Here is the quintessential news story about the ‘daylight’ appearing between the US and Israel. I wrote it myself, but it is based on what I hear on NPR and read in dispatches from wire services like AP. It has been appearing in the pages of my local newspaper in some form or other every day for a week.
The US sharply criticized Israel today for building housing for Jewish settlers in a part of Jerusalem that Palestinians want for the capital of their future state. Officials said that this action was interfering with the start of US-mediated ‘proximity talks’ between Israel and the Palestinians, who refuse to come to the table unless all such construction is stopped. “We are absolutely, firmly, unshakably, immovably committed to Israel’s security,” said a spokesperson, “but these actions expose daylight between the US and Israel which may be exploited by extremists who don’t want to see a solution of the conflict.”
There are variations, of course, depending on the source. The BBC, for example, will always add the phrase “which are illegal under international law” after every mention of ‘settlements’. Left-wing sources will say that Israel is building on ‘Palestinian land’. But the milder formulation is bad enough. It suggests that Israeli intransigence is preventing talks.
Some background: Israel did not take Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem from the Palestinians in 1967. They were occupied by Jordan. Indeed, the Jordanian occupation violated UN GA Resolution 181 of 1947 which said that Judea and Samaria would become part of a Palestinian Arab state and UN GA Resolution 303 of 1949, which called for Jerusalem to be independent, a corpus separatum under international control.
Later, UN SC Resolution 242 called for “secure and recognized” borders to be determined in the context of a peace settlement between Israel and the other belligerents of 1967 but definitely didn’t canonize the 1949 lines. Since then there have been other resolutions and understandings, up to UN SC Resolution 1515 of 2003, which reaffirms 242 and endorses the Road Map. The US position today reflects this: final borders will be determined by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel has been building in Jerusalem since 1967, and annexed all of Jerusalem in 1980. Nevertheless, various Israeli governments have indicated that they would consider ceding some Arab neighborhoods in the context of a peace settlement. But no Israeli leader has ever countenanced the re-division of Jerusalem by the 1949 lines, which would recreate the conditions of 1948 – 67 during which Jews did not have access to the holy places.
Borders will be determined if and when there is a peace agreement which includes “termination of all claims or states of belligerency” in the language of 242. Land that “the Palestinians want” is exactly that and has no special status. Palestinians claim that anything that was occupied by Jordan from 1948 – 67 is theirs, but in fact the Israeli occupation, which was a result of a war of aggression waged against Israel, is legitimate while the Jordanian one was not!
There is no legal significance to the 1949 lines. Of course there are areas that are more and less likely to remain part of Israel in a two-state partition (there are also parts of Israel that could become part of ‘Palestine’). The US — until recently, it seems — understood that the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem near the Green Line would end up in Israel, and therefore did not object to building there.
The ‘daylight’ between Israel and the US has been introduced not by Israel, but by the US, which has apparently decided to accept the absurd Palestinian position that the illegal Jordanian occupation conferred legitimacy on the 1949 lines. And indeed, this ‘daylight’ has encouraged those who do not wish to negotiate — like Mahmoud Abbas!
Here is how PM Netanyahu put it in his remarks at the AIPAC convention yesterday:
Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.
In Jerusalem, my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building in them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.
Possibly US policymakers should ask themselves this: if the present situation is so bad for the Palestinians, why are they insisting on new preconditions which prevent negotiations?
More to the point, why does the US enable them?