Critics of the Trump administration’s determination that settlements “are not per se illegal” assert that it is detrimental to the possibility of peace. Like President Donald Trump’s move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, they say, it is motivated only by crass political considerations.
These critics are wildly off base. What they don’t understand is that the Trump administration’s moves have been designed to reset the Mideast diplomatic stage in a way that will advance a realistic peace process, one based on historical truths, concrete realities, pragmatic solutions and responsible behavior.
First and foremost this means dialing down unreasonable Palestinian expectations and rolling back Palestinian maximalism. The Palestinian leadership must be disabused of the notion that it can coerce Israel into rapid, wide-ranging and risky withdrawals by appealing to international courts and tribunals. The canard that settlements are illegal, or a war crime, has been a key part of this insufferable Palestinian offensive.
As U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wisely said last week, “Calling settlements illegal hasn’t advanced peace.” Just the opposite. As long as the world deems Jewish settlements in Judea (Judea!) and Samaria to be illegal and considers the territories stolen property, the Palestinians have no reason to negotiate with Israel.
Even if you think that Israeli settlements should be rolled back in the context of a sensible peace arrangement, applying the demonizing epithet “illegal” creates a destructive narrative that makes a peace deal less likely. It is deleterious discourse.
What Washington has done—last week and in its recent decisions on Jerusalem, UNRWA, aid to the Palestinian Authority, the Golan Heights and more—is put the Palestinians on notice that the United States will not deliver Israeli concessions on a silver platter, and that the longer the Palestinians adhere to an obstructionist policy the less statehood they will get.
Washington is also asserting that real peacemaking begins with truth-telling. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Jews are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria.” Or as Blue and White co-founder and former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, “One cannot be an ‘occupant’ in his own land.” Now, let the negotiations begin from here.
Implicit in the Trump administration’s refreshingly realistic approach is the understanding that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should not take as their starting point a 70-year-old armistice line forced upon Israel by Arab aggression; “from the point that talks last left off” 11 years ago under a previous, defeatist Israeli government; from the defensive “security fence” forced upon Israel by Palestinian terrorism; or from any borders high-handedly dictated in advance by jaundiced foreign countries or politicized international legal tribunals.
Similarly, Israel’s baseline position at the outset of any future talks should be that 100 percent of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) belongs to Israel by historical right, and that this right is richly buttressed by political experience, legitimate settlement, and security needs. Only then can Israel hope to obtain a sensible compromise.
Keep in mind that there is a broad consensus in Israel on security and settlement matters—accentuated by Blue and White Party leaders’ positive response to the U.S. announcement on settlement legality and to previous U.S. declarations regarding Jerusalem and the Golan. Even if the Palestinians one day choose to settle with Israel, Israel will insist on maintaining control of the Jordan Valley and most highland settlement zones, not to mention a very broad Jerusalem envelope.
And thus, kudos are due to the Trump administration for essentially rejecting obsolete paradigms and hackneyed diplomatic assertions such as “everybody knows what the contours of a Mideast peace settlement look like and they run along the pre-1967 lines,” or, “Israel must allow a full-fledged Palestinian state on contiguous territory in full control of all its borders.”
Today, these are no more than ruinous, synthetic gospels.
The reason for this is that the Clinton-Obama parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian deal were never wise or fair to Israel. They didn’t sufficiently take into account Israel’s historic and national rights in Judea and Samaria. They certainly didn’t consider, and today cannot adequately accommodate, the dramatically changed security environment in the Mideast since the Arab upheavals began and Iran began its march to Israel’s borders.
Worst of all, those parameters insufficiently considered the irredentist nature of the Palestinian national movement. We now know, alas, that the P.A. isn’t anywhere near becoming the stable, moderate, democratic State of Palestine that was promised to Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Instead, one part of the Palestinian-claimed area is run by an exceedingly corrupt secular dictatorship that “pays for slay” (it funds terrorism against Israel) and seeks the criminalization of Israel in every international forum, and which would fall to Hamas without Israel’s military presence, while the other part is already ruled by Hamas, a radical Islamist dictatorship armed to the teeth by Iran, that has fought three wars against Israel over the past 10 years and is openly committed to Israel’s destruction.
Remember this, too: The only Palestinian government/s in Judea, Samaria and Gaza that Israelis can live with over the long term must agree to a permanent end to the conflict and all claims on Israel—meaning no “right” of return, the inculcation of peace (and not genocidal anti-Semitism) in schools and media, and reconciliation with Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
But almost all Palestinians reject these contours, which they view as a “sovereign cage.” They do not crave a “statelet” (even on the 1967 lines) and apparently feel no urgency about achieving it.
As the prominent Palestinian adviser professor Ahmad Khalidi has admitted: “The concept of Palestinian statehood is nothing but a punitive construct devised by our worst enemies—the U.S. and Israel—to constrain Palestinian aspirations and territorial ambitions.”
Or as P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly made clear, the Palestinian liberation movement will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state or agree to forgo the so-called “right” of refugee return. In short, he wants his state, but without an end to the conflict. He wants a state in order to continue the conflict against the “illegal Jewish settler” presence in all “Palestine.”
Stripping Abbas of any legitimacy for such warlike discourse about Israeli “illegality” is a key goal, and hopefully will be a solid outcome, of the Trump administration’s announcement last week.
One Trump administration critic, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), charged that Pompeo’s announcement about settlements “serves no strategic purpose.” Warner is wrong: In the long-term perspective, the determination that settlements are not illegal is strategically smart, tactically valuable, historically purposeful and potentially promising of peace.
David M. Weinberg is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, jiss.org.il. His personal website is: davidmweinberg.com.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.