Israeli Settlements and Peace
Good news. Bad news.
The US has declared that settlements in the West Bank are not illegal according to international law, despite nearly everyone else claiming they are. “After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters, “The United States has concluded that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law. Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t worked. It hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.”
I have always been against the occupation. As the late Professor Yeshaya Leibovitz said: “It destroys a nation’s soul.” But I saw no alternative when there was no leader willing to make the compromises necessary, and where Israel’s security was under constant threat.
Israel did indeed make peace with Jordan and Egypt. But the status of the West Bank was left in limbo. Legally, its status is debatable. Who did it belong to? The Ottomans, the British, the Jordanians? Such things must be agreed officially, not unilaterally. But there has been no agreement. No decision on borders or whose land belongs to whom.
In this vacuum, propaganda and lies became tools of war. If you tell a lie often enough, people come to believe it. The lies much of the world has been telling or accepting as fact were that settlements beyond the Green Line were illegal under international law. These were adopted as truth, and reiterated by President Obama in the UN just before he left the White House.
The Green Line was a ceasefire agreement after the War of Independence, not a peace treaty. It was a temporary agreement, and it remains so to this day. In 1967, the Arab states went to war against Israel again. Later, Jordan ceded its claim to the West Bank to the PLO. The PLO refused to make peace and resorted to violence. In 1993, it agreed to the Oslo Accords and rejected violence. In return, Israel recognized the PLO. But since 1993 the PLO has officially encouraged hatred and has suspended its recognition of Israel.
One of the most widespread claims against Israel is that settlements are an impediment to peace and are illegal. Israel has always argued that the fate of the settlements should be settled by negotiations. Up to now, many have said they were illegal. And yet for all that support for the PLO, peace negotiations have stalled.
One of the Palestinian conditions is that all settlements should be removed from their claimed territory. Given that there are Palestinians living freely within the Jewish state, to refuse to have any Jews living in a Palestinian state is a clear example of the very racism they like to accuse Israel of. Israel has always said that in a peace treaty, Jews should be able to decide if they want to stay in the West Bank under Palestinian rule.
Since 1948, the United Nations has consistently lied and defamed Israel; partly it is because there is a powerful Muslim bloc of votes. Europe too has singled Israel out for obloquy, possibly because of a guilty conscience on its part over their cooperation or refusal to help the Jews under the Nazis. Guilt does bad things to people. They often come to resent being made to feel guilty. They turn on the very people they wronged. And they accept the false narrative that Jews never had a right to return to their homeland, and that the Holocaust was an excuse for a colonial invasion.
For these reasons, the UN passed a declaration that Zionism was racism in 1975. It also maliciously picked on Israel and the Jews over every other state in the world. It was only thanks to the US, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan specifically, that the disgraceful motion was revoked in 1991.
All legal systems are open to interpretation and debate. Up to now, the world has accepted the Palestinian narrative that the settlements are illegal, even though there is no universally accepted definition of legality on the issue. Yet recently the EU has declared the settlements illegal and demanded that all products sent to Europe from them should be labeled as such. Notice they have said no such thing of Chinese products coming from occupied Tibet, or Russian products from Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.
It is often said, even in some Jewish circles, that President Trump’s concessions to Israel are an obstacle to peace. But peace has been beyond reach for 70 years. Appeasement has not worked before and it won’t work again. If I thought there was a chance of it working, I would immediately recant.
Israel lives under constant tension, fear of violence, and warfare, which inevitably affects the mood of its people. Israel will never give up. It continues to pour money and talent into being constructive instead of destructive. And many in the Arab world now realize that cooperation with Israel is in their best interest, too. Diaspora Jewry is also suffering from constant pressure, lies, and even violence, as well as the concerted international effort to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. And everywhere, antisemitism is on the rise.
So this is good news. I am delighted that Mike Pompeo has made this latest declaration of US policy. But here is the bad news. As I said, occupation is de-humanizing. Israel has wasted the opportunities after 1967 to be more creative and supportive of the Palestinians. There is too much arrogance and aggression towards them in Israeli society. I believe this is morally dangerous and counterproductive. Even if I understand full well that living under constant threat of death is enough to harden the softest of hearts, preaching hate on either side is corrosive.
This new development has emboldened the extreme right in Israel, who see no problem in annexing and then denying Palestinians citizenship and voting rights — because they know full well if they do concede, Israel might be a democracy, but not a Jewish one. And most Palestinians now would vote for Hamas.
Things could be dramatically improved if only Hamas and the PLO would use their energies and financial support to create a positive dynamic world of their own instead of breeding and encouraging hatred. Israelis are not inherently cleverer or better. It is the culture of hatred that is getting in the way of improving the Palestinian lot. There are so many Israelis and Palestinians who yearn for peace and work for peace and better relations. We must support and encourage them. And pray that our politicians who are so busy fighting against themselves will come to realize that there has to be another way of doing things.
We need Israel and Israel needs peace. For all our sakes.