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Thursday, 22 September 2011

Noise about the Jewish/Israeli settlements

For a start, Jews have lived in Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - since ancient times.
Muslim Arabs first appeared in this area only in the 7th century AD. However, there was one short period in which there were no Jews in the West Bank. That was when Jordan ruled - or ‘occupied’ - the area from 1948 right up until the 1967 conflict, when Israel acquired the land as a result of a defensive war.

When Jordan ruled the West Bank, it went one step beyond an ‘apartheid state’ by simply prohibiting all Jews from living there entirely. This was an act of Muslim or Arab racism. Jordan wanted the West Bank to be Judenrein (‘free of Jews’), just as very many Palestinians today want the whole area of Palestine, as well as Israel itself, to be Judenrein.

So when Jews settled, or ‘occupied’, parts of the West Bank and Gaza (in recent history), many of them were simply moving back to places in which they, or their ancestors, had already lived. The real ‘usurpers’, or ‘colonialists’, then, were Jordan and Egypt. The West Bank and Gaza never legally belonged to Jordan and Egypt, even though they occupied these areas from 1948 to 1967 without much - or any! - fuss being made by either the United Nations (UN) or by any other international organisation.

As I said, Jews were banned from the West Bank between 1948 and 1967. However, they had not only lived in these areas previously, but in 1967 the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Israel as a result of the 1967 war. Legally, it was just and proper that a non-aggressor state, which acquired land in a defensive war, was legally entitled to that land which was subsequently used as a ‘protective buffer’ between Israel and the former aggressors (Egypt and Jordan).Legally, then, Resolution 242 gave Israel the legal right to be in the West Bank.
Moreover, it also has the right to stay put, at least ‘until a just a lasting peace in the Middle East was achieved’. In other words, Israel could require, or demand, as a condition for any withdrawal of settlers, security measures which would help protect Israeli citizens and civilians. (Gaza became Judenrein, except on its borders, in 2005.)

In addition to all that, we hear a lot about the Palestinians’ ‘right of return’. We hear a lot less about the Israeli settlers’ ‘right to remain’. This right was demanded by those settlers who had already lived in the West Bank and Gaza for a long time (bar the racist Jordanian occupation of 1949-1967). Let’s remember, however, that not all settlements were post-1967 - or even post-1948. Some of the settlements go back to the 1920s and 1930s. After 1948, of course, these areas were overrun by Palestinians and many Jews were killed as a consequence of that.

2% Settlement Space

The mind-boggling fact is that despite all the noise about the settlements, and, indeed, the violence, settlement areas only account for around 2% of the West Bank. Not only that. Around 80% of settlers actually live in the suburbs of the big Israeli cities, such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Again, the settlements account for around 2% of the West Bank. Despite that, Palestinian Muslims want all these areas to be completely Judenrein. This is either incredibly racist on the part of Palestinians or Judeophobic (take your pick - perhaps both). Could you imagine a Jewish or a Christian Western state (say, the UK) making itself, or part of itself (say, Islington), Muslimrein or Arabrein? It would be virtually impossible. The outcry from the Left and from liberals would be cacophonous. Yet this is what the Palestinians, and all their Western groupies, want not only in the West Bank, but also in the entire area - including Israel itself!

The truth is that Israel, as a matter of policy, does not take over private land for the creation of settlements. This means that no Palestinian private rights are overridden.

More importantly, no Arabs are displaced in the territories. This is the case because many, or most, of the settlements have been built near, but not in, Arab towns. No Palestinians have been forced to leave their homes.

In any case, most settlement-building occurs in areas which the Palestinians already accept will remain part of Israel in any future agreement.

So bearing in mind all these facts and situations, it is surprising how much noise there is about the settlements. It is not just the Palestinians, of course, who protest too much. International agencies have also got in on the act. For example, Rene Kosimik, of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in hyperbolic mood, said (in 2001):

‘The installation of a population of the occupying power in occupied territory is considered an illegal move, it is a grave breach. In principle it is a war crime.’

Not surprisingly, the ICRC very quickly distanced itself from Kosimik’s melodramatic statement.
The Peace Process

But what of the settlements and their affect on the ‘peace process’? It is said, depending on the time of day, that the settlements are an obstacle to peace, just as ‘the right of return’ is; as well as the ‘wall’ and the ‘blockade’. Indeed, Israel’s’s very existence is seen, by many, to be an ‘obstacle to peace’.

So let’s unpack this a little.

Between 1949 and 1967, the West Bank was Judenrein. There was no peace.

In addition, the Israelis have often offered to freeze the creation of settlements or actually end their creation (as in Gaza) entirely in return for peace. This has never worked. In 1978, for example, the Israeli state froze settlement-building for three months hoping to get a good response from Palestinians and others. This didn’t help the peace process.

From 1967 to 1977 the Israelis established only a handful of defensive settlements in the territories. This still didn’t prompt the Arabs to contemplate a more peaceful solution to the problems in the Middle East.

In 2000, Prime Minister Barak offered to dismantle dozens of settlements. Yes, you guessed it. The Palestinians still refused to end the conflict.

I have just talked about settlement-freezing, and even the ending of settlement-building, not contributing one iota to peace. Now look at it from the other side. Between 1992 and 1996, the Jewish population in the territories grew by around 50%. However, this process didn’t stop the Palestinians from signing the Oslo accords in September 1993 or the Oslo 2 agreement in September 1995.

A poll of 2003 showed that a large number of Jewish settlers would be willing to abandon their homes if the Palestinians agreed to peace. The much-hated Ariel Sharon carried on in this manner. In April 2003, he said that Israel would be willing to make what he called ‘painful concessions’ vis-a-vis the settlements in return for peace with the Palestinians. He continued:

I know that we will have to part with some of these places. As a Jew this agonises me. But I have decided to make every effort to reach a settlement.’


So, despite everything that’s been said, I believe that the settlements simply provide Palestinians, and their Western enablers and groupies, with yet another excuse not to make peace with Israel.

If it were not the settlements it would be ‘the right of return’.
If it were not the right of return, it would be the ‘wall’.
If it were not the wall it would be the ‘blockade’.
And on and on until we get to the crux of the problem.
If if were not for ... it would be Israel’s very existence which blocked the peace process.

The Palestinians cannot make peace with a state they believe to be illegitimate and which, basically, they want to destroy. As it is often said, many Palestinians are far more angered by the existence of a ‘Jewish’ or ‘Zionist' state in their midst, than they are desirous of a state of their own. That is why Hamas, for one, is not keen at all on the Palestinian desire for statehood. After all, if the Palestinians were allowed to form a legitimate state, that would effectively be seen as a tacit acceptance of Israel’s very existence. And that would be anathema to Hamas, as it would be to the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and beyond.

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