Now that Yasser Arafat has been on American television appealing for "justice" and "fairness," almost evoking some modicum of sympathy, it is clear that Israel has done something wrong. Its supporters know this far better than do its ubiquitous critics. Israel has indeed done something very wrong.
For more than two decades Israel has failed to present a coherent program for the Gaza Strip and Judea-Samaria (the region called "the West Bank"). Few know why Israel is there, and virtually no one --including Israel's most senior leaders--has any vision for its future. Israel's own news media cannot even agree on whether to call the controversial areas "occupied West Bank," "administered territories" or "liberated Judea and Samaria."
Israelis and their supporters complain, "Never before in history has a country that won land in a war of self-defense been forced to make concessions to the losers whose very aggression led to their demise." Yes. But the converse might be asked: "When before in history did the victors of such a war hesitate to annex the lands that they liberated?" (The image of Alsace-Lorraine ping-ponging between France and Germany is representative.)
The losers are convincing because they present an uncompromisingly clear, albeit apocryphal, historical claim: After being "driven from their homeland" during wars between 1948 and 1967, they have suffered 20 years of military subjugation by the Zionist occupation forces. Lost in the claim is a Watergate-like gap, this time more like 18 years than 18 minutes: Who built the despicable refugee ghettoes? And why did Arab governments not do for their new immigrants what Israel did for the 700,000 Jews who entered its borders after their forcible expulsion from Arab countries?
Israel counters with a weak hem-haw, declaring readiness to compromise on everything but Jerusalem, but insisting on face-to-face talks with the claimants themselves, stipulating that the Palestine Liberation Organization can be no party to those negotiations. Although it is true that Britain does not talk with the Irish Republican Army in Ulster, most fair-minded people do not confront such subtleties; instead, they demand of Israel: "After two full decades of military occupation, just what are you people doing there, and what are your intentions?"
Israel, if it is to contend in the marketplace of ideas, must formulate a response, confronting the Arab claim head on.
Fairness and justice? The Arab world today is sovereign over 77% of Palestine, confiscated from the embryonic Jewish state by two partition plans imposed in 1922 and 1947. Despite those land grabs, the Arabs launched three wars between 1948 and 1967. The Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1964 to "liberate" Haifa and Tel Aviv; no one minded that Gaza was under Egyptian occupation, or that Judea and Samaria were under Jordanian military rule.
A truncated Israel, bordered on both sides by an irredentist PLO state whose national dream inexorably must see the Jews driven into the sea, would be a sitting duck to terrorists intent on replicating the gruesome anti-Jewish massacres of the pre-state period, this time with advanced Soviet technology capable of devastating the entire coastal population.
Ultimately Israel must reveal its deepest national secret: an abiding belief that Judea and Samaria are rightly Jewish soil to begin with, comprising the very heartland of the Jewish national home. From biblical patriarchs, matriarchs, prophets and kings to Maccabees, Pharisees and Sadducees--and continuing uninterrupted through two millennia of Diaspora--the Jewish people have been linked not so much with Tel Aviv and Haifa as with Hebron, Shechem (Nablus), Shiloh and Jerusalem. If Arabs, who massacred Jews and expropriated what was Jewish in 1929 and 1936, today speak of Hebron as an Arab city, they must be challenged.
If land ownership is determined by who preceded whom, then Jews were there first. If, however, suzerainty is a military outcome--which once saw the Jews displaced--well, Israel is there now. Hebron is a Jewish city.
Until recently the very word Palestine was synonymous with the Jews of the area, not with the Arab latecomers. Before the Jewish state's renaming, the United Jewish Appeal was called the United Palestine Appeal, the Jerusalem Post was the Palestine Post, and the American League for a Free Palestine raised money not for Arafat's precursors but for Menachem Begin's Irgun.
Israel may or may not succeed in convincing others that its historic claim to Judea, Samaria and Gaza is more legitimate than that submitted by Arafat. But, two decades after the occupation began, there is no choice but to argue the case for permanent annexation--or, more appropriately, reunification, the completion of the national population transfer begun when the Arab world expelled its Jews to Palestine. This is not only a preferred alternative to the military administration that leaves Arabs and Jews, alike, bewildered. It is also just and fair.