Andi PacurarThe writer is Director at Africa International Ltd.
The status of the the territories it gained control over in the aftermath of the 1967 war are a sustained source of dispute between various political perspectives. The conversation often refers to who was the aggressive party and who the defensive one in the war.
The anti-Israeli camp argues that Israel was the aggressor and hence the lands it « captured » in the war are object of the Geneva conventions on war conduct rendering the control of these territories as « belligerent occupation » which is illegal and needs to resolve soon in an accepted form of sovereignty.
The pro-Israeli camp argues that Israel was the defensive party in the war and hence any territory it might have gained in the aftermath of the war is held non-belligerent occupation which is legal. Further they add the successive Israeli - Arab agreements that have settled the question of the land control already.
What both of these camps miss is that often - most of the time, I would argue - the political position anyone takes is not taken purely out of principle but out of interest.
And in the next lines I want to discuss what the benefit the promoter of the designation « Occupied Palestinian Territories » might draw from such a designation, fact that might explain why they have this position.
So then, what I am interested in is not WHAT position one has but WHY they hold it. And as I am not satisfied with the answer referring to the international conventions or the definition of belligerent aggression, I want to explore the actual political and, possibly other, benefit upholding this designation provides to its upholder.
And, for the purpose of this article, I will focus on the preference for this designation in the government and presidential administration of the United States. I do so motivated primarily by the fact that I can make this argument without additional research (which I’d love to make but sadly I don’t have the time to) but I am also motivated by my belief that the US’s use of this designation provides the main drive for this designation to be used by others (who may not have the same motivations as the US but wish to be in line with it)
But I am not original in this: the basic idea comes from a line in a relatively recent film. The film is a serial and the line comes from season three launched on March the 3rd, 2014. The fact, that, in preparation to write this piece, in August 2016, my internet search related to this issue did not give any result, is bewildering to me.
So, in season three of the TV serial House of Cards, Claire Underwood, the first lady of the United States, in a conversation with a Russian diplomat makes the following statement between minute 40:51 and 41:22:
« [The Jordan Valley] is « occupied territory »; [the US] is not deploying on sovereign land, so, as commander in chief, [the president] doesn’t need Congressional approval. »
Upon research, the statement seems to be true. Indeed, the president of the United States, commender in chief of the US Armed Forces, does not need Congressional approval for a range of military actions, including deploying troops on « occupied land ». The president does need approval for a range of others while yet other military actions are reserved exclusively to the Congress. This is referred to as ‘balance of powers’ (see this link for a detailed article on Council for Foreign Relations http://www.cfr.org/united-states/balance-war-powers-us-president-congress/p13092)
So then, while on any other territory - irrespective of how much havoc may there reign or what abuses of human rights may there be perpetrated - if they are not designated as « occupied » and are recognised as sovereign, US - and anyone else, for that matter - cannot deploy its own troops without the country’s in question requesting military assistance, on « occupied territories » anyone can deploy troops, even if there is no real need and not even so much as to have to justify it (although probably it would run along the lines of some self-ascribed moral higher ground of responsibility to protect human rights or ensure security). Tellingly, in the film, Claire, follows up saying « Jerusalem has been informed ». Let us note: informed, not consulted or having requested assistance.
Furthermore, as the film points out, this is a direct prerogative of the president of the US (and not of any other institution).
As the House of Cards makes numerous and explicit references to and as it can quite easily be seen from the debates held around US politics, the relationship between the president and other forces in the US administration is tense and challenging.
Therefore, then, any freedoms the president might have to act independently are precious ‘bargaining chips’ the president has both in relation to the Congress but also, as the country representative, in relation to foreign powers.
In the film, the statement is presented as part of a dialogue with the Russian diplomat regarding the question of the deployment of Russian troops in the Jordan Valley and the subsequent decision by the US president to mirror that with his own deployment of troops hoping to dissuade the Russian counterpart from further or all engagement in the region as this might spill into a war directly with the US.
Any freedoms the president might have to act independently are precious ‘bargaining chips’ the president has both in relation to the Congress but also, as the country representative, in relation to foreign powers.
While there may be other territories in the Middle East designated by the US as « occupied » - although I did not immediately find any such reference - the ones held by Israel are certainly some of the largest and more strategically positioned, providing therefore to whomever may be deploying troops there with a significant military and hence political advantage.
To sum this up then: by insisting on the designation of Israeli control of Samaria, Judea and the Golan Heights, territories gained by Israel in the aftermath of the 1967 war, as « occupied’, the president of the United States ensures having for him/herself one of the most geo-strategic ‘bargaining chips’ both in relation to Israel proper but also to its neighbours and any other military power interested in the region.
So, with one single - and hitherto hidden - move, the US and its president retain overwhelming control and ability to wield significant amount of power in one of the most important areas on the globe.
It is then in the desire to retain and wield this power that I believe lies the reason for the adamant designation by the US of Israeli territorial gains in the aftermath of the 1967 war as « occupied territory » and not so much in any other reason, however much it may be flaunted in the media.
It seems then that the « occupied territories » are occupied less by Israel as they are by the US.