements without having to pass through the areas now controlled by the PA. This ironically, increased – and quite dramatically – the number of settlers since, not having to cross through Palestinian-populated areas, they felt safer than before and, as a result, many more joined the settlements, which expanded massively during this period. And as more land was needed to build new settlements for the newcomers, and land was also needed to construct the new network of bypass roads – which was designed exclusively for the use of Jewish settlers and from where Palestinians were barred – it was expropriated from Palestinians’ (183-4).

– 4 Nov ’95 Rabin assassinated. Peres defeated, bringing Netanyahu to power.

Why did the negotiations over the Golan Heightsbetween Barak, Assad and Clinton fail in March 2000?

Background: After ’67 direct action aimed at expulsion of Golanis. Demolition of villages, and refugees not allowed to return. Syrian law discontinued and military government installed. ‘The overall aim was to extinguish the physical remnants of Syrian presence on the Golan, to take over the land and alter the political, economic and social makeup of the remaining population, erase their Syrian Arab identity and remake them into Israeli citizens’ (79). Labour camps set up from July ’67. By March ’68, there were 10 new settlements, and by ’77, 24 settlements.

– Resistance to occupation – eg. Syrians shelled new settlements. ’73 October war, when Syria invaded, but driven back and lost more land to Israel. The Golanis still loyal to Syria and saw themselves as Syrians, opposed to occupation. In 1980 Israel wanted to give the Golanis Israeli citizenship – to make it easier for them to annexe Golan. But Golanis, most of whom were Druze, refused.

– Dec ’81. Israel effectively annexed Golan, ending military rule. 19 Dec. UN Security Council Resolution 497 declared annexation ‘null and void’.

– When Barak became PM in May ’99, adopted a ‘Syria first’ approach, because it seemed easier than dealing with WBank, and because Assad was gravely ill and Barak wanted to clinch deal before Assad died. When Barak approached Assad through President Bush, Assad asserted his demand of full Israeli withdrawal to the Lake of Galilee. Assad was aware that Rabin in ’94 had previously said that he wouldbe willing for Syrian control of the Golan Heights right to the shore of the Lake of Galilee. ‘The main reason for the lack of progress was that during the actual talks with the Syrians, the Israelis were far less explicit in their promises that they would indeed fully withdraw from the Golan as the Syrians had understood … back in July ’94’ (205).

Failure of Barak, Assad and Clinton talks in March 2000. ‘In retrospect, the failure of Israel and Syria to reach peace during this period on the basis of a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan was a missed opportunity and, clearly, the fault lay with Barak. He hesitated, fearing that his public would not support him, and squandered the opportunity. His offer to Assad, through Clinton in Geneva, in March 2000, was too little and much too late. Too little, because he was offering the Syrian less than what the late prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, had proposed before, namely a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and a restoration of the pre-1967 situation, whereby Syria could access the Sea of Galilee. And it was too late, because it seems that by the time Clinton met Assad in Geneva with the Israeli offer, a very ill Assad was more concerned with the transfer of power to his son than getting back his lost land; Assad would die less than three months later’ (215-6).

After the failure of the ‘Syria first’ approach, Barak returned to the Palestinian question, recognizing a weakness in the Oslo process: ‘He felt that delaying talks on the greater, contentious problems until the end of the negotiations would leave the entire peace process hostage to extremists, on both sides …’ (217).

Why did the negotiations between Barak, Arafat and Clinton at Camp David II in July 2000 fail?

Barak’s role: he was warned in advance that failure would intensify the conflict, but pressed on regardless, wanting to put pressure on Arafat:

‘… Barak … decided to proceed with preparations for a summit in spite of this and other clear indications that a failure there would lead to clashes … it is extraordinary that Barak was fully aware of the dire consequences of a failed summit, yet was willing to embark on this dangerous route’ (224-5).

(According to Martin Indyk) ‘… what the prime minister [Barak] wanted to see was the summit turning into a pressure cooker and he expected President Clinton to throw Arafat into the pot and turn up the heat’ (233).

Clinton’s role: his inability/unwillingness to put pressure on Barak:

‘This, perhaps, was Clinton’s biggest mistake at this summit. His eagerness to please and inability to stand his ground, particularly with Barak, turned out to be a serious liability in a summit where only hard pressure on the Palestinians andthe Israelis could have led to success. What was needed from the American president was not empathy but unsentimental toughness and leadership, which it seems in this instance Clinton lacked. Clinton would later describe Barak in his memoirs as a “brilliant Renaissance man”, and it may be that it was his admiration for him that made Clinton so flexible with the prime minister’ (230).

– Before the talks he promised that he would not blame Arafat if the talks failed; but when they failed, he did blame Arafat.

– He was hardly acting as an impartial mediator:

The Palestinians felt that ‘… the Americans, at Camp David as elsewhere, were not acting as impartial mediators and that the Israelis dictated the US position’ (229).

The process: at the crucial stages towards the end, there was no written text under discussion, but only a verbal offer from Barak which Clinton put to Arafat:

‘There is little doubt that in this plan Barak offered Arafat quite a lot in terms of land and other concessions, particularly on Jerusalem. United Jerusalem had become, in the years since its annexation in 1967, an essential part of the identity of the Jewish state and to divide its heart – the Old City – offering half of it to Arafat, was, as Martin Indyk of the US team rightly observed, “an act either of extraordinary courage and statesmanship or of pure folly”. Having said that, it is also important to note that Barak refrained from offering what for Arafat was themost important of all: sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif.

‘Was this another Machievellian trap laid by Barak to catch Arafat? Was it his estimation that Arafat would reject anyoffer put his way which did not included Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram – no matter how generous the other provisions – thus enabling the prime minister to demonstrate that he was willing to make major concessions, safe in the knowledge he would never actually have to follow through, and, what’s more, could leave Camp David portraying Arafat as uninterested in peace? It is unlikely we shall ever know, but it was, nonetheless, a most dramatic moment at Camp David’ (237).

– When Barak’s offer was communicated to Arafat, he said he needed to consult the Palestinian leadership. When Clinton demanded an immediate response, Arafat in a letter said ‘No’ to Barak’s offer:

‘Clinton smelled a rat. He saw in Arafat’s letter an attempt to “pocket” Barak’s proposals and then use them as opening positions in a further summit where more concessions would be demanded. Clinton also realized that should he allow Arafat off the hook now, and let him out of Camp David, he would lose all the advantages of the pressure cooker environment. He therefore demanded that Arafat should give him a straightforward answer – there and then. This answer, however, when it came, was a very clear “No” (238).

What (apart from the failure of Camp David and Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount) led to the Al-Aqsa Intifada in Sept 2000? 

‘ … the cause of the intifada, which emanated not from individual behaviour of people like Sharon, Barak, Arafat or others, but rather from the disparity between what the Palestinians had been expecting from the peace process and what they actually got, which was failing to meet even their most basic needs.

‘Indeed, a close look shows that the peace process had brought the Palestinians very few gains; if anything, in fact, it had worsened their conditions under which they lived. When the Oslo process was launched in 1993, the Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip numbered 3,000, and in the West Bank 117,000; while on the eve of Sharon’s visit to Jerusalem, in 2000, there were 6,700 settlers in Gaza and 200,000 in the West Bank. This was a substantial increase and deeply upsetting for the Palestinians; after all, if the Oslo process was all about Israel relinquishing land for peace, then one would expect it to stop settling even more Jews and erecting new settlements on this land. The construction of new settlements also led to more inconveniences in the daily lives of Palestinians, as security measures were put in place to protect the settlers, and they exploited more resources, notably water, to serve their needs. These frustrations among the Palestinians all added up to create a powder keg, waiting for just such a spark as Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount to set it off; chances are, had Sharon not made his trip, sooner or later some other event would have lit the fuse’ (248-9).

Why did Clinton’s ‘last-ditch effort’ before leaving office in the ‘Clinton Parameters’ fail in December 2000?

‘On the territory Israel should transfer to the Palestinians, on which they could establish their state, Clinton suggested that the figure should be in the mid-90 per cents, from 94 to 96 per cent of the West Bank territory. For the 4 – 6 per cent of the West Bank land that Israel would annex in order to incorporate its big settlement blocs, where 80 per cent of its settlers lived (all isolated settlements would be dismantled), Clinton suggested that Israel compensate the Palestinians by means of a land swap elsewhere. On Jerusalem, a main stumbling block in previous talks, Clinton proposed that “The general principle is that [within the boundaries of current Jerusalem] Arab areas are Palestinian and Jewish ones are Israeli.” On the heart of the matter, namely the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the president basically proposed that the parties would share the sovereignty over the area: there would be Palestinian sovereignty overthe Haram and Israeli sovereignty just under it, where the ruins of the Jewish Temple are buried. Regarding refugees and the Palestinian claim to have a “right of return” to the homes of their forefathers in Israel, Clinton proposed that the guiding principle should be that the Palestinians state would be the focal point for Palestinians who chose to return to the area without ruling out that Israel would accept some of these refugees.

‘A careful reading of the Clinton proposal shows that what he sought was to use the two main obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian deal – namely the question of sovereignty over Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Palestinian demand to have right of return to Israel proper – to cancel each other out. Thus, the Palestinians were offered sovereignty on Haram, which was an Israeli concession, and, in return, would be asked to give up their demand to have right of return to Israel. Finally, and critically, as far as Israel was concerned and upon which it insisted, Clinton said that the agreement would mark the end of the conflict and its implementation would put an end to all Palestinians claims upon Israel’ (263-4).

‘There is little doubt that the verdict of history will show that here, in December 2000, Arafat missed an opportunity to have an independent Palestine with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital, including what eluded him at Camp David and what was offered to him now, namely Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif. So why did Arafat turn down this offer? Perhaps he thought that the incoming US president, George W. Bush, would be more generous than the Clinton administration, as the Palestinians regarded Clinton as much too close to the Israelis. Or he didn’t want to have to stand before his people and tell them that, while he had secured sovereignty in Jerusalem, at the same time, he had also failed to gain for the Palestinians a right to return to old Palestine. For years, he, and others, had promised the Palestinian refugees that they would one day be back in their old homes in what was now Israel …

‘Arafat apparently could not bear to abandon this central element in Palestinian identity and life; he decided instead to wait for a better offer and to avoid making the hard decisions in favour of sticking to the status quo. His close adviser, Mohammed Rashid, would later admit that “we have made a strategic mistake in not accepting the Clinton proposals”’ (265-6).

What was the rationale for Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005?

Background:In ’48 fighting between Egypt and Israel reduced the area around Gaza that had been allocated to the Arab State in the UN Partition Plan. Israel therefore took 2/3 of the area, and the rest was controlled by Egypt. Came to be known as ‘the Gaza Strip.’ From ’48 – ’67 ruled by Egyptian military governor. Led to ‘almost total stagnation, both socially and economically’. Gaza lost its agricultural land which was taken by Israel. Employment opportunities in Israel were lost; massive influx of Palestinian refugees from areas now part of Israel; refugees now reliant on UNWRA and charities. By early 1950 Gaza ‘gradually sank into poverty and destitution.’

– In ’67 Israel installed a military governor. Strategies encouraging Palestinians to leave, and then forceful deportations. ’71 Sharon’s brutal campaign against Gaza militants, crushing an insurgency. 15,000 displaced by ‘thinning policy’. ‘It was … a consistent feature of the Israeli occupation that the government vacillated between allowing the Palestinians some measure of self-rule and not giving them too much room to manoeuvre’ (67).

– Israel’s labour market opened up to Gazans, so that Gaza ‘became almost totally dependent on Israel for jobs.’ In ’69 Gaza linked to Israeli national electricity and water grid – used as ‘an important tool to control the Gazans’. ‘As Israel became a major provider of jobs to Palestinians and assumed control over water, electricity and other resources, it effectively turned itself into an old-fashioned colonialist, in total control of Palestinian lives’ (70).

The 2005 Withdrawal: ‘Sharon’s unilateral disengagement turned out to be a mixed bag for Israel, and, indeed, for the Palestinians too. The most immediate and short-term outcome was an unparalleled round of applause from a usually sceptical international community, which seemed willing to accept Sharon’s line that his withdrawal would ultimately promote a two-state solution. Sharon’s bold move clearly relieved pressure on Israel and, as he expected, though never actually admitted in public, it undermined the Quartet’s roadmap that had up till the evacuation been at the heart of the peace process, and which could have forced Israel to compromise on issues of greater sensitivity. Sharon’s right-hand man, Dov Weisglass, the brains behind the Disengagement Plan, alluded to the merit of the unilateral disengagement as a way of pushing aside the less favoured roadmap when, in a frank interview, he said that disengagement would acts as “formaldehyde” on the roadmap. He explained:

‘“The significance [of the unilateral withdrawal] is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinians state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders, and Jerusalem [all of which are at the heart of the roadmap]. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda … and all this with authority and permission. All with a [US] presidential blessing … and we taught the world … that there is no one to talk to [on the Palestinian side]. And we received a no-one-to-talk-to certificate. It is a certificate that says: 1. There’s no one to talk to … 2. As long as there’s no one to talk to the geographic status quo remains intact. 3. The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens – when Palestine becomes Finland. 4. See you then and Shalom.”

‘On the ground, however, it soon became apparent that what, at first, had seemed to be the end of the occupation was for the most part a mere illusion. On the West Bank, while settlers were indeed removed from their four settlements and their houses demolished, the army continued to maintain control of the land, forbidding Palestinians access to it; it was therefore emptied but not handed over to the Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip, in the meantime, rather than an end of occupation, Sharon’s disengagement exercise turned out to be more of a reorganization of the way the occupying forces operated, as Israel continued to maintain effective and exclusive, albeit remote, control of the evacuated area’ (299-301).

‘Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip opened a new phase in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship that saw the gradual weakening of the secular Palestinian leadership and the strengthening of more radical elements, especially in Gaza, which militants used as a launchpad to fire rockets and missiles into Israel’ (303-4).


From ’67 to ’77 

‘in hindsight, it seems safe to argue that Israel missed a unique opportunity to strike peace deals with its neighbours during this first decade of occupation’ (305).

From ’77 to ‘87

‘In the second decade, from1977 to 1987, Israel, at last, decided what it wanted to do: after the 1977 electoral upheaval which saw the right-wing Likud party come to power for the first time in Israel’s history, the new prime minister, Menachem Begin, embarked on a grand plan to make the occupation irreversible, at the heart of which was the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, particularly on the WBank and in the Gaza Strip … Begin was determined to keep the Palestinian occupied territories – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – for good, and the Golan Heights, which Israel officially annexed, for the time being at least’ (305-6).

From ’87 – 2007.

‘… the first intifada… compelled a growing number of Israelis to realize that the occupation project was doomed.’ But the peace process following the 1991 Madrid Conference ‘was not rigorous enough and Israel failed to show magnanimity…

‘Gradually, during the peace process, the Israelis came to realize that the price for peace would be high: that Syria would insist on a full withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights and that the Palestinians would want an equitable deal. Unwilling to pay this price, the Israelis, in a process that would reach its climax during the Sharon’s tenure as prime minister, from 2001 to 2006, put peace with Syria on hold and unilaterally pulled out from the Gaza Strip, in truth a thorn in Israel’s side, which let them cling on to the West Bank and its resources while avoiding the bigger issues of the occupation….

‘For peace negotiations to resume in a meaningful way the international community, and particularly the US, will have to be tough with Israel and when necessary bribe it into compromise. If the past four decades have proved anything, it is that the Israelis will not give up the occupied territories easily.

‘I have little doubt that the occupation will come to an end at some point in the future, as all wars and conflicts do… What is clear is that Israel’s attempt to swallow the occupied territories over the last four decades of occupation has failed.

‘I believe that the verdict of history will regard the four decades of occupation described in this book as a black mark in Israeli and indeed Jewish history …’ (306-307).

[from the 2017 Penguin edition, emphasis added]

‘It is reasonable to believe that like other occupations before it, the Israeli occupation will, at some point in the future, collapse, and a Palestinian state will emerge on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But states are not given to people on silver platters and the Palestinians will have to keep fighting for one; more importantly, they must be helped in their struggle by the international community which must not stand idly by as the Israeli occupation – one of the cruellest and brutal in modern history– continues.’