Marwan Kabalan
Gulf News (Opinion)
July 24, 2009 - 12:00am

The 1967 Arab-Israeli war was a watershed event in the Middle East. Its repercussions have shaped the history and politics of the region ever since. The war has also transformed the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict, rendering it from an existential question into mere dispute over territories. During six days of almost one-sided hostilities, Israel captured a huge portion of Arab territories, including the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank of the River Jordan, and the Syrian Golan Heights. The status of these occupied territories has subsequently become the title of the conflict.

Initially, Israel thought that it could keep a good part of these territories after forcing hundreds of thousands of its rightful owners to flee. It, hence, tried to change the demographic and geographic status of the captured land.

Israel's thoughts proved illusions. Following the Camp David Accord of 1978, Israel evacuated 10,000 colonists from the Sinai Peninsula, returning the 70,000 square km desert to Egypt. After the war of attrition in 1974, Israel was also forced to give back a small portion of the Golan Heights to Syria. In 2005, Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip, evacuating another 4,000 colonists. The rest of the occupied territories remained in Israeli hands.

Since the US was and remains Israel's main backer, the Arab world relied on Washington to retrieve the occupied territories. But, the US, which considered Israel as a "strategic asset" following its 1967 victory, showed no real interest in pursuing peace in the Middle East. Throughout the Cold War era, the US was single-mindedly preoccupied with the "Communist threat", and had subsequently pursued a policy of containment rather than resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The end of the Cold War presented a golden opportunity to resolve the generations-old conflict. The Bush Sr administration pressured Israel to participate in the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991. The right wing Yitzhak Shamir government, dragging its feet to the conference, declared that it would negotiate for decades with no real substance.

Fearing further US pressure to implement UN resolutions 242 and 338, Israel accelerated the building of colonies. Israel's main objectives were to create new facts on the grounds, allowing it to permanently annex more Arab land, and keep Palestinian territories divided and surrounded by Israeli colonies.

Throughout the past two decades, Israel's policy was to eat up more Palestinian land while negotiations were under way. This went against the very logic of the Oslo Accords of 1993. According to Oslo, Palestinians agreed to defer all difficult issues, including colonies, refugees, water resources and the final status of occupied Jerusalem to a later stage in exchange for an Israeli commitment to freeze the building of new colonies and preserve the territorial integrity of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel violated its commitments.

According to UN, Palestinian and Israeli sources, Israel has built more colonies in the occupied territories between October 1991 (Madrid Peace Conference) and 2000 (when the peace process collapsed following the Camp David summit between Yasser Arafat, Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton) than in the previous years since 1967.

Following the Al Aqsa Intifada of 2000, Ariel Sharon came to power in Israel. Supported by the Bush Jr administration, he dropped the peace process all together and initiated a new policy of unilateral disengagement. He proposed a fence to separate Palestinian towns and cities from Israel. He offered to return 42 per cent only of the West Bank - reduced later to mere 29 per cent - to the Palestinian National Authority, while annexing the rest.

Having lost the moral high ground that it once enjoyed in the Arab world, the US under President Barack Obama chose to revive the Middle East peace talks. Both Palestinians and Syrians decided that there will not be peace talks unless Israel freezes its activities of building colonies in the occupied territories.

Clearly, the more land confiscated by Israel the more distant a peaceful solution for the conflict becomes. It is feared that when Israel realises that peace is the only feasible option for it to live in a secure environment, there will be no more land for peace.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017