The US, UN and Palestinian Authority – among others – castigated the
government’s decision this week to move forward with building plans for 1,500
residential units beyond the 1949 armistice line.
“We do not consider
continued settlement activity or east Jerusalem construction to be steps that
create a positive environment for the negotiations,” US State Department
spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the
move “contrary to international law” and “an obstacle to peace.”
Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said the announcement
“destroys the peace process and sends the international community the message
that Israel does not respect international law.”
declaration that it would be building coincided with the release of the second
group of 26 terrorists, most of them responsible for the deaths of Israeli
citizens, arrested before the signing of the Oslo Accords.
We find it
problematic that this government is using building beyond the Green Line as a
quid pro quo for prisoner releases. Building in east Jerusalem and in settlement
blocs should never be construed as a form of punishment against the Palestinians
or as an “evening of scores.” Rather, it should be a natural outcome of
population growth. At the same time, we can understand the political expediency
of emphasizing building to blunt criticism – particularly on the Right – of the
unpopular move of freeing murderous terrorists.
Notwithstanding US, UN
and Palestinian claims to the contrary, Israeli building is not an obstacle to
Most of the announced projects are slated for places such as
Ma’aleh Adumim, Betar Illit and east Jerusalem.
In any two-state solution
that would conceivably receive broad Israeli support, these places would remain
part of the Jewish state.
For US administrations at least since the
Clinton era, the notion that Israel must retreat to the 1949 armistice lines and
that east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria – the cradle of Jewish history – must be
made judenrein is hardly a given.
The 2000 Clinton parameters, US
president George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon,
negotiations prime minister Ehud Olmert conducted in 2008, all were based on the
principle that Israel would retain major settlement blocs in any two-state
Earlier this month, Peace Now published a report titled “The
two-state solution is still alive 20 years after Oslo” that noted most Jewish
population growth in Judea and Samaria was concentrated in settlements that
would remain part of Israel according to the Geneva Initiative.
Jewish population living in Judea and Samaria has indeed tripled since 1993 –
right before the signing of the Oslo Accords – from 110,000 to 341,000. But 64
percent of the population growth has occurred in cities and towns such as
Modi’in Illit, Betar Illit and Ma’aleh Adumim.
The idea that Jewish
settlements are “an obstacle to peace” is based on the morally repugnant premise
– supported by the international community – that the very presence of Jews in
these territories is an affront to the Palestinians, while Palestinians expect
Israel to absorb not just the 1.6 million Arabs with Israeli citizenship but
also an unknown number of Palestinian “refugees.”
This should not be
surprising considering the fact that Muslim countries regularly persecute
religious and ethnic minorities without incurring serious international
condemnation. Why should a Palestinian state be any different? The real obstacle
to peace remains Palestinians’ rejection of the very idea of a uniquely Jewish
state. Decades before Judea and Samaria came under Israeli control and
“settlements” began to be built, Palestinians opposed the very existence of a
“Zionist entity.” To this day Palestinians harbor hopes that Palestinian
“refugees” will be allowed to settle in Israel; they deny the Jewish people’s
ties to the Land of Israel; they refuse to see the Jews as a distinct people
that has a right to its own state.
Peace will come the day that the
Palestinian people recognize the Jewish people’s right to national
self-determination in its historical homeland. Blaming settlements misses the