column

Why keep pretending that Jews building homes prevents peace?

Palestinian terrorism and disinterest in a two-state solution ensure that peace is impossible. But the United States and its allies prefer to focus on Israeli housing starts.

A view of Efrat's Dagan (foreground) and Tamar (background) neighborhoods, near Bethlehem in Judea and Samaria, Nov. 10, 2020. Credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90.
A view of Efrat's Dagan (foreground) and Tamar (background) neighborhoods, near Bethlehem in Judea and Samaria, Nov. 10, 2020. Credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

When the spokespersons for the U.S. State Department and the foreign ministries of America’s Western allies churn out press releases condemning the building of homes for Jews, it’s all a matter of finding a similar document in the archive, and just cutting and pasting the text and slapping a new date on it. Their joint statement denouncing Israel’s announcement of approval for the planning and building of 10,000 new homes in Judea and Samaria, as well as the government authorization of nine “outpost” settlements, was strictly by the book. It contained the requisite language about “unilateral acts,” “tensions” and opposing actions that “undermine efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution.”

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The condemnation itself is hardly newsworthy, except to the extent that it shows that the mania about settlements is such that it can still command some attention even when most coverage of Israel is focused on the all-out push by the liberal Israeli establishment to invalidate the results of November’s Knesset election. The Biden administration is intent on aiding those who want to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government from enacting its campaign pledge to reform the judicial system and place some checks against the untrammeled power of the country’s Supreme Court. But, as if operating on automatic pilot, it is always willing to join the international community in an expression of outrage about Jews putting down roots in the heart of their ancient homeland.

The foreign-policy establishment has always held to the farcical notion that the presence of Jews in Jerusalem and in the territories is the primary obstacle to the ending of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Along those lines, the building of any homes in what the world calls the “West Bank” is a problem because of the assumption that all of it is stolen property that must be returned to their rightful Palestinian owners. That is false in both its particulars as well as in its conclusion. While denied by the Palestinians and their foreign enablers, Jews have every right to live in the territories even if the ultimate disposition of the land is something that can and should be negotiated by the parties—assuming, that is, that the Palestinians ever chose to negotiate seriously to reach an agreement that will end their century-old war on Zionism.

What will now follow is a debate about settlements in the U.N. Security Council that, like the condemnations issued this week, is another Kabuki play in which all the players know their lines. The Palestinians will grandstand about the Jews foreclosing the possibility of two states, as will other nations. The only question to be answered about this tired routine is what the Biden administration will do about it. Will it persuade the other parties to agree to a nonbinding resolution chiding the Israelis, as is usually the case with these efforts? Or will it, as the Obama administration did in December 2016 over a similar dispute, allow a more damaging resolution to be passed declaring Jewish life in the territories to be illegal. The former is the likely result; however, the Biden administration is so determined to do whatever it can to undermine Netanyahu and so offended by the number of houses that might be built that it is floating rumors via Axios that it might take some further action against Israel, even if that is probably a bluff.

The routine is so familiar that the whole thing sounds something of a bore. And the Israeli government, beset as it is by other concerns, would do well not to be deterred from pursuing its plans by such criticism. Still, this cycle of diplomatic condemnation—not to be confused with the “cycle of violence,” the phrase used by the media to treat Palestinian terrorism as morally equivalent to Israeli efforts to curb terrorism—should not be ignored.

The United Nations is a talking shop, but the campaign of delegitimization that is waged against Israel in international forums is not merely a matter of hostile propaganda. The accumulated weight of these resolutions can be seen in the moves by the U.N. Human Rights Council and similar efforts to drag Israel into the International Criminal Court in The Hague for its supposed crimes against the Palestinians, which amount to nothing more than exercising the right of Jews to live in their own country or to defend themselves. Their ultimate goal is to use lawfare tactics to isolate Israel in the same way that apartheid-era South Africa was turned into a pariah, even though the two examples have not a thing in common.

Just as important, these condemnations of Israel—even if they are intended by Washington as pro forma gestures—really do have an impact on Palestinian behavior.

The Biden administration is well aware that the Palestinian Authority leadership has no intention of ever negotiating seriously with Israel. That is why, despite the president’s foreign-policy team being composed of former Obama staffers who would like nothing better than to subject Israel to brutal pressure, it is the first administration to arrive in Washington without a peace process plan in mind.

But each time they resurrect the line about wanting to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution that the Palestinians don’t want, they reinforce the conviction of both Fatah, which runs the P.A. and their Hamas and Islamic Jihad rivals, that Israel can be pushed out of the territories as a first step towards its ultimate elimination.

Biden and even his European allies know that the places where new homes will be built in Judea and Samaria will never become part of even a theoretical Palestinian state. Already, more than 500,000 Jews live in the parts of Judea and Samaria that were labeled as “Area C” in the Oslo Accords, plus another 250,000 who live in Jerusalem but who are also considered to be “settlers” by the world, if not by most Israelis.

None of them are going to be chucked out of their homes to create a Palestinian state that would also include “Area C.” Still, the more the world continues to act as if that were a possibility, the less likely it is that the next Palestinian leadership, which will eventually succeed 87-year-old P.A. head Mahmoud Abbas (currently serving the 19th year of the four-year term he was elected to back in 2005), understands that if they want sovereignty over any part of the country, they’ll have to concede the areas where Jewish communities exist.

It’s not just the fact that no one complains about Palestinian construction in this area, which is just as much an effort to create facts on the ground as Israel’s housing starts. It’s that the branding of “settlements” as illegal and subject to eviction is a standing incitement to more terrorism, as well as intransigence.

The existence of these communities hasn’t prevented a two-state solution, and they won’t stop one in the future if the Palestinians want it since they can have their own state without also taking the places where Jews currently reside.

If foreign governments and so-called human-rights groups really wanted to end the cycle of violence, then they would ditch the cycle of diplomatic condemnations of Israel that help reinforce the Palestinian mindset that Israel is an illegitimate nation that can eventually be destroyed. It may be too much to hope that the foreign-policy establishment ever acquires the wisdom to understand just how mistaken it is about the conflict. But if they did, they’d know that their supposedly well-intentioned advocacy for two states is a far greater obstacle to peace than any housing plan.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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