Small World: Unsettled by settlements

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Today let’s discuss the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution condemning Israeli settlements that so agitated Prime Minister Netanyahu. Fourteen UNSC member states voted for it; the United States, which previously has protected Israel with a veto, abstained so that the resolution passed.

The Resolution:

  • reaffirmed that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are all illegal, and that no changes to the 1967 borders would be recognized outside of an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians;
  • demanded that Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem;
  • called for all countries to distinguish between the settlements and the State of Israel within its internationally recognized 1967 borders in all their “relevant dealings”;
  • called for both sides to prevent violence against civilians, condemn and combat terrorism, refrain from incitement, and comply with their obligations under international law;
  • urged both parties and the international community to intensify efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Now a personal note — following the June 1967 Israel-Arab war in which Israel occupied territory from Egypt, Syria and Jordan (including Palestine and Jerusalem), I was assigned to the State Department’s Israel desk. Some months later, in 1967 or 68, The New York Times reported that an Israeli settlement (called a Nahal) had been set up on the West Bank. A first. Another officer, who was a lawyer, and I drafted the position for the State spokesman at the noon press briefing. We said, as I recall, that 1) the settlement was an obstacle to a peace agreement because it took land the Palestinians might seek in negotiations, and 2) it was in violation of international law. The 1949 Geneva Convention bans the transfer of citizens from a combatant power to land it has seized and occupies. The Nazis did that in Czechoslovakia and Mussolini did the same in Italy’s African colonies.

The Israelis assured us the Nahal was a temporary arrangement to assist the army in protecting the State. Ironic now, isn’t it, that the army is now required to be in the West Bank to protect the settlements, which have the appearance of being permanent.

To my knowledge, the 1967 position on settlements (that they are harmful to peace and illegal) has been supported by every subsequent American president. President Obama spoke of settlements in his Cairo speech early in his term. No country on the globe, save Israel, takes a different view. The continued existence and expansion of settlements, which now hold maybe 600,000 inhabitants, has helped delay a peace agreement for the 50 years Israel has controlled the land and people of what remains of the original Palestine.

One might notice that the third point in the Resolution (see above) calling for all countries to distinguish between the settlements and the State of Israel would appear to support measures for the boycott of, or disinvestment in, Israeli products from the occupied areas. That could mean trouble for Israel in some European countries, if not in the United States.

A final observation: one would normally expect all elements of the U.S. government to support an official policy. Alas, the IRS never got the word — charitable tax deductions are allowed for contributions that support the expansion of settlements. Most people think of charitable deductions as benefitting the poor or religion or culture. Not so if you are a donor to outfits that build on Arab lands. Ideology and nationalism are the beneficiaries.

The week after the Resolution passed, Secretary Kerry gave a detailed and blunt speech explaining the United States’ abstention. The existence and growth of settlement communities, he said, preempted their land from negotiations. Without negotiations, there could be no agreement on a Palestinian state. Without a Palestine existing in peace next to a democratic Israel there would only be a unitary Israeli state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, a nation whose population, owing to demography, would soon be majority Arab. Israel would then have to choose: Jewish and authoritarian (apartheid) or non-Jewish and democratic.

I agree with Secretary Kerry that the only way out of that dilemma is the separation of a two-state solution and that a freeze on settlements is an essential component of that solution.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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