Elliott Abrams

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Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Israeli Settlements: Back to the Future

by Elliott Abrams
October 25, 2011

According to news reports, the Obama Administration has a new proposal to cope with the issue of construction in Israeli settlements. Israel would “halt the construction of new neighborhoods but could continue building in existing settlements….” The idea is that Israel would refrain from any construction outside current settlement boundaries. If there is construction only within existing settlements, there would be no American condemnations.

If this is a good idea, a decent compromise, one can only wonder why it took the Obama White House nearly three years to get there. For this policy was precisely what the Bush Administration agreed with prime ministers Sharon and Olmert.

In the early months of the Obama Administration, officials flatly denied such a deal had ever existed. In June, 2009 I wrote about this Obama error in the Wall Street Journal.

And error it was: in December 2003, prime minister Sharon stated that “Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line….” Had the Obama Administration realized the value of what had been achieved by its predecessors and continued the policy, we would not have endured nearly three years without any Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Nor would the administration have tried instead to impose a total construction freeze, a condition that no Israeli government could meet and that thus created a new and insuperable obstacle to negotiations.

Now, if this news story is true, the administration is moving back to the Bush position. Well, better late than never. But it is likely that the Palestinians will now call such a deal too little too late, and reject it. Perhaps, if  the Palestinian rejection is made very strongly in private, administration spokesmen will deny that any such proposal was ever made. But it ought to be made, because these terms are sensible: as long as there is construction only within built-up areas, there is no harm to Palestinians, no use of additional land, and no additional burden in future negotiations.

It would be nice if administration officials admitted that after nearly three years they had come to understand all of this, but I guess that is asking for too much. It will be quite enough if they abandon their “construction freeze” mania and move to a more practical and realistic view.

Post a Comment 9 Comments

  • Posted by Chauncey

    Does anyone really care what you have to say.

  • Posted by Gail Coleman

    How can you say no harm would be done to Palestinians?The harm has already been done and continues. The settlements have already been started on stolen Palestinian land. So, to finish them harms no Palestinians?? They should be dismantled, not finished!

  • Posted by Stanley Tee

    Chauncey wrote: “Does anyone really care what you have to say.”

    Yes, many people, because every word of this is true.

  • Posted by Brad Brzezinski

    Gail Coleman: When did this land become “Palestinian?” I ask because between 1948 and 1967, the land in question was controlled by Jordan. During that time there was simply no call for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

    In the 6 day war, Jordan unnecessarily attacked Israel and lost control of that land. She then refused any deal to resume responsibility for it. Why were the Palestinians inherently entitled to take over from the Jordanians?

    I do not see why putting up buildings is harmful. You should be aware that in similar disputes elsewhere – the US and Canada come to mind – things are settled without demanding that people stop the normal human function of building. There are many scenarios that could follow:

    - The land in question stays in Israel and Palestine is compensated with other land.
    - The residents in question simply end up living in Palestine.
    - The buildings are sold to Palestinians in the event the solution requires that Palestine be Jew-free (as Abbas is demanding).
    Etc etc.

    I find your views very harsh given the evolution of this issue.

  • Posted by Gail Coleman

    International law prohibits the building of these settlements in occupied territory. Read the Geneva Convention. Also, you might read up on the International Declaration of Human Rights. If that sounds harsh, then so be it.

  • Posted by Jerold S. Auerbach

    According to Gail Coleman: “The settlements have already been started on stolen Palestinian land.” Not “stolen” at all but protected for Jews under international law ever since the San Remo Agreement (1922) implemented the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. It assured to Jews the right of “close settlement” in the land west of the Jordan River i.e. Israel, Judea and Samaria. That right has never been rescinded. Jews have as much right to live in Ariel, Ofra and Hebron as in Tel Aviv.

  • Posted by Maine's Michael

    There is a difference between ‘occupied’ land and ‘disputed territory’.

    There is considerable doubt that the territory is even ‘disputed’. According to many authorities, Israel has claim to all of Palestine by virtue of the San Remo accords, whcih formed the basis for the Balfour Declaration. England’s division of the territory and handing off of 3/4 of it to an imported Bedouin clan for the Arabian peninsula was likely illegal.

    In any event, Gail Coleman, you for one don’t know what you are talking about.

  • Posted by 2

    Oh gee, Maine’s Michael, you wrote that “the San Remo accords…formed the basis for the Balfour Declaration”. The San Remo Resolution, released on April 25, 1920, formed the basis for the Balfour Declaration, which was contained in a letter of November 2, 1917? That’s a neat trick.

    Actually, it’s the other way round. The Balfour Declaration, all 67 words (or 68, if you count “non-Jewish” as two words), is repeated verbatim in the San Remo Declaration,

    “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

    by way of giving its mandate to Great Britain. At that point the boundaries of Palestine and the other Middle East territories hadn’t been finalized. The region referred to as some form of the name “Palestine” from about 500 BC onwards was not the same as the region that became the Palestine Mandate, which region included areas never part of either ancient Palestine or of the Land of Israel. That is, in terms of boundaries, “Palestine Mandate” does not equal “Palestine” and never did.

    Furthermore, the San Remo Declaration did nothing to the amend the Balfour Declaration in a manner more to the Zionists’ liking. It has, “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, whereas, Baron Rothschild, Chaim Weizmann, et al. wanted “the establishment of Palestine as the national home for the Jewish people”. Big difference there.

    However, it was not for safeguarding “the…rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” that Balfour declared “in” and not “as”, but to avoid friction with Sherif Hussein and other Arab leaders. For, as he stated in the famous memorandum to Lord Curzon, of August 11, 1919, “in Palestine we do not propose to even go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country”, “Zionism…is…of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land” and “Whatever deference should be paid to the views of those living there, the Powers in their selection of a mandatory do not propose, as I understand the matter, to consult them. In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate.”

    You, Maine’s Michael, should be careful with your talking points!

  • Posted by Brad Brzezinski

    2 is correct regarding Balfour and San Remo but the process evolved and did include consultation with the Arabs, culminating in The Mandate for Palestine.

    Gail, your argument is based on specific laws AND your specific interpretation of them. It is also true (and with less weight upon interpretation), that Jews have the right to settle anywhere in Mandate Palestine and that Israel is a Jewish State, according to Resolution 181. Abbas’s refusal to recognize a Jewish state is illegal.

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