From Ukraine to Afghanistan and beyond, occupations and exit dilemmas permeate contemporary geopolitics. However, the existing literature on territorial conflict rarely scrutinizes a pivotal, related question: what makes a state withdraw from an occupied territory, or entrench itself within it?

In Understanding Territorial Withdrawal, Rob Geist Pinfold addresses this research gap. He focuses primarily on Israel, a unique but important milieu that offers pertinent lessons for other states facing similar policy problems. As Pinfold demonstrates, occupiers choose to either perpetuate or abandon an occupation because of three factors: their relations with the occupied, interactions with third parties, and the occupier’s domestic politics. He argues that each withdrawal is the culmination of a gradual process of policy re-assessment. Critically, it is a combination of local violence and international pressure that causes popular and elite opinion within the occupier to endorse an exit, rather than perpetuate the status quo. To affirm this pattern, Pinfold constructs a generalizable framework for understanding territorial withdrawal. He then applies this framework to multiple case studies, which include: Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula between 1974-1982; its “unilateral” withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000; and its “unilateral disengagement” from the Gaza Strip in 2005, as well as Israel’s non-withdrawals from the West Bank and Golan Heights. Overall, Understanding Territorial Withdrawal delineates commonalities that manifested in each exit yet were absent in the cases of occupation without exit.

By analysing a central concern in the study of international security, territorial conflict, and the Arab-Israel conflict alike, Pinfold provides a critical intervention that identifies why occupiers either retain, or leave, occupied territory.


Dr Rob Geist Pinfold is a Lecturer in International Peace and Security at Durham University’s School of Government and International Affairs. Alongside his role at Durham, he is a Research Fellow at the Peace Research Center Prague and Kings College London’s Centre for Grand Strategy and is a Senior Fellow at Charles University’s Herzl Center for Israel Studies. Rob is a scholar of international security whose research intersects the study of strategy and territorial conflict. His work has been published in International Studies Perspectives, the Journal of Strategic StudiesStudies in Conflict and Terrorism and Mediterranean Politics. His full-length book manuscript, Understanding Territorial Withdrawal: Israeli Occupations and Exits, was published by Oxford University Press in 2023.

The Military History Working Group group brings together Cambridge-based scholars working on the history of war and the military to discuss each other’s work and approaches. Convened by Eamonn O’Keeffe, the National Army Museum Junior Research Fellow at Queens’ College, it is ecumenical in terms of chronology, discipline, and scope.

The group encourages papers and participation from students, early career researchers, and faculty members. Members of the public are also welcome; please write to Eamonn O’Keeffe ( to indicate your interest in attending.


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Ancient Geopolitics: Ancient law for modern politics