45 Years of Israeli Military Occupation and No End in Sight

President Johnson was right to be concerned that Israel's military conquests would threaten the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace and degrade the human and national rights of Arab populations falling under its rule.
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In the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, President Lyndon Johnson, in a clear nod toward countering Israeli territorial aggrandizement, stated that "no nation would be true to the United Nations Charter, or to its own true interests, if it should permit military success to blind it to the fact that its neighbors have rights and its neighbors have interests of their own."

Johnson was right to be concerned that Israel's military conquests would threaten the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace and degrade the human and national rights of Arab populations falling under its rule. The war had resulted in Israel establishing a military occupation of the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula (which was not returned to Egyptian sovereignty until after the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty), the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip (occupations which persist to this day). Although Israel dismantled its illegal settlements and removed military bases from the Gaza Strip in 2005, its land, air, and sea blockade of the coastal enclave, along with its border closures of the territory, is proof positive of Israel's ongoing effective control over, and thus military occupation of, the Gaza Strip.

It was in this spirit of preventing Israeli territorial expansion that the Johnson administration played a leading role in drafting and passing United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 in November 1967. The resolution, which has formed the cornerstone of Israeli-Arab peacemaking efforts ever since its adoption, emphasizes the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" and calls for the "withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict."

In his speech to the U.N. Security Council explaining his vote in favor of the resolution, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Arthur Goldberg noted that it is "entirely consistent with the policy of the United States." He pledged "that the diplomatic and political influence of the United States Government will be exerted in support of the efforts of the United Nations special representative" to implement the resolution's goals.

The Johnson administration's relatively evenhanded policy, including the president's call for "justice for the refugees," hearkens back to a bygone era in which the United States could still plausibly claim to be an "honest broker" in attempting to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict. Sadly, that period is now but a distant memory, jettisoned in favor of unconditional U.S. diplomatic and military support for Israel that plays such a key role in cementing Israel's military occupation of Arab territories and preventing the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.

Forty-five years after Israel occupied the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights, Israel's grasp upon these territories is firmer than ever, thanks to its ongoing colonization of these lands, which makes a mockery of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and is illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an Occupying Power from transferring its civilians into Occupied Territories.

Yet, rather than uphold the legacy of U.S. diplomacy in support of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, the Obama administration has attempted to strip the resolution of meaning by using its one and only veto in the Security Council in February 2011 to prevent a mildly-worded condemnation of Israeli settlement activity. Instead of concurring with a 1979 State Department legal memo concluding that Israeli settlement activity "is inconsistent with international law," members of Congress boisterously cheered for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when in a May 2011 address to a joint session of Congress he denied the existence of Israel's military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem and boasted that there are now nearly two-thirds of 1 million Israeli Jewish settlers.

Israel's ongoing colonization of Arab territories and its obstinate refusal to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 are abetted not only by U.S. diplomatic and political support, but as consequentially through military means as well.

In June 1967, President Johnson declared that

"this last conflict has demonstrated the danger of the Middle Eastern arms race of the last 12 years. Here the responsibility must rest not only on those in the area - but upon the larger states outside the area...We have always opposed this arms race, and our own military shipments to the area have consequently been severely limited."

Unfortunately, Johnson's successors did not see fit to continue this policy of restraint, giving Israel more than $67 billion of U.S. taxpayer-funded military aid grants and loans in the four decades after the war (1968-2008). In 2007, the Bush Administration signed an agreement with Israel to provide an additional $30 billion in weapons from 2009 to 2018. Not unsurprisingly, such largesse has only encouraged Israel to entrench its military occupation and extend its illegal colonization while at the same time providing it with the materiel needed to enforce this brutal military occupation.

Despite the Arms Export Control Act restricting the use of U.S.-supplied weapons to "internal security" and "legitimate self-defense," Israel systematically violates this law with impunity to commit grave human rights abuses of Palestinians living under military occupation. No wonder then that Amnesty International determined that U.S. weapons to Israel were "fuelling conflict" and called for an arms embargo.

Even as the prospects for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict recede in the face of Israel's implacable colonization of Palestinian land ostensibly designated for an independent state, the imperative of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 242 is as urgent today as it was 45 years ago.

A prerequisite for any just and lasting Arab-Israeli peace is for Israel to end its military occupation of all Arab land conquered in 1967. Despite Johnson and Goldberg interpreting UN Resolution 242 as not requiring a full Israeli withdrawal to its 1949 armistice lines, the resolution restates a clear principle of international law: territory cannot be acquired by force. The United States must recommit to this principle by immediately ending all forms of support for Israel that enable it to continue to defy the United Nations.

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