For 37 years Israel has consistently rejected the view of Palestinians and the rest of the world that the areas it militarily took in 1967 were occupied. When Israel was not using the biblical terms of Judea and Samaria (to refer to the West Bank) it used ‘administered territories’ or ‘disputed territories.’

That is until now. After the evacuation of the illegal Jewish settlers and before the resolution of the international crossings the Israelis want Palestinians to say the O word.

Despite Israel’s refusal to allow the reopening of Yasser Arafat International Airport in Gaza and the Rafah crossing point between Palestinian Gaza with Egypt, the Israelis want Palestinians to publicly proclaim that the occupation of Gaza is over. To be exact, some in the Israeli government (mostly those in the National Security Council) want this statement, while Israeli officials in the Foreign Ministry are simply interested in a Palestinian Authority statement that it and not Israel will be the party with overall responsibility for the Strip.

Israeli officials and columnists are surprised that Palestinians are not too enthusiastic about rushing to make a declaration they have been hoping for some time. They are looking for a clear statement that the PA is ready, willing and taking concrete steps to take full responsibility where the Israelis are vacating.

They repeatedly insist that Sharon, who himself publicly used the term ‘occupation’ a few months ago, wants to end all Israeli presence, including in the Rafah crossing. While a number of western leaders, including Europe’s Javier Solana, believe the Israeli position, Palestinians are not in a rush to make such a declaration.

THE OFFICIAL Palestinian reluctance is understandable so long as the airport and the land crossings (including security, customs and administrative responsibility) are not fully and permanently in Palestinian hands. Partial control means partial sovereignty, and therefore partial end of occupation. Occupation is like pregnancy. You can’t be half-pregnant.

If these two sovereign crossings were fully placed in Palestinian hands, Israel would have a stronger case that the PA needs to declare an end to occupation.

Despite this, I don’t see why the Palestinian leadership should make any one-sided declaration about the end of the occupation in Gaza until Israel makes a much simpler declaration. Israel should first admit that there was an occupation in Gaza, and that there is still an occupation in the West Bank.

While such an Israeli acknowledgment would be nothing more than a recognition of a reality that it has been literally occupying Palestinians since 1967, such an admission would have far-reaching consequences.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, which was devised specifically to deal with cases of prolonged occupation following the German occupation of most of Europe, defines the rights of persons and property in occupied territories. Israel, though claiming it voluntarily applies the Geneva Convention in some instances, has refused to recognize the Palestinian (as well as the Syrian) areas as occupied and therefore does not regard itself as required to grant all the rights entitled to people under occupation.

International humanitarian law (which the Geneva Convention is part of) specifies, for example, that the occupying power is not allowed to take citizens from occupied territories to its country. Nor is an occupier allowed to send its own citizens to live in occupied areas.