Now is the time to unpack the arsenal of arguments that were not so necessary during the era of former President Donald Trump, and refresh the discourse about Israeli rights to Jerusalem and to Judea and Samaria, that latter home to half a million Jews. Doing so has become urgent in the wake of the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden—a sworn opponent of Israeli settlements—and his appointment of figures like former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.
Israel is already in low-level contact with the new administration about the Iranian nuclear issue. Israel has also made it clear that it is determined to prevent—through military force, if needed—the entrenchment of Iranian satellites on its northern border.
But there is a notable lack of determination on the issue of settlements. Less construction is taking place there, and the annual population growth rate there is shrinking.
What’s more, given the concerns about the position of the new administration in Washington, in recent months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refrained from regulating the status of dozens of young settlements that are under threat of destruction, construction freezes, evacuation and even of being declared illegal. Netanyahu also stopped plans to build in Atarot, a large Jewish neighborhood in northern Jerusalem.
Remember: Under former U.S. President Barack Obama’s and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “not a single brick” policy, Israel froze construction in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. Israel must not go back to that time. It needs to be careful not to fall into the trap of “construction according to natural population grown,” or petty accounting over increasing the density of the added-on parts of the settlements (which comprises only 1.7 percent of the entire area of Judea and Samaria), and, of course, not be satisfied with restricting construction to the settlement “blocs.”
Even now, the Biden administration must hear a clear statement from Israel that Judea and Samaria are not “occupied territories.” The settlements are not illegal.
As Simon the Hasmonean says in I Maccabees: “It is not a foreign land that we have taken, nor have we set our rule over the property of strangers. This is the inheritance of our forefathers.”
Jews are not occupiers in our land. We are linked to it by ties of love, the Bible, heritage, nature, landscape, religion, history and holiness. When dealing with the new administration in Washington, we need to invoke the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo Resolution, the U.N. Declaration, the League of Nations’ British Mandate and every other document relevant to our historic rights in Judea and Samaria.
Counterintuitively, what we did not dare to do when our friend Trump was in office, we might do when our opponent Biden is to build in Atarot; build in E1—the corridor connecting Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem; build the Givat Hamatos neighborhood in Jerusalem, which makes so much sense; release diplomatic limitations that restrict construction in all of Judea and Samaria; and, of course, regulate the young settlements.
If Israel conducts itself in this way, in word and deed, it will make it clear to the new administration—but primarily to ourselves—that the Obama administration’s final stance on the settlements, in the form of U.N. Resolution 2334 of December 2016, which defined Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and united Jerusalem as violations of “international law,” is a non-starter. Israel isn’t in that position any longer.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.