As we mark the 50th anniversary of the longest military occupation in modern history, some are celebrating. It is fully appropriate that these celebrations will include a joint session of the US Congress and the Israeli Knesset, held via video link. For Israel’s rule over East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights is only made possible by the constant support it has obtained since June 1967 from successive US administrations. This is therefore not solely an Israeli occupation: Since the very beginning, it has in fact been a joint undertaking, an Israeli-American condominium, if you will. If the various forms of violence necessary to maintain alien rule over what are now nearly 5 million people have been administered entirely by Israelis, the financial, arms, and diplomatic weight behind them has been mainly American.
The degree to which American support is the sine qua non of this 50-year occupation can be seen from the difference between how the Johnson administration and its successors treated Israel’s 1967 conquests, and how President Eisenhower reacted to those of the 1956 war. In that earlier case, the US reaction was unequivocal and forceful. Only days after the Israeli-British-French attack on Egypt, Washington pushed through a UN resolution demanding that Israel withdraw unconditionally and immediately from the occupied Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. Under powerful American pressure, Israel grudgingly did so six months later.
As an 18-year-old on June 9, 1967, I myself was witness to one indication of how much things had changed since 1956. On the fourth day of the war, I was sitting in the visitors’ gallery of the Security Council (my father worked for the UN Secretariat and I was home from college). I watched US Ambassador Arthur Goldberg stall for hours to prevent the council from forcing Israel to stop its seemingly inexorable advance toward Damascus. In spite of successive Security Council cease-fire resolutions, and thanks to such tacit US support, that advance did not stop until the following day.
Worse was yet to come. In contrast to the days that passed before it acted in 1956, the United Nations took over five months to come up with a resolution to deal with the situation created by the 1967 war. When it did so, on November 22, 1967, Security Council Resolution 242 was inspired essentially by the desiderata of Israel, with the indispensable support of the United States. Resolution 242 was far from unconditional: Indeed, it made Israel’s withdrawals from the areas its forces had just conquered conditional on the achievement of “secure” boundaries, which has proven to be an infinitely flexible term in the Israeli lexicon. This flexibility has permitted 50 years of delay where occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories are concerned. Moreover, in its English version, 242 did not call from withdrawal from all the land taken in the June war, but only from “territories occupied” during the conflict. With ample American backing, Israel has driven a coach and horses through that seemingly minor gap.
Other language in 242, such as the passage stressing the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” can be seen as balancing those major concessions to the Israeli position. However, which parts of 242 are really important is indicated by the planned joint session of Congress and the Knesset, on top of 50 years of American complaisance about an occupation that in practice is underwritten by American money, arms, and diplomatic support. This is an occupation, incidentally, that the Israeli government denies exists, and that President Trump did not see fit to mention once by name during his recent visit to Palestine and Israel.