Clarifications needed as West Bank, settlement issues
JERUSALEM — Thank you Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It is comforting to learn from you that there will be “retaliation” if Iran carries out a nuclear strike against Israel.
As one of the potential victims, along with all the other people who live and work in Israel — Jews, Arabs, Chinese contract workers, Franciscan friars et al — my concerns have been alleviated.
She did not say who will “retaliate,” but what difference does that make? The main thing is that the Iranians will be punished.
Of course, the Israelis can help prevent this horrifying scenario by freezing all construction work in the Jewish settlements they build (against the international consensus) during the past four decades. That is what President Obama wants and his secretary of state wants.
The record ought to be set straight about these controversial communities, whose existence has been cited by the Palestinian Authority, as a major obstacle to the otherwise rosy prospect of peace with Israel.
When I followed the Israeli forces into the West Bank as a foreign correspondent during the Six-Day War that began June 5, 1967, and saw them clear the area of the Jordanian troops who had seized it 19 years beforehand, I hoped Israel’s government would create a modus vivendi with its Arab population.
These hopes were dashed, however, when militant religious Zionists encouraged by Israel’s political leaders, launched a movement dubbed “Gush Emunim” (the bloc of the faithful) whose purpose was to encourage young Jewish families to settle in what they preferred to call by the biblical names, Judea and Samaria — also bearing in mind that the West Bank, which became annexed to the kingdom’s East Bank of the Jordan River by the reigning Hashemite dynasty in 1950. They knew that only two countries had recognized that annexation: Great Britain and Pakistan.
There was one major flaw in the Israeli project, however. It violated the Geneva Convention of 1949, an international compact whose purpose was to prevent a repetition of wartime Nazi Germany’s policy of moving Germans into regions, which were conquered by their army, among them, Poland. The humanitarian compact inveighed against a “protecting power” unilaterally and arbitrarily altering the social, economic or demographic composition of territory under military occupation.
Israel insisted, however, that the West Bank could not be defined as occupied territory because it was part of pre-1948 Palestine, a land that had been earmarked by the League of Nations as a Jewish home, hence, the Israelis said, the Geneva Convention of 1949 was not applicable.
What followed was one of the most successful Zionist endeavors ever: the establishment of several hundred new settlements with a population of 300,000 Israelis.
However, successive U.S. administrations were unhappy about these projects, especially after the Oslo Accords of 1993 set the stage for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and spawned the Palestinian Authority as its embryonic government.
Had Israel annexed the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the 1967 war, as the late Chaim Herzog, its first military governor, suggested, this process might never have begun. Ironically, though, Israel’s religious parties did not want annexation for fear that it would incorporate too many non-Jews into Israel’s body politic thereby undermining its self-declared role as a Jewish state.
The settlers’ current insistence on building more homes, schools, clinics and other communal facilities within their respective perimeters has become a major bone of contention between Israel and the Obama administration. The president and secretary of state reject the Israeli argument that allowance must be made for “natural growth.” When this issue came up five years ago, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked the Americans rhetorically: “Do you want pregnant women to abort because there is no room for newborn babies?”
This unfortunate U.S.-Israeli quarrel has re-emerged in a new and even more disturbing context: President Obama’s assertion that the so-called “two-state solution” and the establishment of a Palestinian state it entails is “in the Palestinians’, Israelis’ and Americans’ interest.” The Israeli interest is debatable, but he has yet to explain exactly what that interest is.
And the secretary of state has yet to explain how a ban on construction for natural growth will enable the United States to neutralize the dangers posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.)