The U.S. State Department says it is “deeply troubled” that the Israeli government has lifted a ban on Jews living in the community of Homesh. Well, I’m deeply troubled that the State Department is deeply troubled.
Homesh was one of four Jewish communities in northern Samaria that then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally dismantled when he undertook the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.
Nothing in the Oslo Accords required Israel to withdraw from the entire Gaza Strip or to dismantle all the Jewish communities there. And nothing in them obligated Israel to withdraw from any Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria, either. But Sharon had a majority in the Knesset, so those withdrawals went ahead. That’s democracy.
Last year, a majority of Israelis voted for political parties that believe the dismantling of those four Samaria communities was wrong, so the new government has partially reversed that 2005 decision. And that’s democracy, too.
The same principle of “new administration, new policies” applies in the United States, too. A new administration from one party always overrides or cancels policies that were implemented by a previous administration from the other party.
For some reason, the Biden administration’s State Department doesn’t seem to have much respect for Israel’s democratic system. It seems to think that Israel is obligated to keep making concessions to the Arabs, no matter what Israeli voters want.
A few weeks back, the Israeli Knesset—the country’s democratically elected lawmakers—adopted legislation revoking the unilateral dismantling of the four Samaria communities. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel announced that “the United States is extremely troubled” by the action. He added that it was “all the more concerning” that the new legislation passed with only 31 votes in the Knesset.
Patel seems to be unaware of the common practice of “pairing off” that is practiced in all parliamentary democracies. When the passage of a bill is a foregone conclusion, some members on each side pair off so they can be absent from the voting without affecting the outcome. Of course, the current government, which has a 64-seat majority, could have mustered 64 votes if necessary. The fact that the bill passed with 31 was nothing more than a technicality. For Patel to make it sound as if only 31 out of 120 Knesset members favored the bill was disingenuous, to put it mildly.
Patel added that the Biden administration is demanding that Israel prevent Jews from returning to Homesh, “consistent with both former Prime Minister Sharon and the current Israeli government’s commitment to the United States.” Whatever Sharon may or may not have said, the current government made no commitment to the United States or anybody else to ban Jews from Homesh.
When Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant took a step towards implementing the new legislation last week, the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem issued a statement saying that “the U.S. is deeply troubled” by Gallant’s action. The statement reiterated the false claim that this Israeli government is somehow “committed” to banning Jews from Homesh.
Not only does the return to Homesh not violate any Israeli commitment to America, it does not violate the Oslo Accords, either. Dismantling Homesh was not required by Oslo, and rebuilding Homesh is not prohibited by Oslo. There is not a single word in the Oslo accords that prevents Israel from building new Jewish towns or expanding existing Jewish towns in the 60% of Judea and Samaria that it controls.
Likewise, there is nothing in the Oslo agreement preventing the Palestinian Authority from building in the 40% of Judea and Samaria that it governs. And, of course, the P.A. is constantly building in the areas it occupies. Funny, the State Department never seems “troubled” by the P.A.’s construction activity.
Since returning to Homesh does not violate either Oslo or any commitment to the United States and is consistent with the will of Israel’s voters, it’s legitimate to ask: Why does the Biden administration want to ban Jews from that part of their ancestral homeland?
The answer to that question is, as the State Department would say, deeply troubling. The Biden administration does not really care about what the Oslo Accords say, even though Washington hosted their signing and claims to embrace them. All this administration cares about is how to pressure Israel into permitting the creation of a Palestinian state next door.
Moreover, the Biden administration apparently envisions “Palestine” as a Jew-free country; otherwise, it would not have any problem with Jews living in a place such as Homesh.
Not only that, but Homesh and the other dismantled Jewish communities are less than 10 miles from the pre-1967 border. There is no reason they could not be included within a future boundary of Israel unless the Biden administration insists that a Palestinian state must include every square inch of Judea and Samaria—meaning that if “Palestine” is created, Israel will be back to the old nine-miles-wide borders.
In short, this is an argument about much more than Homesh. It’s really about whether Israel will be constantly pressured to make more concessions; whether agreements such as Oslo are worth even the paper they are written on; and whether Israel will once again be confined to an area so narrow and vulnerable that even the dovish Israeli statesman Abba Eban famously said: “It has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz.”