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Obama, Israeli settlements, Netanyahu « Previous | |Next »
June 14, 2009

Mathew Yglesias at American Prospect makes a good point with respect to American policy towards Israel's settlement expansion in Palestinian territory:

Every American president for decades has officially said that the United States is opposed to the construction of Israeli "settlements" in occupied Palestinian land. But such opposition has almost always come with wink-and-nod approval of continued settlement activity. Thus, even at the height of the Oslo Accords and the peace process and even under the governance of center-left Labor prime ministers, settlements continued to expand with little public criticism from the United States.

Obama has made the settlements an issue. He wants them to stop whilst hawks want them to keep plugging along. Gershom Gorenberg observed in an earlier issue of American Prospect that:
Settlements were established as part of a deliberate and controversial gambit, an attempt to lock Israel into keeping the occupied territories......Netanyahu and his partners don't want any of this to stop. They want settlements to keep growing, in order to block an Israeli withdrawal and a two-state solution.

The Israeli right (including the pro-Israel lobby in the US) stands for the continual expansion of settlements and no surrender of territory. An expansive Zionism calls on Jews to “redeem” the Biblical Land of Israel by settling on West Bank land. The settlements existence undercuts prospects for a two-state solution because the physical space they occupy makes a mockery of the physical integrity of any Palestinian state.

The Israeli Right have no intention of dismantling Israel's infrastructure of occupation and ceasing its control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Settlement construction, with the Israeli government has encouraged growth through planning, state-initiated projects, and subsidies, is political because construction is aimed at preempting the negotiations.

Making the settlements an issue undercuts the way that Palestinians have usually entered the Australian conversation on the conflict through the prism of the Israeli narrative that represents them as a threat to Israel, thereby and opening up a space for the marginalized Palestinian narrative.

In his speech at Bar-Ilan University Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attempted to narrow a rift between Israel and its closest ally. Until now he has been adamant that a settlement freeze is unfeasible and that he would concentrate on strengthening the Palestinian economy, rather than agreeing to their statehood. He says that Israel can agree to support for the concept of a Palestinian state but without defining its borders; the demand for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; demilitarization to will prevent rockets raining down on Tel Aviv and nearby Ben-Gurion Airport; and a positive, if not overly passionate, attitude toward the settlements and their residents. He also said that Jerusalem must remain the unified capital of Israel.

He added that Israel would not build any new settlements and would refrain from expanding existing Israeli communities in the West Bank. Still, Netanyahu said the government must be allowed to accommodate natural growth in these settlements. On the other hand, his demand from the Palestinian Authority to annihilate Hamas in Gaza; his insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state; and the stipulation that all Palestinian refugees be given asylum outside Israel's borders.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:08 AM | | Comments (8)


While we disagree on most of what you have written, may I suggest a correction to you regarding this: "An expansive Zionism calls on Jews to “redeem” the Biblical Land of Israel by settling on West Bank land"

As the "West Bank" came into usage only in 1950 when the Jordanain monarchy decided to rename its administrative districts, and since UN Resolution 181 of 1947 referred to "Judea and Samaria', I think it would be proper either to use the terms "Judea and Samaria" or the "disputed territories". The usage of West Bank is incorrect even if you believe Jews should not reside there.

On the other hand, since I have you, consider another issue, Geneve VConvention 1949 which is used to declare my community "illegal".

a) Jews lived in Judea and Samaria for centuries and were ethnically cleansed from those areas under the British Mandate when successive riots (1920; 1921; 1929; 1936-39) and a full-scale aggressive war (1947-48) was launched by local Arabs. Cities such as Nables, Gaza, Jenin, Hebron and villages such as Kfar Etzion, Revadim, Atarot, Neveh Yaakov and Bet Haaravah as well as the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem were emptied out of their Jewish residents.
b) In other words, basically, the Geneva Convention supports the Jewish claim that Jews belong in Judea and Samaria and Gaza for two reasons.
c) the first are the international community's decisions in San Remo in 1920 and the Mandate decision of the Supreme Council of the League of Nations in 1922-23 to reconstitute the Jewish national home. that was the international law at the time.

d) the second is that in acting against these decisions as well as rejecting the 1947 UN Partition Resolution, the Arabs of the Palestine Mandate surrendered any claims to seek protection under the 1949 Geneva Convention.

And one more point:

Let's start calling all Arab residential locations in Israel "settlements".

And we say: what goes down for the Jews in Judea & Samaria, goes for the Arabs of Israel. After all if Jews can't live among Arabs in their state, why should Arabs be permitted the same in a Jewish state. Or is only an Arab state allowed to act that inhuman and immoral fashion? Why should the original Mandate area intended to be the reconstituted Jewish national home evolve into three states, two (Jordan & "Palestine") Arab with no Jews and one Jewish state but with a 20% Arab minority? Fair?

It isn't fair, of course. But life isn't fair in general. Worse, though, is the opposition to my proposed idea is the concept that, in truth, all this area does "belong" to the Arabs and we Jews/Zionists sneaked in and set up a state as colonialists. We were lucky even to get recognition in 1947, two years after the Holocaust, to borders which represented a third partition of our homeland whereas in 1917, all of Jordan and Israel and the disputed territories, and even a portion of southern Lebanon according to the Versailles 1919 Peace Conference, should have been Jewish land.

Yisrael--words are important in this debate so I accept that from the Zionist perspective the names Judea and Samaria" are more appropriate for a Zionist discourse. The term "disputed territories" would be problematic from the perspective of the Palestinian perspective given that this land was and is seen by them as their homeland.

I'n using West Bank, Gaza, I'm following Obama---his Cairo speech, refers to Palestinian people's pursuit of a homeland, their enduring the pain of dislocation, and explicitly refers to the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands. This is the standard diplomatic terminology of the international community.

the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation state was not in dispute in the above post. The post can in no way be interpreted as questioning the legitimacy of the Israeli nation-state. Nor would I do so, even though I have many reservations about the policies of the Likud Party and the actions of the previous and current Netanyahu Government.

The tacit argument is that the Palestinian people also require a sovereign nation-state. The explicit argument was that expansory settlements act to prevent a sovereign Palestinian nation state, and that such expansions was explicitly supported by the Israeli state. My inference is that the Jewish state controlled by right wing political forces is opposed to the formation of a Palestinian nation-state. Am I misreading right wing Zionist nationalism in this?

The implication of that inference is that Obama's Cairo speech means that the Netanyahu Government has come to a fork in the road---it must make a decision to say yes or no to halting settlements and accepting a two-state solution. Stopping Iranian nuclearization is a separate issue.

I fully expect Netanyahu to voice solutions that change nothing on the ground----it will be a continuation of the old game, thereby opening up a rift between the US and Israel.

Netanyahu's conditions were strict. He said the Palestinians could not form an army or sign military agreements with any other state. He mentioned a Palestinian state only once and at other times talked only of areas under Palestinian control, saying the Palestinians could have their own "flag, anthem and administration".

broadening the discusson a bit from the reference to Iran---it does seem as if that something resembling a coup d'état has been attempted in Tehran on behalf of Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and official head of state, and re-elected President Ahmedinejad. It does look as if the security forces will act to preserve control by the cpnservative clerics by using ever more violent means to quash the demonstrations against the fraudulent (alleged vote-rigging) elections.

Netanyahu's demand in his speech that Palestinians recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people didn't even leave him an opening for forging reconciliation with the Arab citizens within Israel.

In Netanyahu's portrayal of Middle East history, Israelis are blameless victims and Arabs are nothing but untrustworthy and vengeful adversaries. There was no mention of the Arab League peace initiative and no hint that maybe, just maybe, Israel’s policies of reprisal, targeted assassinations, and territorial expansion after 1967 had also contributed to this tragic conflict.

They accept the idea of two states but try to torpedo it with conditions that render it ridiculous. That is what Netanyahu did when he said in his address that he was ready to begin peace negotiations immediately without preconditions: He demanded Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish people's national home, agreement to a demilitarized Palestinian state, removing the refugee issue from the agenda, and maintaining united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty - before starting negotiations.

Once the Palestinians agree to have no army, no control of their air space, and to forever forswear military treaties -- then Israel "will agree to a real peace agreement."

So Israel's strategy is to try to drag things out as long as possible re the two-state solution.

Israeli insistence upon ruling over an Arab population that will eventually become a majority within the country's borders can only lead to a single authoritarian state encompassing two mutually hostile nations: one dominant, the other subservient.

With what outcome? Herzl's dream of a "normal" Jewish country is becoming an exclusivist sectarian nightmare that is glossed over by saying that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.