West Bank Construction Can Help Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, April 6, 2017

Ma’ale Adumim by David Mosberg, via Wikimedia Creative Commons

\BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 442, April 6, 2017

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The understandings reached between the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government, and approved by the Israeli Security Cabinet (despite some protests), show that a reasonable program of settlement construction is not the root of all evil in the region. In fact, a peace deal is more likely if space is given to the mainstream settler community. The new understandings overturn the language of UNSCR 2334 and the “purist” interpretation of “international legitimacy.” Such a return to the recognition of existing realities – which was granted in the exchange of letters between Bush and Sharon in April 2004 – would help all sides come closer to a realistic compromise.

The idea that a reasonable program of settlement construction (not the free-for-all some Israelis had hoped for) might be politically beneficial sounds counterintuitive, certainly in the minds of those who see the existing settlements as an obstacle to peace. But the view that a settlement halt is required for a peace deal to be achieved is short-sighted. It proceeds forwards from the present state, whereas a morally responsible policy should flow backwards from the desired end-state.

For many around the world, any construction activity whatsoever by Israelis beyond the so-called “Green Line” of 1967 (or, to use its proper name, the Armistice Line of 1949) is neither legal nor logical. UN Security Council Resolution 2334 asserted, with the active support of the Obama administration, that such construction is a breach of international law as well as an obstacle to peace. Those who agree, and who raised their hands or abstained at the Security Council, are wrong on both counts.

It is not, however, the purpose of this Perspective to put forward the legal case for settlement building beyond saying that it can, in fact, be argued in some detail. The focus here is on the practical aspects: the accusation that settlement activity is an obstacle to peace, and the rebuttal that the opposite is true.

The “obstacle” case is straightforward. Since the existence of any settlements, let alone the significant presence they have established over the years, presumably makes it more difficult to draw a reasonable line of partition based on the 1967 lines, it makes no sense to add so much as a single covered balcony to the problem. As the saying goes, “If you are in a hole, stop digging.” The situation is already serious enough, encompassing some 700,000 Jews (if Jerusalem is included, as it usually is), and need not be compounded. The Palestinians paint a dark picture of the remaining land in the West Bank being devoured bit by bit, with little or no prospects left for a contiguous Palestinian state.

It cannot be denied that for some Israelis, the explicit purpose of further construction is indeed to make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. They say this loud and clear. But this is not the policy of the prime minister or the Defense Ministry (which holds the keys to any construction in the West Bank). While Netanyahu and the Defense Ministry are reluctant to commit irretrievably to a two-state solution (not least because if they do, it will be Israel rather than the Palestinians who will be asked to pay the full price for it), they do not wish to foreclose the option. Nor do they wish to alienate friendly neighbors in Jordan and Egypt or quarrel with a mercurial Trump administration. Hence the willingness to come to a detailed (and restrictive) understanding with the American team, including people in key positions who are holdovers from the Obama era.

The understandings reflect a realization in Washington that one of the worst miscalculations of the previous administration was the discarding of Bush’s letter to Sharon of April 14, 2004, in which he recognized the need for territorial changes that would take into consideration the existing realities on the ground. This was later compounded by the demand for a total freeze, which generated totally unrealistic Palestinian expectations, narrowed Mahmoud Abbas’s room for maneuver, and eventually collided with the Jerusalem question (which was bound to happen from day one). Obama hoped to create “daylight” between the US and Israel, so as to be better placed as an “honest broker”. In fact, he gave peace no chance, for two reasons that should now be avoided.

To begin with, lumping together all Jews who live beyond the “Green Line” – including those who repopulated the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem! – is to put the achievement and implementation of any future compromise at grave risk. It generates Palestinian hopes for a coercive outcome that would involve the uprooting of Jews from their homes on a massive scale. No Israeli government, not even one of the left, would accept such demands in full. Thus, a policy that signals that there might ultimately arise a prospect of total or near-total withdrawal feeds the fantasy, delaying the achievement of a practicable compromise.

Moreover, the legacy of a “total freeze” would make implementation of a peace deal impossible. Israeli governments have been willing in the past to make painful sacrifices. The present prime minister used such language in his speech before the two houses of Congress in May 2011 (not to be confused with his speech to Congress on Iran in March 2015). But for sacrifices to be made without igniting a potential civil war, any Israeli government – the left even more than the right – will have to isolate the radicals and “dead enders” from the mainstream settler community. For that mainstream, a sovereign national decision taken by a solid majority and based on a reasonable compromise, with provisions made for security and mutual recognition of the Palestinian and Jewish right to self-determination, might be acceptable. But the political conditions for such an acceptance will not exist in an atmosphere of severe hostility towards the existing settlements and towards all settlers as such.

Thus, thinking backwards from the end game, it is necessary for any Israeli government – not only for “political” reasons in the narrow sense (i.e., coalition calculations or internal Likud dynamics) – to stay hand-in-hand with the mainstream settler community. This entails some reasonable scope for construction within the existing footprint, as agreed to with the US administration. This is now understood by some of the founding fathers of the Oslo process, as well as by center and center-left leaders. The alternative is unthinkable. If all the settlers, as well as the Jews of East, South, and North Jerusalem, are driven to stand as one against implementation, and they are joined by millions “within” the Green Line, any attempt at implementation will collapse.

The understandings just agreed to are therefore much more conducive to the pursuit of peace – specifically, to the drawing of a future border – than the misguided “purist” line of 2334. True, it is not the free-for-all in Judea and Samaria that some Israelis had hoped for (which disregards the complex regional calculus that neither Trump nor Netanyahu can ignore). But it should be enough to lay the foundations for a diplomatic effort that would be more realistic, in its underlying premises, than the futile efforts of 2009-10 and 2013-14.

Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman is a senior research associate at the BESA Center, and former deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council. He is also a member of the faculty at Shalem College.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

April 6, 2017 | 6 Comments » | 65 views

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8 Comments / 6 Comments

  1. [BIG Government policy Brand X] proceeds forwards from the present state, whereas [BIG government policy Brand Y] should flow backwards from the desired end-state.

    All government policies are crap.

    However, I do agree with the headline’s basic premise, i.e. that unfettered capitalism and an agile private sector ready to exploit it — not least of all in the real estate sector — is very beneficial to the cause of peace.

  2. Even if this thinking is behind the deal worked out, I don’t like it. There is no indication that the Arabs are of like mind. I have always believed that the more we build the more pressure there is on the Arabs to make a deal. And if they don’t yield to the pressure than at least we will have increased our presence in J&S. We are not going to reach a deal by making nice.

    The author pays only lip service to the security issue. He obviously isn’t insisting on real defensible borders.

    Bibi and Lieberman want strive for peace whereas the true right strive to keep more land.

  3. This essay ignores most of the facts on the ground. It’s all been done – land for peace in Gaza, land for peace to create Jordan, and they still come back for more land. The Arabs will chop away at tiny Israel until nothing is left, because they don’t want the land, only the destruction of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Enough already. Israelis are getting sick of this dangerous pointless game. It is time to tell the Arabs no more terror states, Jordan is the Palestinian Arab state, and all Arabs who dislike living in Israel must leave. About half would stay as that many have indicated in polls that they want the Jewish state, not another corrupt Arab state. Then Israel should declare sovereignty over the territories to the west of the Jordan River. The League of Nations and UN Charter stated this area should be settled by Jews. If UN resolutions are all ignored, what is their purpose?

  4. It makes no difference what Israel’s policies toward settlements are because the absence of peace has nothing to do with settlements. The Arabs/Moslems made war on the Israeli Jews before 1967 when there were no settlements. The writer does not even hint that the sacred doctrines of Islam pay a role in the conflict over Israel.The sad fact is that those doctrines play the most important role. The Moslem god, Allah, in the Koran, and the Moslem prophet, Muhammad, in the Sunnah, command Moslems to make war on the Jews and either subjugate them to Islamic law, or to kill them. The Hamas Charter spells this out plainly. Everyone should Google it and read it. Any Moslem who wants to make peace with Israel would have to flagrantly violate the sacred commands of his god and his prophet. Good luck with that!

  5. The Arabs do not belong in The Land of Israel; that includes Judea and Samaria. The past has shown that they know only terror and violence. They are killing their own people by the thousands. The Arabs/Muslims killed the Jews in Medina about 1400 years ago, which was a Jewish city going back over 2,800 years and took over the city. To date nothing has changed. They want to take over the whole world. Look at what they doing in Syria, Europe and Sweden raping women and terrorizing people. The Arab Palestinians have Jordan which historically is Jewish land or the homes and the 120,000 sq. km. of Jewish Real Estate property the Arab countries confiscated from the million Jewish families they terrorized and expelled from their countries, who now were resettled in The Land of Israel.

    “In Israel; We have to undue and reverse the decades of nonsense that the peace industry has fermented, which led us to the position where the world thinks we the Jews are occupiers in our own ancestral land. If something is false and it is repeated enough times it becomes sort of common wisdom. We have to undo that.”

    Yj Draiman

    To me and to most Traditional Jews, Greater Israel is the Biblical Israel, which included a good part of the territory east of the Jordan River. The original allocation of Palestine aka The Historical Land of Israel to the Jewish people included the territory east of the Jordan River and up-to the Railroad line which is about 120,000 sq. km.. The best defense is offense, no capitulation to Arab or worldwide pressure; we want what is ours no exceptions. See the minutes of the 1919 Paris conference, The 1920 San Remo Conference and the Faisal Weizmann Agreement of January 1919. The Arabs-Muslims received over 12 million sq. km. with a wealth of oil reserves of which over half of it has no habitation, plus the British in violation of treaties and agreements gave away over 77% of allocated Jewish territory and created the new Arab-Palestinian state of Jordan and prohibiting Jews from living there and confiscating all their assets, and now the Biased U.N. with non-binding resolutions and no legal standing (which has no authority to create countries, modify borders and violate international treaties and agreements, it can only recommend a non-binding opinion/resolution with no legal standing) and other nations who are intentionally deceived and or misinformed, want Israel to cede again their own historical territory for over 3,500 years, Judea and Samaria as a second Arab-Palestinian state (and plant a terrorist state in the heart of Israel, just like Gaza), after the disastrous ceding of Gaza and the constant rocket attacks against Jewish communities in Israel). My response to that is it is not going to happen; it is suicide for Israel, this is Jewish land with a history going back over 3,800 years; Jews are the remaining indigenous people, with the Jewish holiest city Jerusalem and the Capital of Israel (It was never a Capital of any other nation). Moreover Jerusalem is the home to two Jewish temples and the city of Hebron as the 2nd holiest city for the Jews with the Cave of The Jewish Patriarchs (The atrocities and murder committed by the Arabs in Hebron against the Jews goes at least as far back as 1517). The Arabs also terrorized and expelled over a million Jewish families with their children and confiscated all their assets including, personal property, businesses, homes and about 120,000 sq. km. of Jewish owned Real Estate property and land for over 2,500 years; valued in the trillions of dollars. Most of the expelled Jewish families and their children were resettled in Israel, and today comprise over half the population. Any Jew who wants to cede land to the Arabs has no place in Israel, especially in view of past results that such land for peace has brought more terror and violence and less safety and security for Israel and its people.
    No Jew has the right or authority to cede Jewish territory and any such ceding of Jewish territory is not valid.
    “A United Israel is a strong Israel”
    YJ Draiman, President of AFSI in the Greater Los Angeles area
    AFSI – Americans for a Safe Israel

    From the outset, Israel unwisely tried to include Arabs in Israeli life.
    To this day, they continue to allow Arabs Palestinians within the borders, in a misguided belief that co-existence is possible.
    The time is far past for Israel to act more wisely, exiling Arabs who will not
    sign on to a statement that Israel has a right to exist and practice this statement, and that they have a right to the land of Israel itself as allocated under post WWI international law and treaties, including as described in the Faisal Weizmann Agreement of January 1919, which assigned all of Palestine aka The Land of Israel for the Jewish National Home, while the Arabs at that time received over 12 million sq. mi. with a wealth of oil reserves. That includes the new Arab state of Jordan which is situated on Jewish historical land and established by the British in violation of International Treaties and Agreements of post WWI.
    You don’t take a scorpion or poisonous snake in an embrace, and then express surprise that you were stung or bitten.
    In addition, Israel has to take complete control of the Temple Mount area and Judea and Samaria, shooting any rock throwers, and expelling any Arabs/Muslims who abuse non-Muslims there and anywhere else, either physically or verbally.
    Israel has to respond to any threat, including rockets launched at Israel with expedited and uncompromising response with zero tolerance and no holds barred.
    Until the Israelis act wisely and forcefully, Israel will continue to be vulnerable to attacks from within.
    It’s not acceptable or reasonable to tolerate Arab violence, and the reality of Arab/Muslim hatred must be acknowledged and acted upon expeditiously without any deliberations or delay.
    YJ Draiman

  7. FUGETABOUTIT!!! Continuity of ‘Arab’ lands for a Pal state is nonsense. Hawaii, Michigan, Indonesia, Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Stockholm, Philipines, none of these is fully contiguous and yet they exist as governable states. What the Pals want is a state w/o contact with Jews so they can regroup their ‘hudna’ moving munitions secretly to seek more and eventually all land and dominate Jews reducing us back to dhimmis according to their Muslim religious beliefs. Unless and until we Jews recognize their true motives, its a waste of time. BUILD!!!

  8. @ Abolish_public_education:
    Nationalize the land

    Israel’s basic laws — treated as a Constitution though never intended as such — says that all land owned by the Jewish National Fund can never be relinquished but only leased out.

    Therefore, All land under the control of the Israeli government now and in the future, should become the inalienable property of the Jewish State with suitable compensation for owners, Arab and Jewish alike.

    This includes land taken in war. (I don’t give a r*t’s ass whether it’s defensive.)

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