In an interview with The New York Times last week, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman boldly made the claim that Israel has a right to annex some, but “unlikely all,” of Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank). Annexation of West Bank settlements is also the official policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and other right-leaning parties.
Friedman’s statement breaks sharply with a long-standing U.S. policy of regarding Judea and Samaria as the future home of a Palestinian state. Indeed, the Obama administration stood aside as the United Nations Security Council in December 2016 passed Resolution 2334 stating that Israel’s settlements in Judea-Samaria constitute a “flagrant violation” of international law.
In its coverage of Friedman’s statement, the Times also stated that Israeli annexation “would violate international law.”
However, it should be noted that, the opinions of the UNSC and The New York Times notwithstanding, many legal scholars hold that Israel’s settlements are not illegal at all. Indeed, there are at least four reasons why Israeli annexation of settlements is not only permissible, but also sensical:
1. Israel’s settlements do not violate international law.
While issues of international law are both complex and fuzzy, suffice it to say that according to international legal expert Eugene Kontorovich, the UNSC cannot make international law. Indeed, Resolution 2334 instead cites as its legal authority the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Simply stated, this convention holds that a country cannot forcibly move its population into another state’s conquered territory. Read these words carefully. Since Israel has not forcibly moved any people into Judea-Samaria—all have settled there on their own initiative—Israel does not violate this stricture.
In addition, prior to Israel taking control of Judea and Samaria in 1967, this previously stateless territory was occupied illegally by Jordan, which conquered it temporarily during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Jordan has since entered into a peace treaty with Israel and given up its claim to all lands in Judea and Samaria, and thus Israel’s settlements are in no way occupying the land of another state.
2. Israel has a moral right to possess Judea and Samaria.
Judea and Samaria is the heart of the biblical Jewish homeland—think Bethlehem, Hebron, Shiloh, Jericho—and it was the territory of the Kingdom of David in 1,000 BCE. Of equal importance, Judea and Samaria were designated as part of the Mandate for Palestine set aside in 1922 for Jewish settlement and a Jewish national home.
Jordan invaded this territory in 1948 and then was driven out during the Arab war of aggression against Israel in 1967. While it is against international law to acquire territory by aggression, Israel defeated Jordan and reconquered Judea-Samaria while defending itself. Other than rights to private property in the West Bank, Palestinians have no documented or inherent rights to public land in this territory.
Nonetheless, Israel in 1948, 2001 and 2008 offered large parts of Judea and Samaria in exchange for peace with the Palestinians. Sadly, the Arabs have turned down all such offers and for the past five years have refused peace negotiations entirely.
3. Without Judea and Samaria, Israel cannot defend Tel Aviv.
According to Maj.-Gen. Gershon Hacohen (ret.), a former commander of Israel’s war colleges, “Israel needs to control the Jordan Valley in perpetuity.” Likewise, Maj.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon (ret.), a former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and former Israeli defense minister, asserts that Israel’s vital security requirements include “defensible borders, a demilitarized Palestinian entity, [and] control of a unified airspace within Judea and Samaria.”
The only practical way to achieve these critical goals is for Israel to annex a significant portion of the West Bank.
4. Jews are the majority population in 60 percent of Judea and Samaria.
Palestinian Arabs make up the majority population in 40 percent of the West Bank land area—designated areas A and B by the 1993-95 Oslo Accords, which were signed by both the Palestinians and Israel. Arabs have full administrative and security authority in Area A and full administrative authority in Area B. However, Israeli Jews make up the majority in Area C, which accounts for about 60 percent of the West Bank territory.
According to the Oslo Accords, Israel has full administrative and security authority over Area C, and this is where most Israeli settlements are located. For these reasons, many Israelis believe Area C would be a logical bloc for annexation.
Ambassador Friedman’s statement broke a hypnotizing spell in U.S. foreign policy regarding the disposition of the West Bank. He has made it permissible to reconsider long-held beliefs about “Palestinian rights” to the disputed territories. In fact, Israel’s rights to Judea and Samaria are at least equal—and arguably superior—to those of the Arabs.
Above all, the notion that Israel’s settlements violate international law should be vigorously refuted by all who support Israel and all who support an objective reading of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This myth of illegality underpins a long list of calumnies against the Jewish state. The time has come to call the bluff and expose this Big Lie.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.