Monday, March 24, 2008

Building Israeli Settlements

Two weeks ago I discussed the Muqawama doctrine and the way it plays out on a tactical level. In response, one Ibrahim ibn Yusuf told me how wrong I was, how the construction of Israeli settlements is far worse violence than anything the Palestinians do, and finally:
When you grab someone else's land, that's violence even if you don't kill the owner. I will believe the only violence comes from Hamas the day Israel stops its forcible appropiation of Palestinian property.
Of course, this statements begs the response that there are no longer any Israeli settlements in Gaza, and that the only impact this has had upon the Palestinian violence has been to exacerbate it, but I wasn't certain Mr. ibn Yusuf would be the type to respond to rational discussion. So I visited his blog, which turns out to be specifically tailored to argue against Zionism. Alas, however, it is in Spanish, which means I'll be able to argue with him only when he visits me and comments in English.

Given the foibles of history, it's a delightful irony to have an Arab publishing his anti-Jewish-State ideas in Spanish.

Anyway, after noting that Mr. ibn Yusuf hadn't responded to the essence of my post, and perhaps hadn't even noticed it in his haste to condemn Israeli settlements as the source of all evil, I probably should have ended the discussion. Instead, here I am plugging his blog. This is because while he's wrong not only in the essence of his statement as well as in is misreading of mine, he has stumbled upon a more general misunderstanding concerning the settlements - so here goes.

1. According to all versions of the events, Israel agreed to dismantle many of the settlements in the Camp David negotiations in Summer of 2000, again in accepting (Bill) Clinton's dictated final terms on December 24th 2000, and again at the negotiations at Taba in January 2001. Had the Palestinians been truly interested, they would long ago have had their independent judenrein state, with Jerusalem as its capital.

2. According to the defunct Geneva Accord of 2004, heralded as the solution of the conflict if only both sides would accept it, most of the settlements were to be disbanded but some, the ones closest to the Green Line of 1967, were to remain in place in return for equally valuable territories from inside the Green Line which were to be transferred to Palestine. This is significant because it demonstrates that even some Palestinian negotiators have already accepted the principle of territorial exchanges. This is a reflection of the fact that most of the settlers - some 80% of them - live in easily designated enclaves, mostly near Jerusalem or Kfar Saba. There are settlements scattered throughout much of the West Bank, true, but not very many Israelis live in them.

3. In 2006 Ehud Olmert campaigned on an explicit platform of disbanding the many small settlements and ending the Israeli control over most of the West Bank. The parties that agreed with him won the election, with more than 50% of the seats in the Knesset. Many of the voters who voted for the losing side also agree with the principle, tho they disagree on the tactics. One way or the other, had the settlements been the deal-breaker they are often described to be, the Palestinians could have had the territory already. That this hasn't happened has nothing to do with the settlements, and everything to do with Hamas, and with the Right of Return, and perhaps with a waning Palestinian interest in the 2-state solution (and perhaps in their lack of real interest in having a state at all, unless it be on irrational terms).

4. The apartments being built now - if they're being built - are in the area around Jerusalem, i.e they are part of the settlements that aren't going to be disbanded anyway. Presidents Clinton and Bush have both already explicitly accepted this distinction, as have the Palestinian negotiators of the Geneva Accord. Does Mr. ibn Yusuf know this? I cannot say, but if he doesn't he ought to inform himself, and if he does he's being disingenuous at best when refraining to mention it. Do the official Palestinian spokesmen, including their president, when they pretend otherwise? You bet they do.

5. And so do we, the Israeli public. Which is the most serious of all. Ultimately, the Palestinians will have to make peace (or not) with the Israelis, not with Juan Cole, or the editors of the Guardian, or with Spanish speaking fellow Arabs. With us. And we are perfectly aware of the fact that they are misrepresenting the facts when they condemn the construction of apartments in Jerusalem as if they were the same things as the construction of settlements on the hilltops about Nablus or Hebron. They do themselves no service by strengthening our mistrust of them, since ultimately, the only way they can have independence and peace is by convincing us that the war really could be over, and that they prefer to build their state rather than damage ours.


Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Thank you for responding. Actually, I have to say that my participation in English-language Hasbara blogs is due to the fact that Spanish-language Hasbara blogs are much less tolerant of contrarian opinions.

Your post in turn begs a few observations:

1) Israel doubled its settler population during the Oslo years. Had it been interested in peace, not a single new settler would have been added.

2) The idea that some "settlements (...) aren't going to be disbanded anyway" is a "no" similar to the Palestinians' three no's. Why should we accept the principle that stolen land must remain in the thieves' hands? Apart from unfair, it's irrational, even if Yossi Beilin and Yasser Rabbo believed it. The idea that a viable Palestinian state can be created with an Israeli wedge cutting it in two is purely dellusional.

3) The Geneva Accord of 2003 (not 2004) would have obliged Israel to submit the number of Palestinian refugees it would be prepared to receive. Since Ehud Olmert doesn't accept this, he doesn't accept the Accord as a whole, and therefore the Accord is no basis to keep building in the settlements.

4) The settlements explicitly mentioned in the Geneva Accord are not the ones where Israel will build 750 new homes.

5) In any event, the building will be legal only when a peace treaty is finalized. For you to understand this: wouldn't it be an act of violence for the Palestinians to begin building now in the Negev zone that according to Geneva would be transfered to the PA in exchange for the settlements around Jerusalem? Well, for Israel to continue to build houses in settlements that are not yet hers is also an act of violence. What you're arguing is, in fact, that Israel has the right to create "facts on the ground," while the Palestinians have no such right.

6) Separating the situation in Gaza from that in the West Bank is fallacious. Gaza was evacuated so that more energy and resources could be spent on holding on to the West Bank settlements.

7) You said nothing about the fact that all official Israeli proposals have included keeping, at least temporarily, the Jordan Valley, as well as Israeli-only roads that criss-cross the West Bank, together with wide strips of land on the sides, and with ample discretion on the Israeli side as to when, or even if, they would be returned.

8) The Wall route, which cuts deep into Palestinian territory, has nothing to do with the settlements you think will have to remain Israeli. For example, the corridor reaching the city of Ariel is a blatant instance of land-grabbing, since, as you know, Ariel would disappear under your beloved Geneva. The surrounding of Qalqilya, effectively imprisoning its population, is equally outrageous. As I said before, the difference between Palestinian and Israeli acts of violence is that the Israeli ones --such as building a fence that ruins the lives of thousands of people-- have enduring effects that the Palestinian violence doesn't have.

9) Yesterday, Palestinian girls were stoned by Jewish boys as they came out of the Qurtuba school in Hebron. Has this violence been stopped? Has the violence on olive harvesters been stopped? Has the violence at the checkpoints been stopped? Has the shooting of holes into Palestinian water tanks been stopped?

No, you can't say that Israeli violence ceased when the launching of Qassams stopped.

Lydia McGrew said...

Unfortunately, Condoleeza Rice does not understand that distinction. She has made that clear again and again. Which is why the apartments in question are, as far as I know, not actually being built, though the Olmert government denies that it has agreed to a building freeze in East Jerusalem. Because Ms. Rice threw a fit about the so-called "settlement expansion" which was actually taking place in the areas you mention.