Photo by Jamie Lynn Ross

There are those who argue it didn’t work so well for Israel when Jews left the Gaza. But Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is suggesting the same should be done in the West Bank.

Barak believes a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would result in a resumption of talks with the Palestinians on a two-state solution.

Most Jewish settlements would be abandoned but not all, under the plan. Major communities would remain intact.

Israel removes most West Bank roadblocks

When the Palestinian Arabs complain about the Israeli “occupation,” they primarily like to point out the poor economic conditions under which they live and to blame that on Israeli security measures that make movement and commerce difficult.

In particular, these antagonists will call out Israel for establishing dozens of roadblocks and checkpoints throughout Judea and Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”), a move made necessary by years of incessant Palestinian terrorism.
But with the decline in Palestinian violence in recent years, Israel has responded in kind by reducing the number of roadblocks from 44 in 2008 to only 10 at the start of this year. Israel’s Foreign Ministry further noted that those 10 roadblocks and checkpoints are “normally open.”

Foreign Affairs editor: Israel should withdraw from the West Bank

Photo by delayed gratification/Flickr

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Six-Day War which began the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and intensified the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. As world leaders continue grappling with this intractable challenge, Foreign Affairs Managing Editor Jonathan Tepperman makes the case for Israel to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank and do it now.

Tepperman argues four advantages of this strategy:

1) Financial windfall: “The direct costs of running the occupation are thought to come to around $6.3 billion a year – a significant sum and a big savings Israel could reap if it no longer had to protect so many outlying outposts in hostile territory.”

2) Moral reward: “Pulling out from all or most of the West Bank settlements would free Israeli parents from having to send their sons and daughters to enforce a brutal project that many of them oppose. It would weaken the power of Israeli extremists and ultranationalists by depriving them of their power base in the Jewish settlements and undermining their messianic dreams of a Greater Israel. And it would finally allow the Jewish state to start shedding its international pariah status.”

3) Help against Iran: “The one country that scares most Sunni leaders more than Israel is Iran. Yet they also know that Israel happens to be the only country in the region strong enough to stand up to the Islamic republic. What’s keeping these emirs from joining forces with Israel against Iran is the opposition of their own publics, opposition that is based overwhelming on Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. Were Israel to end that oppression, the popular opposition might well soften, freeing up Sunni Arab leaders to at least quietly join forces with Jerusalem against Tehran.”

4) Can be done unilaterally: “ Israel doesn’t need to wait for the Palestinians to make progress on the occupation. While it would be preferable for the two to strike a deal before either took action, Jerusalem retains the ability to act on its own… There are currently about 500,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank…(A)bout 375,000 of those half million settlers live in settlement blocs that either straddle the Israeli border or are located just a few kilometers away… Trading just about five percent of Palestinian territory for five percent of Israeli land would bring some 85 percent of all Jewish settlers in the West Bank into Israel proper.”


Bibi silent on settlements court decision


JERSUSALEM – Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan this week questioned why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has remained mum on the findings of a recently concluded legal commission that concluded Jews do have a legal right to build and live in Judea and Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”).

“After years in which, unfortunately, a question mark hovered over the question of the right of the state of Israel to settle in Judea and Samaria, a panel of senior jurists…determined that Israelis have a legal right to settle [there],” Erdan was quoted as saying by Israel National News. “Let us not leave this report in the desk drawer.”

Erdan was referring to the Levy Committee that Netanyahu himself established to look into the legality of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria under international law.

The committee was comprised of three senior Israeli jurists, including an international law expert who was party to the formulation of the “Oslo Accords.”

The committee made public its findings early last month, noting that the standard accusation that Israel is militarily occupying Judea and Samaria is inaccurate under international law.

“Our basic conclusion is that from the point of view of international law, the classical laws of ‘occupation’ as set out in the relevant international conventions cannot be considered applicable to the unique and sui generis historic and legal circumstances of Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, over the course of decades,” the judges wrote.

In other words, the Geneva Conventions define “military occupation” as the seizing of another nation’s land, and the fact is that no nation legally controlled Judea and Samaria following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which itself had ruled the area for over five centuries.

Additionally, the Jews cannot be considered an outside force in Judea and Samaria, but rather the historic founders of the territory as a unified nation-state. Jewish archeological finds dating back millennia abound in the “West Bank.”

The committee based its findings on “international, Jordanian, Israeli and even Ottoman laws,” all of which led to one inescapable truth: “Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria and the establishment of settlements cannot, in and of itself, be considered to be illegal.”

The issue of private Arab land being taken for Jewish construction is another matter, but judges did point out that the vast majority of Jewish settlement construction is on state-owned land or land legally purchased by Jewish individuals and organizations.

So why is Netanyahu sitting on this report rather than presenting it to his cabinet for discussion and adoption?

The prime minister himself is keeping a tight lip on the subject, but most commentators assume the reason is because of the Obama White House’s deep displeasure with the Levy Committee.

“We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts,” US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters after the committee’s findings were published. Ventrell said the White House was “concerned” that Netanyahu had even established such a committee.

Poll: Most Israelis support settlements

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JERUSALEM – The results of a new poll show that a strong majority of Israelis support the presence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, those territories labeled by the world as the West Bank and claimed by the Palestinian Arabs for a future state.

Conducted by researchers at the Ariel University Center, the survey showed that 64 percent of Israelis from around the country support the continuation of Jewish settlement activity in Judea and Samaria.

Of the 36 percent that voted the other way, a portion said settlement activity should only be halted temporarily while a final-status peace deal is worked out with the Palestinians. In other words, far more than 64 percent of Israelis believe Jews have a right to live in these territories, but some feel that settlement activity should be curbed for the time being as a matter of pragmatism.

While many Israelis view Judea and Samaria as the biblical heartland of their people, and therefore one of the most important areas for Jewish settlement, most of the poll’s respondents said they were influenced by the security benefits provided by the Israeli settlements.

Most said that Gaza must serve as and example of why Jews cannot be removed from Judea and Samaria. Following the 2005 uprooting of Gaza’s Jewish community, Hamas quickly seized control of the area and, together with allied terror groups, began a years-long campaign that has seen thousands of missiles hit cities and towns across southern Israel.

A similar situation existed for the residents of Tel Aviv and Israel’s populous coastal region prior to 1967, and most Israelis are unwilling to return to such a situation. They see the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria as a kind of “security belt.”

In fact, the term “settlement” in its modern context is a misrepresentation of the situation. The Jews living in Judea and Samaria today are not ethnically foreign to the area. Numerous historical writings, including many by Arabs and Muslims, confirm that Jews have lived in Judea and Samaria for millennia. Those writings have been backed up by the discovery of a staggering amount of archeological evidence.

Bibi under fire for ordering demolition of Jewish homes


JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday came under heavy political fire for determining that five houses built on a disputed piece of land in the Jewish community of Beit El in Samaria will be demolished in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling.

The houses in question are part of a small neighborhood known as Ulplana that was built more than five years ago. Only five of the Ulpana’s 14 apartment buildings were deemed to be situated on land still owned by a Palestinian Arab, despite the fact that the entire neighborhood is situated within the boundaries of Beit El established in 1977.

Just to make sure they weren’t stealing anyone’s land, Beit El did pay for the land upon which Ulpana sits. Back in 2000, the Beit el Development Company identified the grandson of the man whom Jordanian records showed previously owned the land, and paid him for it.

But through some legal gymnastics, left-wing Israeli groups, with the help of Palestinian courts, declared that Beit El had purchased the land from the wrong grandson, and that the construction of Jewish homes on it had therefore been illegal. Israel’s Supreme Court agreed, and ordered the five buildings demolished no later than July 1.

Right-wing lawmakers were incensed, and proposed a new bill that stated any land owner who did not challenge construction on the land he claimed to own within four years would lose the legal right to do so. Netanyahu said the bill was dangerous, and would open Israel up to a new wave of international criticism, though he did promise to move the Ulpana homes to another part of Beit El and build more homes in other settlements.

His critics in the Knesset responded that Israel’s settlement enterprise is already the recipient of exaggerated international condemnation, and that Netanyahu was helping to set a dangerous precedent whereby any and all unsubstantiated Palestinian claims could bring Jewish construction to a standstill.

“The forceful destruction of the Ulpana neighborhood is great mistake,” said coalition chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud).

At least one media commentator wondered why Israel was using Jordanian land records to make such decisions, considering that Jordan’s occupation of Judea and Samaria was never recognized. It was also pointed out that in Israel, if privately-owned land is not worked or built upon for a period of 10 years, it reverts to state control. Only in Judea and Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”) does this not hold true.

Meanwhile, the residents of Ulpana warned they would not go quietly.

“Everyone understand that this is the beginning of the battle for the whole settlement enterprise,” one resident told Israel’s Ynet news portal. Another expressed fear over the “terrible consequences from things that will happen here. There will be a clash, even though we love Israel, there will be a terrible clash between us and the soldiers.”