Settlements are not the problem

Recently the NY Times published a letter written in reaction to a beyond-irrational attack on Israel for ‘pinkwashing’ (I discussed the original remarkably stupid op-ed here).

The letter took strong issue with the op-ed. It could positively be counted as ‘pro-Israel’. And yet, it contained this:

Israel, like any other democracy, has its flaws. Its settlement policy is destructive, the occupation of the West Bank is untenable and its government is furthering the country’s isolation and distancing it from its original vision of being a “light unto the nations.”

Similarly, when a conversation I was having with a relative recently turned to Israel, he — certainly a ‘pro-Israel’ person by any definition — agreed with me about the dangers facing the country from so many directions, but added something like “…those settlements have to stop. And Netanyau is too stubborn.”

I’ve also been told, “don’t talk about the settlements. It’s the hardest thing about Israel to defend.”

Of course it is true that “like any other democracy,” Israel has flaws. But these aren’t them. What is happening, I think, is that certain false propositions are being repeated over and over from every direction — the UN, Europe, the media, the Obama Administration, the Israeli Left — to the point that almost anybody can be excused for thinking that they are true.

Here are some of them:

  1. Israel is actively taking ‘Palestinian land’
  2. Israel is occupying ‘Palestinian land’
  3. The ‘West Bank’ (Judea and Samaria) is ‘Palestinian land’
  4. Settlement expansion makes peace talks impossible
  5. If all the settlements were removed, a peaceful Palestinian state could be created

Israel has not significantly expanded the boundaries of existing settlements or established new ones in years. But the Palestinians say, and the media repeat, that every new apartment built or planned inside a town outside the 1949 armistice line, even in an existing Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, constitutes ‘settlement expansion’, which ‘prevents the establishment of a viable Palestinian state’.

So even if you find acceptable the racist idea that ‘Palestine’ cannot contain Jewish villages the way Israel contains Arab ones, construction in existing settlements does not change existing facts on the ground.

Even if you think there is such a thing as ‘Palestinian land’ and it starts at the Green Line (I most assuredly do not), Israel is not taking it.

Even if you think settlements would need to be removed in order to have a peace agreement, there were peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority from 1993 to 2009 in the presence of settlements.

And even if you would devoutly wish to see a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel, there is no Palestinian leadership that presently exists or is on the horizon that wants this.

Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria, or Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, existed before 1948, when the Jordanians occupied those areas, forced the Jews out at gunpoint, and destroyed synagogues and yeshivot. In fact, there were Jews living in Kfar Darom in the Gaza strip before the War of Independence — they were expelled twice, once by the Egyptians in 1948  and then again in 2005 by their own army and police! (h/t EG).

Hevron, a town with great importance in Jewish history, had a flourishing Jewish community in 1929. Its Jewish inhabitants were killed or forced to flee in a vicious pogrom instigated by the Arab leadership. Some returned, only to be kicked out yet again by the Jordanians in 1948.

Did the conquest of these areas by the Jordanians and Egyptians, in a war of aggression — a war intended to wipe out the Jewish state — somehow render them Arab property where Jews are forbidden to live? Where did the supposed ‘right’ of the ‘Palestinian people’ (another concept that is less concrete than it appears) to the territories come from?

The right of Jews to settle anywhere in the Land of Israel was granted to them by the League of Nations at the same time that it created several Muslim Arab nations and a Christian one (Lebanon — it didn’t work out too well for the Christians) from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire. Since then, through several wars, there has been one principle that was accepted by all parties — that of UNSC resolutions 242/338 and restated in the Oslo agreement, the Road Map, etc. — that the permanent borders will be decided by negotiations between the parties.

Israel has been prepared — the supposedly ‘hard-line, right-wing, stubborn’ Netanyahu was actually the first Israeli Prime Minister to publicly say that Israel would agree to a sovereign Palestinian state in the territories — to negotiate such a settlement, to give up its rights in some of the territories in the interest of peace.

But the Palestinians have refused to talk without Israel first agreeing to demands about issues that would reasonably be the outcome of negotiations, not their precondition. The Palestinians have violated the principles of UNSC resolutions 242/338 and the Oslo agreements by unilaterally pursuing a state, and the PLO now claims to be in ‘complete agreement’ with the terrorist Hamas.

I am not sure exactly why the author of the letter quoted above thinks that “the [Israeli] occupation of the West Bank is untenable,” but what is the alternative? Turning over the high ground overlooking Israel’s population centers to hostile forces? Uprooting hundreds of thousands of people simply because they are Jews? Giving up all of the heartland of Jewish history?

It’s worth mentioning the systematic ambiguity of the word ‘occupation’ here. For Western liberals it means Jewish control of areas outside of the armistice lines. For Arabs, it means Jewish control of any land in the ‘Arab Middle East’.

Israel and the PLO are moving farther apart, not closer, and it is not because of settlements or because Netanyahu is stubborn. It is because the Arabs will accept only unconditional surrender (albeit piecemeal surrender). Only by Arab logic is it the case that the side that wins the wars is required to surrender!

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4 Responses to “Settlements are not the problem”

  1. NormanF says:

    You need to correct your unfortunate wording… which serves anti-Zionist/anti-Israel propaganda. The League Of Nations did NOT grant the Jews any rights as you wrote. It would be more accurate to say it RECOGNIZED rights the Jews already had. No government or international institution can grant or take away rights. One either has them or one doesn’t. What the League could do and did – was to affirm a long standing Jewish right.

    Sloppy thinking like what you wrote down does not serve the Zionist or pro-Israel cause well.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    Unfortunately the ‘Occupation narrative’ is one which is automatically taken as correct in the Western media. ‘Judea and Samaria’ are two voodoo words for them, and are not a part of the vocabulary. The West Bank is automatically the ‘occupied West Bank’.
    We can’t even make a dent on the ‘occupied territories’ with ‘the disputed territories’ concept.

  3. Vic Rosenthal says:

    NormanF: in temporal international law, what I said is correct. It may be true that God originally gave the Jewish people title to the land of Israel, but this isn’t useful in an argument except with Jews and some Christians, any more than Hamas’ statement that ‘Palestine’ is an Islamic waqf is persuasive to non-Muslims.

    There is nothing wrong with religious Zionism and belief is a great motivator, but it is also possible to justify Zionism with completely secular arguments.

    Shalom: this is exactly the perception that we have to change. People who have never thought deeply about it and have gotten all their ideas from the media are often surprised when I explain that there wasn’t a ‘Palestine’ in 1948 that the Jews invaded!

  4. Robman says:

    Shalom, Shalom!

    Second Vic’s response to you. We have to start somewhere, reminding people that 2+2=4 after they’ve been brainwased for so long that 2+2=5.

    My only other reaction to the column above is this (besides that it is generally spot-on):

    Netanyahu is indeed stubborn. Good thing, too. We need more “stubborn” Israelis and supporters of Israel abroad.