Two views of the “illegal settlements” issue

In today’s New York Times is the most anti-Israel op-ed I have ever read in that newspaper, by the transplanted British leftist Jew and Patrick Buchanan’s favorite Israel expert, the supposed historian Tony (“One State Solution”) Judt. Focused on the putative illegality of literally any Jewish presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the piece is so one-sided against Israel, so false in its assertions, and so set on delegitimizing the Jewish state, that it might as well have been written by, oh, Charles W. Freeman or Scott McConnell. I recommend reading Judt’s amazingly tendentious article in order to get a sense of how even Israel’s supposedly more rational enemies see her.

Then I recommend a good antidote to Judt, a long article written by Hillel Halkin in the Wall Street Journal in 2002, which I re-read today. First, Halkin demonstrates the falsity of the “illegal occupation” charge, which is based on a gross misreading of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. He then shows how reluctant the Israelis were, in the years after the 1967 war, to allow significant settlement in the West Bank, since their hope was to trade land for peace, until continued Arab rejectionism ultimately left them no reasonable alternative to settlement.

What might an alternative to settlement have been? Halkin presents a thought experiment:

One might consider a counterfactual proposition. Suppose that every Israeli government, from 1967 until the present, had done what the conventional wisdom says it should have done. Suppose it had declared, “Not a single Jew will be allowed to live in the West Bank until there is peace, and we intend to hold the area in escrow for the Palestinians for as long as this takes. Let it be 10 years. Let it be 20. Let it be 50 or 100. The Arab world can rest assured that, whenever it is tired of fighting, it will get this territory back as we received it, free of Jews.”

Would this have hastened peace talks or moderated the PLO? Why should it have? Common sense dictates that the Palestinian and Arab reaction would have been, “Well, then, there’s no need to hurry. We have all the time in the world. First, let us go on trying to destroy Israel. If we succeed, so much the better. If we fail, we will have lost nothing.”

In point of fact, however, Israel could never have kept such a promise even had it made it. As the months after the June 1967 victory lengthened into years, no Israeli government would have lasted if it told its people: “No matter how long the Arabs refuse to make peace with us, you are forever barred from living in any part of the land of Israel beyond the 1967 borders that the Arabs refuse to recognize.” The Allon Plan [which had tightly restricted Jewish settlements to just a small part of the West Bank] was initially acceptable to most Israelis because, while pragmatic, it did not in principle deny the right of Jews to live beyond those borders. A policy of declaring the West Bank entirely Judenrein would have toppled Labor and brought the Likud to power well before 1977.

- end of initial entry -

June 24

Larry F. writes from Canada:

Whatever one may think of Tony Judt’s article, I think the basic narrative that Israel uses to justify the Jewish position in the Land of Israel is not the best possible.

Since the beginning of Zionism, the Zionists have talked of the Jews having gone into Exile, and returning after 2000 years. People can sort of interpret 2000 years of Exile as tantamount to abandoning the country, which thereby acquired new ownership.

In fact there were always Jews in the Land of Israel. A brief history of the Jews in the Land of Israel for last 2000 years can be found in the website of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the heading HISTORY: Foreign Domination.

So, since the Jews never surrendered or abandoned the country, a case can be made that it always remained a Jewish possession.

On September 14, 2007 the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. If one looks at the definition given of Indigenous Peoples, it seems to me that the Jews could at least make the claim to be the indigenous people of the Land of Israel, according to the United Nations’s own definition, if one assumes the continuity of the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. And one of the rights that Indigenous Peoples have is ‘Land, Territories and Resources’.

It seems reasonable to me, that for the Jews to talk of holding on in the country for 2000 years in the face of constant oppression, could arouse more sympathy in the world, than saying they returned after abandoning the country 2000 years previously. It is fair to say that very few people in the world know of this history of Jewish continuity in the Land of Israel.

It seems the Jews like their old narrative, and will not think of changing it.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 22, 2009 11:55 PM | Send

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