My word: Diplomatic declarations and facts on the ground

Pompeo's announcement is a timely reminder that opinion on the legality of West Bank settlements is just that - opinion

Vehicles drive along a road in the Jordan Valley  (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Vehicles drive along a road in the Jordan Valley
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
There are red lines, black lines and – when it comes to Israel – a green line. Make that “The Green Line.” The statement this week by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that: “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law” was a welcome declaration. Opinions, like “The Territories,” can be disputed without being illegal.
Pompeo was not saying anything new – this had been the US position until president Jimmy Carter made a policy shift in 1978. Pompeo also noted that the Reagan administration held that there was nothing inherently illegal about the “settlements.”
I refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria – their Hebrew names from biblical times. And I prefer to talk of communities rather than settlements – for that’s what they are: communities made up of living people.
In August, Israel commemorated the centenary of the Hebron massacre in which 67 Jews were killed by Arabs and the Jewish community was forced to leave after generations in the holy city. Similarly, the communities of Gush Etzion suffered from the deadly Arab riots that targeted Jews in 1929 and 1933 – long before the state was born. In 1948, the Gush Etzion kibbutzim fell; the Jews who surrendered were massacred. The communities were reborn after 1967. These are the places the international community insists are illegally occupied.
When you blast the “settlements” – literally or figuratively – it’s not the bricks and stones that get hurt, it’s the residents. Separating “the settlers” from other Israelis – as if they were some kind of subhuman race of their own – makes them a target for terrorist attacks and in a perverted fashion seems to offer a justification that the so-called enlightened world can live with.
The one thing it doesn’t do, as Pompeo noted, is contribute to the ever-elusive peace in the region. It’s not the Jewish communities over the armistice line drawn up after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War that are an obstacle to peace but the Palestinian insistence that the Jews have no right to live there. What kind of peace will there be if it requires the removal of some 600,000 Jews and Jews alone? What convoluted thinking can turn this into anything other than ethnic cleansing?
The continued existence of the resurrected Gush Etzion communities, towns like Ariel, Givat Ze’ev, and Ma’aleh Adumim, the communities of the Jordan Valley and many more are well within mainstream Israeli consensus. Ditto Jerusalem neighborhoods such as French Hill, Ramot, Gilo, Har Homa, Pisgat Zeev, Neveh Yaacov, the Old City and others.
Pompeo’s presentation of the Trump administration’s position was well-timed not so much from a political point of view – although there were those who automatically attributed it to either Benjamin Netanyahu’s political and legal woes or Donald Trump’s or both. It came at a good time because it followed a series of anti-Israel moves in the UN and EU.
Barack Obama’s parting shot at the very tail end of his presidency in December 2016 was to refuse to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 with its implied recognition of Palestinian rights to all parts of Jerusalem according to the 1949 armistice line. This would give the Palestinians control of, among other places, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.
It was business as usual at the UN last week. Among a batch of pro-Palestinian resolutions approved on Friday, November 15, the UN gave its preliminary approval to a resolution that referred to the Temple Mount only by its Muslim name of Haram al-Sharif, yet again ignoring Jewish ties to Judaism’s holiest site.
It also passed the first stage of extending the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), making no mention of the corruption scandal that this month forced the organization’s commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl to resign; no talk of the incitement in UNRWA schoolbooks; and above all, no recognition of the absurdity of the Palestinians being able to pass their refugee status on in perpetuity – even to those living in places where they have a passport and a right to vote.
Meanwhile, the European Union Court of Justice last week ruled that the word “settlement” must be included on consumer labels for Israeli goods produced in east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and “the West Bank settlements.” This doesn’t so much label products as label people – Jews.
THERE’S A certain type of person committed – often from afar – to saving Israel from itself. As The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon noted this week, talk of the “illegal Israeli settlements” has become automatic. Hence, Pompeo’s declaration is important for – if nothing else – pointing out that those words are incorrect. There is another way of looking at things. On the diplomatic road map, it’s time to recalculate.
There is a similar knee-jerk reaction that holds that there are only two possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The two-state solution or the one-state solution. Mention of the one-state option invariably comes with the warning that this would mean Israel would lose either its Jewish character or its democratic nature.
Like the term “illegal settlements,” the phrase “it’s either the two-state or one-state option” has been repeated unthinkingly for many years. Although Pompeo’s declaration did not make it clear how this old-new position would be reflected in the Trump peace plan – if it is ever revealed – it seems to be part of the new approach of thinking out of the box. The US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan, and cutting funds to UNRWA is part of the same readjustment.
Mindlessly repeating the “one state or two states” mantra has not got us anywhere, so it is time to think creatively here too: Perhaps by reexamining versions of the Jordanian option – acknowledging that the majority of the Hashemite Kingdom defines itself as Palestinian and that the Palestinians of the “West Bank” are Arabic-speaking, Sunni Muslims. Jordan annexed the area in 1950, although this was recognized only by two countries. The Palestinians never ruled there – or even identified as Palestinians for much of that time. “The West Bank” is the West Bank of the Jordan River; it’s Israel’s east.
There was some good news for Israel last week when the Foreign Minister of the Faroe Islands Jenis av Rana declared he would open a diplomatic office in Jerusalem, recognizing it as the Israeli capital. The Faroe population might be tiny – just 50,000 – but many unabashedly support Israel, mainly out of deep Christian conviction. A reader there was happy to draw my attention to the decision. The Jerusalem move was reportedly rejected by Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. Despite promises to give the Faroes and Greenland more autonomy on foreign affairs, Denmark still has ultimate control over both countries (while calling for Israel to give full independence to the Palestinians.)
Indeed, response to Pompeo’s statement were telling: Turkey, for example, occupies northern Cyprus and recently took over parts of Syria, but that didn’t stop Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu writing on Twitter: “No country is above international law. Fait accompli style declarations shall have no validity with respect to international law.”
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki said: “The State of Palestine condemns in the strongest terms the US administration’s lawless position on Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied territory of the State of Palestine, as announced by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”
“The State of Palestine” is the only country in the world that claims both to be a state and to be comprised of refugees. It’s a peculiar conceit.
All five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia, China, the US, UK and France – are involved in some kind of territorial dispute. There are some 200 territorial disputes around the globe. Yet when it comes to Israel the world knows what’s best: It’s unsettling.
Pompeo’s statement was welcome but also a wake-up call: Israel should not rely on Trump or any other foreign leader to determine its own future. The country needs to determine its own policy. Israel needs to work out where to draw its own lines.