Construction in Amona settlement.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The US State Department’s recent condemnation of Israel’s proposed solution of the illegal Amona outpost issue unfortunately reiterates the erroneous view that “settlements are the core problem” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Worse, it contributes to the prolongation of the conflict by incorrectly invoking international law under the pretext of “evenhandedness” toward the parties involved.
It is not evenhanded to blindly accept the Palestinian narrative, according to which not just the historic territories of Judea and Samaria (named the “West Bank” by Jordan during its reign there from 1949 to 1967) but all of Israel are “occupied territory.”
Prior to June 1967, the last recognized sovereign of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip was the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist following the First World War. The Jordanian and Egyptian control over these areas for 19 years following their failure to destroy the nascent Israel in 1949 was never recognized as sovereign by the international community – although the Arab war of aggression did defeat the first attempt by the United Nations to create a two-state solution to the conflict.
During the intervening years marked by total Arab boycott of Israel, no sovereign Palestinian state was established.
Instead, the local Arab population continued to oppose the existence of a Jewish state through a policy of terrorism against the Jewish presence that began more than a century ago. Yasser Arafat’s preeminent terrorist group, the Palestine Liberation Organization, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel’s presence in the territories began. Thus, by international law, the designation of this area as “occupied” Arab or Palestinian lands is questionable and are better defined as “disputed” territories.
But while the dispute goes on, subject to resolution only by face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the US State Department clumsy resorts to hyperbole, referring to Israel’s attempt to resolve the issue of one illegal outpost, declaring it “strongly condemns” the attempt to move the illegal Amona settlers to Shiloh.
The escalation of US terminology regarding Israel is striking, considering it also “strongly condemned” Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.
As if that were not enough, State Department spokesman Mark Toner hinted at a link between Israel’s alleged ingratitude for the 10-year, $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding and President Barack Obama’s attendance at Shimon Peres’s funeral. Toner scornfully called Israel’s Amona decision “contrary to its long-term security interest in a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians.” Going even lower, Toner chastised Israel, in the midst of mourning for Peres, for advancing plans “that would seriously undermine the prospects for the two-state solution that he so passionately supported.”
Between the good cop of Obama’s visit and the bad cop of the State Department, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the unenviable task of finding a solution to the illegal Amona settlers that will satisfy both his fragile coalition and its opponents by the December 25 demolition deadline set by the High Court of Justice. The current attempt involving the veteran settlement of Shiloh would seem a perfect opportunity to explore the possibilities of a resolution involving the disputed territories.
Under a peace deal that would lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, Shiloh’s future, like many settlements, is shrouded in uncertainty. On the one hand, it has a central place in the history of the Jewish people. The Tabernacle was housed in Shiloh before the building of the Temple and until the death of Eli the High Priest, whose tomb is in Shiloh; the town was the site of festival pilgrimages and offerings. Shiloh demonstrates the Jewish people’s bond with its history from both a national and a religious perspective. On the other hand, it is deep inside Samaria and not immediately part of one of the known settlement blocs.
But even if the US rejects this thinking, it might be expected to recognize some proportionality, as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Thursday after the State Department’s condemnation of the Shiloh plan.
“The Middle East is burning, and the people of Syria are being slaughtered daily,” Shaked told Army Radio. “I think the United States should concern itself with saving civilians in Syria and not with issuing harsh statements over a few housing units.”