It’s the Settlements, Stupid: Alon Liel’s Fantastic Vision for Peace in our Time

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

The road to peace? A Jewish child sits in front of the rubble of a structure demolished by Israeli police in a settlement outside Ramallah, on Sept. 5, 2011.

A frenzy of sorts has broken out surrounding a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa’s recent backing of international efforts to prevent produce originating in Jewish settlements in the West Bank from being labeled “Made in Israel”.

The goal of such a policy, according to former ambassador Alon Liel, would be to protect and reinforce the pre-1967 border. Liel goes on to commend the decision of South African and Danish governments to delineate between products originating in Israel and those coming out of “settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories…” since such settlements “…are not [in] Israel [but] are built on occupied land outside Israel’s internationally recognised borders and are illegal under international law.”                                                                                                     

While Liel’s piece is loaded down with references to “international law”, the esteemed former diplomat fails to communicate a most basic fact: international law makes a clear distinction between land occupied during a war of aggression and land taken as a result of a defensive war.

Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a war of survival. In fact, Israel’s seizing of land in 1967 was, arguably, the ONLY legal acquisition of this territory in the 20th century. In contrast, Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank from 1947 to 1967 had been the result of an offensive war launched against the fledgling Jewish state in 1948. With the exception of Great Britain and Pakistan, this particular occupation was never recognized by the international community, including the Arab states.

Having delegitimized Israel’s claim to the territory it acquired during the Six Day War, Liel then takes aim at that pesky, perpetual enemy of peace in the Middle East: the settlements. According to the former ambassador: “[t]he continuing settlement expansion threatens to make a two-state solution to the conflict impossible.”

Indeed, concern over Israeli settlement construction is not a new issue. Yet, despite the “the expansionist policy of Israel’s rightwing government led by Binyamin Netanyahu”, serious, concerted efforts have been made to determine and cement the legal status of the outposts in the “occupied territories”.

On July 3rd, 2012, a committee tasked with examining the legality of Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, headed by a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice, concluded that international law does not preclude Israeli construction on land owned by the state. The committee also declared that communities built with government assistance were implicitly authorized.

However, the report that the committee, established by Prime Minister Netanyahu, issued went far beyond merely asserting Israeli sovereignty over the disputed territories. It also made a concerted effort to address lingering legal issues regarding communities which were not built on privately owned Palestinian land, but whose status was still in doubt due to legal bureaucracy.

The report also criticized Israeli government action in the territories, stating that “dozens of new neighborhoods have been erected, without government authorization and at times without a contiguous link to the mother community… several were built outside the legal jurisdiction allotted to the community.”

Having whitewashed the existential threat faced by Israel that precipitated its military response in June, 1967 – against Arab nations openly committed to the destruction of the Jewish State – Liel then proceeds to demonize the Jewish inhabitants of homes that were subsequently built in these territories.

Liel aims to shock with his presentation of the old and intellectually fuzzy demographic time bomb argument: 550,000 Jewish settlers now squatting in the “occupied” lands. Truth be told, over two-thirds of the Jews in the West Bank live in five settlement “blocs” that are all near the 1967 border.

Most Israelis believe these blocs should become part of Israel when final borders are drawn.

Furthermore, built-up settlement area is less than two percent of the disputed territories. An estimated 70 percent of the settlers live in what are in effect suburbs of major Israeli cities such as Jerusalem. These are areas that virtually the entire Jewish population believes Israel must retain to ensure its security.

In short, the main obstacle to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors has never been the territories, or the settlements, or the settlers – it has been the very existence of Israel. From 1949–67, when Jews were forbidden to live in the West Bank and “East” Jerusalem, the Arabs nonetheless refused to make peace with the “Zionist Entity”.

It is worth considering that the growth in the Jewish population in the territories may actually serve as a catalyst for peace since the Palestinians now realize that time is on the side of Israel, which can build settlements and create facts on the ground. Realizing this, Israel’s peace partners may finally acknowledge that the only way out of its dilemma is face-to-face negotiations, without preconditions. 

Ultimately, the disposition of settlements is a matter for final status negotiations. While one may legitimately support or challenge Israeli settlements in the disputed territories, they are not illegal. Furthermore, Alon Liel’s favorite obstacles to peace have neither the size, population, nor placement to have a serious impact on sincere efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians on issues of disputed territories.

30 replies »

  1. Absolutely brilliant article that destroys all the lies of Liel.
    Remember this is same Alon Liel that said Assad is a man of peace and was doing his best to give away the Jewish Golan. .
    Liel should know the Golan Heights is historic Jewish land.
    Liel did not lift a finger to defend the Golan. There were real heroes who died to capture, then defend the Heights. Liel never defended Israel. The Golan is Israeli as much as Tel Aviv or all of Jerusalem. Liel go away and let us live. We will be better off without you,

    Subversive cells of LEFT-WING RADICALS have no right to give away our inherited homeland.
    East Jerusalem and the Golan are the ancestral inheritance of Jews the world over. Appeasing Hitler did not work before WW II. Appeasing modern-day enemies of the Jewish people will work no better.
    Proof Golan is historically Israels. This is a great article

    Just to inform Liel, when Israel arrested Eichmann from Argentina in 1960, The U.N had an emergency meeting and demanded that Israel return Eichmann back to Argentina. The U.N and all the Arab countries said it was against International law to kidnap Eichmann from Argentina.
    If Liel was around in 1960 he would have demanded that Israel send the mass murderer of millions of Jews back to Argentina to appease the Evil U.N and Arabs.

    The U.N also condemned Israel for the Entebee rescue in 1976 against Palestinian terrorists and said the rescue of Israeli civilians was against international law.
    Liel would have probably told the Arabs of Israel’s plans to rescue the hostages before the plane took off.

    The U.N also condemned Israel for the bombing of Iraq’s nuclear facility in 1981.
    The U.N was probably upset that Saddam couldn’t use atomic weapons against the the Kurds instead of gassing them.

    • There is an absolute prohibition on the acquisition of land by war under international law.

      • Under international humanitarian law, any Israeli settlement built in the occupied Palestinian territory West Bank, east Jerusalem, Gaza Strip) is in violation of international law.

        To quote CIF Watch: “It’s the reality, stupid”.

        • The term “occupied” In relation to Israel’s control of the areas has no basis in international law or history. Furthermore, the term in essence prejudges the outcome of negotiations between Israel and its presumptive partners in peace. One reason that the territories are currently “disputed” is that no state had a legitimate or recognized sovereignty over the West Bank, Gaza Strip or East Jerusalem prior to the Six-Day War. Thank you for reading and replying to my essay!

          • Under international law, Israel is the occupying power of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt – West Bank, east Jerusalem, Gaza Strip), where it built settlements in breach of international law.

            Welcome to reality!

            • That Gaza Strip is no longer occupied(according to your own definition)-due to a lack of the so-called “settlements”.
              Care to revise that statement of yours?

              • The Gaza Strip is still occupied by the Israeli army. The occupation has not ended since Israel still controls five out of the six border crossings, 85% of the seaside, 100% of the airspace and 33% of the arable land in Gaza. Israel also controls movements of goods, people and aid in and out of Gaza.

    • Under international law (the 4th Geneva Convention), Israel is prohibited from transferring its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. This is also a rule of customary law. This rule was designed to prevent the illegal colonisation of a territory acquired by force.

      Moreover, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court states that the transfer of civilian population by the occupying power into the territory it occupies constitutes a war crime.

      In 2004, the International Court of Justice declared that ‘ Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law .’

  2. I think he has business connections in Turkey and Arab states, so by writing this, he maybe aiming for personal gain.

  3. Excellent post. Thanks for the detail that refutes the CiF piece by Liel.

    Frankly, I’ve always thought the settlements to be a red herring. If it were not settlements, the PA would find another excuse, not to conclude a peace deal with Israel.

    As we have seen recently, the Arab ‘street’ that surrounds Abbas, believes that this Palestinian leader is already too friendly with Israel, even while he does all he can to keep Israel and peace at arm’s length.

    Israel should be invoking the 1920/22 San Remo League of Nations agreement and start pressing for that at the UN, along with recognition of the refugee status of almost 1 million Jews from Arab countries. It’s way past time to put the Arabs and the UN on the back foot.

  4. Is it the policy of this website that the lands seized by Israel in 1967 were seized legally and that therefore Israel should extend across the whole of Mandate Palestine?

    • It is my opinion, and the author of this post, that settlements are not illegal. If you care to refute the arguments, facts or logic of Gidon’s essay, go right ahead.

      • M. Levick, you know perfectly well that international humanitarian law (the Geneva Conventions) strictly forbids an occupying power (here Israel) to transfer its population into the territory it occupies (here the occupied Palestinian territory). This is why Israeli settlements are in breach of international law and declared illegal, as confirmed by numerous resolutions of the UN Security Council and by the International Court of Justice.

        • In the fifty years since its adoption, the Fourth Geneva Convention has never been used to condemn world atrocities including those in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Tibet, etc. International efforts led by the United States were in successful in producing a modified resolution that was unanimously passed stating that the Fourth Geneva Convention does apply to Israeli settlements in the “occupied territories.”

      • But that’s not the question. I accept that there is no overall policy for the website. Though I imagine that there are opinions you would not publish. On the question of the legality of the settlements, it is accepted by virtually every government in the world as well as the International Court of Justice that they are illegal. That’s how international law works.

        However, the question was: should Israel extend across the whole of Mandate Palestine?

    • I cannot speak for the “policy” of this site, but:
      Seized legally? Yes. The Six-Day war was a defensive war, waged against Israel, among others, by Jordan, that had annexed and controlled the West Bank.
      When Jordan renounced all territorial disputes with Israel in the 1994 peace treaty, the West Bank reverted to being unclaimed(As no sovereign state had ever existed in it/controlled it).
      None of this however, elides the idea(which I am sure we all share) that the conflict may be resolved WITH the creation of a Pal. state.
      As a matter of fact, as the OP very accurately stated, the settlements form only 2% of the West Bank, and since all recent formulae for a deal included land-swaps, I don’t see why 2% can’t be mutually exchanged.

      • Thanks for your comment.

        We don’t have a policy at CW. The opinions expressed are always that of the author.

        Personally, I wouldn’t oppose exchanging many (though not all) settlements (while holding on to the major communities which border the 67 boundaries) for a genuine and lasting peace. But, the key words are “genuine and lasting peace”.

        I don’t think the Palestinians are anywhere near ready to co-exist with Israel, so think the “settlement” issue is a red herring.

        The real dynamic preventing peace is antisemitism and incitement by the PA, a problem which Palestinians, and Palestinians alone, must deal with.

        It’s not in my power to convince Palestinians not to hate Jews and to accept our existence.

        But, as far as the narrow question of the settlements, those suggesting that they are illegal tend to use pretty specious legal and moral arguments, and the burden is on them to prove what they simply assume to be true.

    • Find and read the League of Nations San Remo 1929/22 Agreement re the Mandate Lands. A Jewish state was to extend from the Mediterranean to east of the Jordan rIver, with the north/south railway line as the eastern border of the Jewish state, i.e. what is now the disputed lands known as the West Bank / Judea and Samaria.

      In effect, Palestinian Arabs are occupying land designated for a Jewish state by the League of Nations in 1920 and ratified in 1922.

      I think it unlikely that the Arab leadership among the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab League, are unaware of this.

      • The San Remo conference has been obsolete for almost a century now. Israel renounced it when it signed the UN Charter in 1948. San Remo is also obsolete because its conclusions were based on colonialism, which has long been outlawed by human rights law in the West.

        Cityca, are you telling us you want to revive colonialist empires? And maybe you also want to revive slavery, since you seem to fancy old oddities?

        • How did you arrive at the fact, that by ratifying the UN Charter, Israel “renounced” the decisions of the San Remo conference?
          The UN succeeded the League of Nation, it didn’t supersede it, nor did it abrogate any of its resolutions.

          • The San Remo conference is a gross violation on the basic principle of international law that says that a people has the right to self-determination. It is not compatible with the UN Charter that Israel signed.

            The San Remo conference was organized at a time when colonialism was still enforced by Western democracies. We’ve moved on, you know. Or maybe you don’t?

            • Where does the San Remo conference violate a “people’s right to self-determination”.
              How is it not compatible with the UN Charter?
              Proof, Nat; we need proof here.

        • Bollox. It has not been obsolete but merely inconvenient for people that would rather it didn’t exist.

          Same answer for colonialism. Jews in a Jewish land are a colony of where precisely? Certainly not another Jewish land cos there ain’t one and as an independent state, Israel doesn’t look elsewhere for instructions any more than does the UK, i.e., the US for support, especially in that den of vipers, the UN.

          And if you are so troubled about colonialism, why have you not made the same comments about Saudi Arabia, TransJordan, Syria, Iraq and the Lebanon, all of which were carved up and distributed between the British and the French following WW1?

          Obsolete and colonial my arse!

    • Well I can’t speak for the website, but I would say yes to the first question, and no to the second, which does not logically extend from the first.

    • @ Sanity
      Yes, that’s the impression, i.e. CiFWatch supports Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Which is a shame.

      Perhaps the general animosity towards Israel in the Arab/Muslim world has nowt to do with the settlements.

      But in the West they are an absolutely crucial factor. Contrary to what this website would have us believe, people in the West are generally sympathetic towards Israel on account of the tragic history behind its birth, all the appalling terrorist attacks over the decades, the horrible rhetoric spewed towards it, and, well, that the country is (despite what the idiots claim) a modern democracy.

      But the settlements in the West Bank? Why??

  5. In 2005, Israel destroyed more than 20 settlements and evicted 8,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. The move did not leave an impression on the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, especially those affiliated with Hamas and radical groups in the Gaza Strip.

    Hamas and its allies misinterpreted the disengagement from the Gaza Strip as a sign of weakness, not a goodwill gesture on the part of Israel.

    Even if Israel tomorrow dismantled 90% of the settlements in the West Bank, who said that the Palestinians will take to the streets to sing the Israeli national anthem?

    Settlements may be a problem, but they are certainly not the major obstacle to the peace process.