Alan Silverstein

Secretary Kerry: Here Is Why “The Occupation” Has Lasted Since 1967

Most Israelis long for a comprehensive and final agreement negotiated directly by the parties to the conflict, resulting in A Jewish State and A Palestinian State, living side-by-side in peace and security. In the absence of success, frustration continues to mount on all sides.

Regrettably, Secretary of State John Kerry has placed the blame for the stalemate in negotiations primarily upon settlements, ignoring the willingness of a sequence of Israeli Prime Ministers to reach compromises for the sake of a final and comprehensive peace.

Kerry also omits assigning to the Palestinian leadership any fault for the diplomatic shortfall.

This on-sided and misleading assessment  is contradicted by the facts during the past half-century of diplomacy.


In June 1967, Israel fought a just war of self-defense against multiple Arab armies seeking to “push the Jews into the sea.” UN Resolution 242 subsequently called upon Israel to relinquish “territory” acquired (not “all” territory nor identical territory) in exchange for a comprehensive peace. Israel responded in the affirmative and sought to negotiate treaties. The Arab League responded with its infamous“3 No’s” — no negotiations, no recognition, no peace.

Nevertheless, Israel remained in pursuit of trading “Land for Peace.”


A breakthrough occurred 10 years later. In 1977 Egyptian President Anwar Sadat paid a surprise visit to the Knesset, shattering the wall of distrust. He partnered with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and concluded a peace treaty two years later. Israel withdrew from 100 percent of the Sinai, three-quarters of all the land Israel had  acquired in June 1967.


A second milestone took place in the mid-1990s. Under the diplomatic cover provided by the Oslo Peace Process, King Hussein accepted a peace treaty with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Once again Israel relinquished disputed border territory (11.5 square miles) claimed by a neighbor in exchange for peace,  an “end of all Jordanian claims” against the Jewish State.


On the Syrian front, President Bill Clinton’s negotiating team brought peace within reach. In his memoir, the United States’ lead negotiator, Dennis Ross, affirmed that Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to relinquish all Golan Heights territory taken in 1967. Ross assumed that a peace agreement was imminent. To his dismay, Ross recollected that, “[Syrian President] Assad was dismissive [of Barak’s proposal] — and for the first time in the history of the process, Assad stated that [in addition to the Golan Heights] ‘the [Sea of Galilee] has always been our lake; it was never theirs.’” Once Assad demanded that Syria be given a portion of the Sea of Galilee, negotiations collapsed.


In 2005, encouraged by promises of support from President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon authorized a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. He uprooted 8,000-plus Israeli settlers and withstood vociferous opposition by the Religious Zionist camp. President Bush’s argument was two-fold: presented with a territory and an economy to administer, the Gazans would moderate their behavior. Bush also assumed that a magnanimous Israeli gesture would evoke sustainable good will throughout the world. Regrettably, initial good will rapidly dissipated. Gaza became more hostile than ever.


As for the West Bank, back-channel Oslo negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in 1992 led to eight years of diplomacy. Israel accepted the parameters of the final 2000 Clinton Plan for Peace. Yasser Arafat did not. Arafat refused to surrender his demand that millions of Palestinian refugees be resettled inside pre-1967 Israel. As President Clinton reflected in his memoir, “Arafat never said no [to peace]; he just couldn’t bring himself to say yes.”

The Israeli effort to diplomatically resolve the dispute resurfaced in 2008. Condoleezza Rice’s memoir confirms that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas rejected Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s bold territorial proposed concessions. These recommendations were even more generous to the Arab side than the Clinton Plan had been. Rice was amazed by how far the Israeli leader was willing to go. Olmert was prepared to give up nearly the entire West Bank, with equivalent land swaps, and to divide Jerusalem, internationalizing the “Holy Basin” in the Old City. Rice brought Olmert’s proposal to Abbas in Ramallah. Unfortunately, Abbas rejected it. He told Rice that the PA could not agree to a deal that prevented nearly four million Palestinians from being able to “go home” into pre-1967 Israel.

Diplomatic efforts resumed in earnest in March 2014. Secretary of State John Kerry formulated a “memorandum of agreement” outlining US parameters of a final peace [quite similar to his speech of December 28, 2016]. In early 2015, while campaigning for election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dovish electoral rival, Tzipi Livni, chair of the Israeli negotiating team of 2014, offered her assessment to journalist Roger Cohen. While she “acknowledged that dealing with Netanyahu on the talks had always been difficult,” Cohen wrote, “from her [Livni’s] perspective, the Palestinians caused the failure at a critical moment. On March 17, [2014], in a meeting in Washington, President Obama presented Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, with a long-awaited American framework for an agreement that set out the administration’s views on major issues, including borders, security, settlements, Palestinian refugees, and Jerusalem. [On behalf of Israel] Livni considered it a fair framework. Netanyahu had indicated willingness to proceed on the basis of it while saying he had reservations. But Abbas declined to give an answer in what his senior negotiator, Saeb Erekat, later described as a ‘difficult’ meeting with Obama. Abbas remained evasive on the Kerry framework, which was never made public.” To this day, Abbas’ reply has not been received.


The past 50 years have witnessed Israeli complete withdrawal from the Sinai, from border areas near Jordan and from all of Gaza, as well as Israeli agreements to viable peace proposals for the West Bank and for the Golan Heights. Like the rest of the world, the majority of Israelis are troubled that a comprehensive diplomatic solution remains elusive.

Secretary Kerry — blame for the decades of diplomatic stalemate ought not to be placed upon the Jewish state alone. At numerous points in time, Israel has been the proactive partner, awaiting reciprocity from Palestinian leadership. Peace requires both parties to agree to direct negotiations and to a spirit of compromise. The goal remains the forming of two states for two people, one Palestinian and one Jewish, living side-by-side in peace and security. One-sided US chastising of Israel encourages Palestinian intransigence and reduces the likelihood of a worthy outcome.

About the Author
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD, was religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ, for more than four decades, retiring in 2021. He served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis (1993-95); as president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues (2000-05); and as chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel (2010-14). He currently serves as president of Mercaz Olami, representing the world Masorti/Conservative movement. He is the author of “It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Interdating,” “Preserving Jewishness in Your Family: After Intermarriage Has Occurred,” and “Alternatives to Assimilation: The Response of Reform Judaism to American Culture, 1840-1930.”