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Illegitimacy clouds John Kerry’s Mideast effort

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (center), Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat shake hands after addressing reporters on the subject of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., in July 2013. Credit: U.S. State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (center), Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat shake hands after addressing reporters on the subject of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., in July 2013. Credit: U.S. State Department.

Illegitimacy hangs like smog over Secretary of State John Kerry’s obsessive-compulsive Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. Even assuming he succeeds in brokering a one-legged peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority administering the West Bank, it will not:

  • Affect the Gaza Strip, where half the Palestinian Arabs in the disputed territories live. Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood derivative that violently ousted the Fatah-led P.A. Its charter is genocidal regarding not only Israel but also Jews in general.


  • Legally bind successors of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas’ term expired in 2009. That of the virtually defunct Palestinian Legislative Council also ended. Abbas, 78 and lacking an obvious successor, exercises unfounded authority through decree. A subsequent president or council may discount any agreement of his. In any case, Abbas Zaki, a Fatah central committee member and close associate of President Abbas, reiterated to Syrian TV on Jan. 6 that a West Bank and Gaza Strip state would conform to the 1974 Palestinian plan for the destruction of Israel in stages


  • Reinforce the current P.A.’s grip on the West Bank. Absent Israeli anti-Hamas operations in the territories, Abbas and his followers might well be driven from Ramallah as they were from Gaza City.

The peace Kerry appears to be pursuing may well be de facto, not de jure, and then only so long as it’s imposed on the Palestinian population. Imposed by whom? The United States, withdrawn or withdrawing without peace from Iraq and Afghanistan; the United Nations, unable to arrange a cease-fire in Syria; or the European Union, home to cities pocked by “no-go” areas dominated by Islamic extremists yet determined to re-ghettoize with sanctions the Jews of Judea and Samaria?

Kerry, President Obama and others have fixated on the alleged “illegitimacy” of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But it’s the illegitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and the erroneous insistence—perpetuated by major news media, including the Washington Post—that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are “illegal under international law” that undermines U.S. diplomacy.

The Post, in the most recent of several such examples, reported in its Jan. 11 print edition (“Israel confirms new settlement plans; Announcement came after Kerry wrapped up latest peace-talks visit”): “Most independent legal experts consider the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, taken after the 1967 war, to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.” The newspaper also reported “State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterated that view Friday, saying that U.S. officials ‘consider now and have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate.’”

In fact, as many have pointed out, Jewish settlements (not only in what became Israel inside the 1949 Israeli-Jordanian armistice boundary or Green Line but also the West Bank) are encouraged under international law. The League of Nations Palestine Mandate, Article 6 calls for “close Jewish settlement on the land.” The mandate, including
Article 6, is upheld by the U.N. Charter, Chapter 12, Article 80.

Other relevant instruments, including the 1920 San Remo Treaty and 1924 Anglo- American Convention, anticipated dense Jewish resettlement in British Mandatory Palestine, at least that portion west of the Jordan River. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) did not require the territories taken in 1967 to be free of Jews.

Last year a French appeals court rejected a suit that claimed Israel’s light rail line in eastern Jerusalem violated international law. Also in 2013, nearly 1,000 international jurists combined to reassert the legality of post-’67 Jewish communities in the disputed territories. Not that either news was much reported.

These facts have been provided repeatedly by CAMERA and other organizations and individuals to the State Department, the Post and other agencies and media. They know, for example, that contrary to spokeswoman Psaki, U.S. officials have not always considered the settlements to be illegitimate. President Reagan reversed the Carter-era claim, not reasserted by any administration until Obama’s. Before Reagan, President Johnson made clear he did not expect Israel to return to the pre-’67 lines.

No one questions the legitimacy of Arab towns in Israel or the growth of West Bank Palestinian population centers prior to a final agreement. But when chief negotiator Saeb Erekat renewed threats to seek “statehood” recognition from the U.N. General Assembly if Israel doesn’t grant P.A. demands—a maneuver that actually is illegitimate, violating Oslo commitments to resolve outstanding issues through negotiations—few questioned that either.

False claims of illegitimacy and tolerance of the real thing indicate a double standard. And double standards suggest bias, conscious or not.

Eric Rozeman is Washington director of CAMERA, the Boston-based 65,000-member Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. CAMERA is a news media watchdog; it takes no position on negotiated Arab-Israeli agreements. Any opinions expressed above are solely those of the writer.

This column was first published by the Washington Jewish Week.

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