Monday, January 2, 2017

Israeli Settlements Are Not an Obstacle to Peace in the Middle East

Israel has gone through a couple of rough weeks when it comes to the international community chiding Israeli policy. First, the United Nations adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which calls Israeli settlements a flagrant violation of international law. I find the Resolution to be more problematic because it berates Israel for "occupying" East Jerusalem, which includes the Jewish Quarter, the Temple Mount, and the Western Wall. The presence of Jews in Jerusalem and the influence of Jerusalem on Judaism predates Islam. Saying that the Jewish people have no connection to Jerusalem is as inaccurate as it is asinine. I wouldn't expect anything less from an organization that inaccurately and disproportionately maligns Israel while turning a blind eye to the travesty in Aleppo. The fact that the United States abstained, instead of asserting its veto power, has been criticized as another example of Obama being anti-Israel. I'm just glad that under the Pacific Settlement of Disputes, UN Resolution 2334 is merely a recommendation and not actually binding international law. UN Resolution 2334 also does not replace UN Resolution 232, which is quite frankly a relief, although it attempts to modify it.

It gets even better when a few days later, Secretary of State John Kerry goes on for 45 minutes about how Israeli settlements are an obstacle to peace while barely mentioning any culpability of the Palestinians, as if they have been angels all this time. How about we go into why John Kerry is dead wrong in his assertion that Israeli settlements are an obstacle to peace between Israel and Palestine?

  • The issue with settlements dates back to 1967. Not only are settlements predated by the Six-Day War of 1967, but also the War for Israeli Independence. Arab leadership had been trying to destroy the Jewish state before the first settlement was even built. Let's not forget that when Jews were forbidden to live in the West Bank from 1949 to 1967 (i.e., there were no settlements), Arab leadership refused to make peace with Israel.  
  • As I have explained before, the West Bank is not occupied territory, but is a disputed territory. Given that Jordan never had legal title of the West Bank from 1949 to 1967 (i.e., Jordan was illegally occupying the West Bank, and whose illegal occupation was formally recognized by Pakistan) and was not legally considered the sovereign at the time, this means that Article 49 of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits the forcible transfer of people from one state to another, does not apply due to Article 2 of the Geneva Convention not applying to Jordan. Even UN Resolution 242 does not stipulate the extent of Israeli withdrawal from the disputed territories, which once again means that Israel is not obligated to completely withdraw. Per UN Resolutions 242 and 338, until meaningful peace can be achieved and terrorism ceases, there is no legal basis to bar Jewish settlers from being in the West Bank. 
  • Palestinian leaders such as Yasser Arafat were able to get to the negotiating table even when settlements were being constructed. Arafat didn't ask for settlements to be halted as a pre-condition for the peace process. As a matter of fact, Arafat signed the Oslo Peace Accord even when settlements in the West Bank were on the rise. There was even a time at the beginning of his term when Mahmoud Abbas participated in peace talks without demanding a settlement freeze. Using the precondition of a settlement freeze really only became prevalent under the Obama administration, and even when there was a settlement freeze in 2009-10, Abbas still refused to negotiate peace. 
  • Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, which included removing 8,500 settlers who were previously living in Gaza. You know what that got Israel? Being bombarded with rockets and having to deal with more bloodshed. If settlements were an issue, wouldn't there be peace between Israel and Gaza right now instead of ongoing conflict? Given the vulnerability that Israel would face from withdrawing from West Bank and risking a two-front war, I hardly blame Israel here.
    • In addition to the Israel showing its willingness to relinquish settlements for peace (e.g., 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and the withdrawal from Sinai in 1982), there are examples of Israeli Supreme Court ruling against settlements that were constructed illegally, including MigronAmona, and Netiv Ha'avot.
  • Israel has been able to absorb 1.7 million Arabs into its country of 8.5 million. Aside from the settlers only occupying about 2 percent of the West Bank, there are nearly 350,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which has a total population of 2.7 million. Israel can handle twenty percent of its population being Arabic, but the West Bank is so incapable of handling the reality that 12 percent of its population is Jewish that the only response is to kick all the settlers out? That's called ethnic cleansing, and the fact that the Palestinians want the West Bank to be Judenrein (that's German for "clean of Jews") is absolutely telling about how the Palestinian government feels about Jews. And you know that if the Israeli government were to hypothetically expel its Arab citizens, the international community would have an absolute fit and call it racism, but somehow, the Palestinian Authority gets international sanction. 
    • Looking back at most of the Israeli-Palestinian treaties, the borders would have been drawn up in such a way where about 75-80 percent of the settlement population would have been incorporated into Israel. 



While it is evident that the Israeli settlements are politically contentious, it is equally evident that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace, let alone the main obstacle. If you are looking for some barriers, here are some of the bigger problems facing the peace process: the Palestinian education system that demonizes Jews, a Palestinian government that funds terrorists to attack Israelis, or how about a Palestinian government that cannot even recognize the existence of a Jewish state? A two-state solution only works if both sides are committed to a two-state solution, and based on this fixation on settlements, we know that the Palestinian government is not ready for peace.

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