Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Reader's Guide to Israeli "Settlement Activity"

Why the settlements are important.  Excerpts from two characteristically incisive comments by military and intelligence analyst J. E. Dyer at Jonathan Tobin's contentions post yesterday:

The most consistent position from Israeli leaders . . . is that the West Bank is a holistic national defense issue, of which the settlements are an integral element. No aspect of the settlements is divorced from the question of defensible borders for Israel . . .

Without occupying the summits that look down on Israel's eastern border, Israel can't defend her narrow territory against attack from the East. That is the defensible borders issue with the West Bank, and was demonstrated clearly in the '67 war. The significance of holding these summits has only increased with time, and the expanded range of man-portable missile systems.  . . .

One thing is certain. Everyone in the Middle East understands the military/defensive value of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. They fully understand there that the beef the Palestinians have with the settlements is precisely that the settlements deny the Palestinians access to the summits that look down on Jerusalem, and the rest of Israel's eastern border.

If Israel did, in fact, abandon that territory in terms of occupation and military defense, there is no natural or political barrier at the perimeter of the West Bank that would prevent outside support to the Palestinians there from quickly turning the threat to Israel — within 2-3 weeks — into the same level of threat posed to Israel from Lebanon, and from the other side of the Golan Heights.

There is no reason whatsoever to imagine that Jordan would (or even could) do anything to prevent the development of such a threat. If Israel did not address it promptly by reoccupying the West Bank, it could build very quickly after that into a full-blown military threat.

Why "settlement activity" is a non-issue.  Excerpts from Elliott Abrams' April 7, 2009 article in the Washington Post:

For one thing, most settlement activity is in those major blocs that it is widely understood Israel will keep. For another, those settlements are becoming more populated, not geographically larger. . . . population growth inside settlements does not [take land that Palestinians own or use, or interfere with Palestinian mobility or agricultural activity]. For the past five years, Israel's government has largely adhered to guidelines that were discussed with the United States but never formally adopted: that there would be no new settlements, no financial incentives for Israelis to move to settlements and no new construction except in already built-up areas.

Why ceasing all Israeli "settlement activity" would unfairly affect final status issues.  Excerpt from Vel Nirtist's May 31 article at American Thinker:

Israelis are not the only ones who build on the disputed land to accommodate for 'natural growth,' thus "pre-judging" the outcome of diplomacy. Palestinians do, too -- and the Obama administration, to be fair or at least consistent in its concern that "facts on the ground" should not adversely affect final-status negotiations, should put equal pressure on the Palestinians to stop all their building in the West Bank, too -- for when the Palestinians build in the West Bank, they also create "facts on the ground," erecting their structures on the land which Israelis may want to be part of their state. . . .


Because the West Bank is a disputed territory . . . It is worth repeating yet again that before the West Bank was "occupied" by the Israelis in 1967 when they beat off the Arab aggression, it was under Jordanian occupation that started in 1948, and that prior to that it was occupied by the British who had the mandate to do so from the League of Nations; and that prior to that it was part of the Ottoman Empire. "Palestinian state" never existed, and cannot claim any territory as legitimately its own.

To recap:  (1) the major settlements are on the high ground overlooking pre-1967 Israel, and whoever holds that high ground holds the military assets necessary either to defend or attack Israel; (2) Israeli settlement activity for the last five years has been largely limited to growth within the geographical limits of those settlement blocs, which will be kept by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement; and (3) the entire West Bank is disputed territory, as to which Israel has historical and religious connections, legal claims arising out of the documents that established the British mandate, and the military necessity to insure it cannot become the staging area for the kind of attack that nearly destroyed Israel in 1967. 

Israel's connections, claims and necessities can be negotiated by Israel in return for a Palestinian and Arab commitment to recognize Israel within defensible borders -- but to suggest that the current major settlements are "obstacles to peace," or that stopping settlement activity within them would lead to peace, is to suggest that an Israel with defensible borders is an obstacle.  There will be no peace (even if a "peace agreement" were signed) if Israel does not have defensible borders, and the freedom to live within them.  In fact, a "peace agreement" without such borders or freedom would lead to a new war.

Which is why settlement activity will continue in the same fashion it has for the last five years.

Posted by Rick Richman | Permalink

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Think about if people began referring to Arab communities inside pre-67 Israel as "settlements". Could they eventually be frozen? Dismantled? Their population expelled? All for peace?

And to expand on #3: territorial compromise has been a constant element of proposed solutions - TransJordan was lopped off in 1923; Peel Commission suggested a further partition of territory in 1937; Woodhead the same the following year; the 1939 White Paper canceled the "Jewish national home reconstitution" essence of Balfour and substituted a "Palestine state"; in 1947, the UN recommended a "Jewish" and an "Arab" state to come into existence with a further territorial reduction for the Jews. In 1994, Israel gave over to Jordan territory. In the Oslo Process, the Pals. received "A" area. In 2005, all of Gaza was completely de-Judaized.

Nothing of this has worked or solved the true basic issues.

To achieve peace, the Arabs insist on emptying out their territory of a Jewish presence. For an 'absolute' peace, going back to my first point, should Arabs be emptied out of Israel? Is that rational and humane? And the opposite is good statesmanship?

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