Palestinians walk near an opening in Israel's security fence in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of A-tur.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US State Department’s recent attack on Israel’s settlement policy is an egregious departure from previous administration’s views that it is as an “obstacle to peace” and “illegitimate.” But the latest targeting of neighborhoods in Israel’s capital as “settlements” constitutes blatant interference in whatever possibilities exist for an eventual settlement of the conflict with the Palestinians, and indeed jeopardizes efforts to achieve peace.
The State Department’s overblown language indicates a distorted view of the reality driving the conflict – and it’s not settlements. The department’s statement reads like the Palestinian Authority narrative: Building Jewish housing in Jerusalem is “corrosive to the cause of peace,” “systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution,” “entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict” and “provocative and counterproductive.”
Setting aside the historic fact that Arab opposition to the Zionist enterprise predated the creation of Israel by about a century and the “occupation” by another two decades, this unbridled assault on settlement distorts reality by making it the principal cause of the lack of a peaceful settlement.
Israel regularly reiterates its commitment to a two-state solution in the face of Palestinian refusal to conduct faceto- face negotiations. Instead, the PA under Mahmoud Abbas engages in incitement to terrorism on the ground, while pursuing membership status at the UN.
While the negotiating stalemate continues, both Palestinians and Israelis are free to plan for the future. As international legal expert Alan Baker wrote recently in The Jerusalem Post,
“The State Department should also be aware of the fact that nothing in the Oslo Accords prevents planning, zoning and construction activity by either side in the West Bank areas under their respective control.”
But this means that the State Department must avoid one-sided attacks on Israel’s bolstering settlements in areas that are understood will be included in its borders under an eventual settlement. It should go without saying that this is even more important with regard to Jerusalem.
The State Department is becoming obsessive. As Elliott Abrams, a former George W. Bush adviser and senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations told The Algemeiner
on Monday, “Its obsession with housing construction by Israeli Jews is certainly not shared by any Arab government, but it is apparently held by everyone working in the Near East Bureau.” Abrams said the assault on Israel “both in tone and content, marks a new hostility – and plenty of sheer ignorance.”
“This massive frontal attack, as if nothing but settlements is preventing peace in the Middle East and is the harbinger of conflict, belies reality, misrepresents the situation, and misleads whoever is intended to be the target of this curious statement,” Baker wrote.
Some long overdue changes in terminology might help the State Department cope with Middle East reality. For example, whatever happened to Judea and Samaria? That’s how the land’s ancient Roman occupiers’ latinized the biblical Hebrew names Yehuda and Shomron. The British Mandatory authorities commonly referred to the area as Judea and Samaria.
In the best of rainy seasons, the Jordan River is only a few meters wide. The claim that its western bank is some 65-km. wide, encompassing Judea and Samaria, is patently absurd and demonstrates just how politicized terminology drives the ongoing conflict.
What is even more absurd about the “West Bank” usage is the fact that the Jordanian government adopted the term in the 1950s in an attempt to legitimize its illegal occupation of the region as the result of its aggression in 1948. Part of the State Department’s obtuseness derives from its persistent and inaccurate use of a non-geographical term that everyone uses, but few understand: the Green Line. This term is not an international border, but a line drawn on a map in 1949 to demarcate the cease-fire line ending the first Arab war against the nascent State of Israel.
The Green Line ceased to exist in 1967, the moment the 19-year-old armistice was shattered by the armies of Jordan, Egypt and Syria attacking Israel in the Six Day War. Another State Department absurdity is its continuous exclusion of the capital’s southernmost neighborhood, Gilo. Its land was purchased from its Arab owners by Dov Joseph on behalf of the Jewish National Fund before 1948. Gilo was once indeed occupied territory: it was Jordanian-occupied Israeli territory from 1948 to 1967, after which Israeli sovereignty was restored.