OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Biden’s settlement delusions

Contrary to the administration’s claims, history proves that the settlements are neither illegal nor an impediment to peace.

View of a light snowfall in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, March 15, 2022. Photo: Gershon Elinson/Flash90
View of a light snowfall in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, March 15, 2022. Photo: Gershon Elinson/Flash90
Eric Levine
Eric Levine
Eric R. Levine is a founding member of the New York City law firm Eiseman, Levine, Lehrhaupt & Kakoyiannis, P.C. He is an essayist, political commentator and fundraiser for Republican candidates with an emphasis on the U.S. Senate.

Last week, the Biden administration reversed the “Pompeo Doctrine,” which recognized that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are not “per se inconsistent with international law.”

Biden’s record of being wrong on every single important foreign policy issue of the last 50 years remains unblemished. His decision is wrong as a matter of law and fact. It is also bad politics and undermines Israeli and American national security.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken summed up the administration’s position by saying, “It’s been longstanding U.S. policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace. … They’re also inconsistent with international law. Our administration maintains a firm opposition to settlement expansion. And in our judgment, this only weakens—it doesn’t strengthen—Israel’s security.”

History disproves Blinken’s claim that “settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace.” In fact, Israel has always been willing to remove settlements to achieve peace.

The 1978 Israel-Egypt peace treaty required that Israel dismantle its settlements in the Sinai. Prime Minister Menachem Begin did so, deploying the IDF to physically remove those settlers who refused to leave. Clearly, the settlements were not a barrier to peace.

In 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the evacuation of all Israelis from Gaza and turned it over to the Palestinians. Like Begin before him, Sharon sent the IDF to remove the settlers who would not leave. There were no Jews in Gaza for 18 years. Only after the Oct. 7 massacre did Israelis return to exercise their legitimate and legal right to self-defense.

Not surprisingly, Blinken failed to explain how evacuating Gaza and dismantling the settlements there strengthened Israel’s security. This is because it is obvious that Israel’s removal of the Gaza settlements weakened Israel’s security and led to war, not peace.

The truth is that settlements have never been an impediment to peace. Israel made peace offers to Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas in 2000 and 2008, respectively, that would have stipulated the removal of numerous Judea and Samaria settlements. Both Palestinian leaders rejected Israel’s offer because it would have required them to recognize the existence of a Jewish State of Israel living within secure and defined borders.

Israel’s settlements have never been in the way of “an enduring peace.” It is the Palestinians’ refusal to live in peace with a Jewish state of Israel under any circumstances that makes it impossible.

Moreover, despite the endlessly repeated claim that the settlements are “inconsistent with international law,” this simply isn’t true.

The claim is based on the assertions that 1) Israel is a foreign “occupying” force under international law and 2) the settlements violate the rights of the most recent internationally recognized sovereign over Judea and Samaria.

The two assertions are interconnected. Israel cannot be considered an occupying power unless it controls territory captured from the last internationally recognized sovereign over it. That is not the case in regard to Judea and Samaria. The last internationally recognized sovereign over the territory was the British Mandate for Palestine. The British relinquished control over it in 1948 after the United Nations voted to establish two states in Palestine—one Jewish and one Arab.

The Jews agreed to this “two-state solution.” The Arabs did not. Instead, they launched a war to destroy the Jewish community of Mandatory Palestine. After they lost the war, Jordan illegally annexed Judea and Samaria. At no time did the international community recognize Jordanian sovereignty over the territory. Israel then captured Judea and Samaria in the 1967 Six-Day War. It was only after Israel’s victory that anyone began to worry about who controlled the territory.

Whatever the administration says, the fact remains that the Pompeo Doctrine was correct. So long as the establishment and maintenance of settlements in Judea and Samaria do not violate the laws that applied under the British Mandate, the settlements are legal. The burden is on those who disagree to prove otherwise. To date, they have failed. Merely asserting that the settlements are illegal over and over doesn’t make it true.

Furthermore, the settlements play a crucial political and geostrategic role.

The Palestinian negotiating strategy has always been to simply say “no.” They did so in 1948, 2000, 2005 and 2008. This intransigence is based on the Palestinians’ belief that the international community—particularly the United States—will eventually force Israel to make massive concessions without the Palestinians having to make any concessions at all. To date, that strategy has been wildly successful.

The Israeli settlements undermine this strategy because they exact a price from the Palestinians every time they say “no.” The more settlements are built, the less time the Palestinians have to achieve their own state, because the facts on the ground will ultimately make it impossible. This forces the Palestinians to admit that time is not on their side.

Given the Palestinians’ opposition to peace, Israel has no choice but to unilaterally take whatever steps are necessary to ensure its security. That is what is taking place today.

We must ask, however, why the Biden administration is suddenly changing U.S. policy on the settlements now, given that Israel is currently fighting for its survival.

The answer is simple: President Joe Biden is more worried about his re-election than American and Israeli national security. He has concluded that he needs to win the state of Michigan in November. To do this, he has decided, he needs the Arab vote in Dearborn. Those voters are bitterly antisemitic and pro-Hamas. Biden is thus trying to put distance between his administration and Israel.

This will only get worse as November approaches. Buckle up Israel supporters, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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