“We have been pursuing a moratorium as a means to create conditions for a return to meaningful and sustained negotiations. After a considerable effort, we have concluded that this does not create a firm basis to work towards our shared goal of a framework agreement.” – State Department spokesman Philip Crowley
Yesterday’s announcement that the Obama administration will no longer push for a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank as a precondition for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was a welcome acknowledgment that settlements are not the central obstacle to peace after all. That said, I remain equally baffled by the Israeli, Palestinian, and American positions on this issue.
First the Israelis: six prime ministers (Rabin, Peres, Barak, Sharon, Olmert, and Netanyahu) have endorsed, however reluctantly, a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Everyone understands that this will involve the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with exact borders to be determined through negotiations. A lot of pro-Israel rhetoric on settlements tends to focus on the right of Jews to live on the West Bank, or historic Judea and Samaria. It seems to me that the question for Israel ought to be whether building houses on disputed land is a good idea, not whether Israelis have a right to live in the historic Land of Israel pending a final settlement. If two neighbors have a serious dispute over the exact location of their property line, the one who continues building on the land in question is generally considered to be acting in bad faith.
Don’t get me wrong: I think that good arguments can be marshaled both for and against a two-state solution. I am not necessarily saying that Israel should proceed with the peace process. However, since Israel has repeatedly promised the U.S., European Union, Palestinian leaders, and the world that it will pursue negotiations leading to the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, its continued building on that territory looks schizophrenic at best. Either abandon the peace process and continue building, or stop building and negotiate the borders. I am not suggesting that settlements are the only obstacle to peace; I am merely pointing out that they erode Israel’s moral authority because they call into question its commitment to the peace process.
Now the Palestinians: it remains a mystery to me why Arab claims to land in Palestine have always involved the expulsion of Jews. When Transjordan (later Jordan, the first Arab state in Palestine) was created in 1922, the few Jews living east of the Jordan River were forced to leave. To this day no Jews live in the country of Jordan. When the Jordanians occupied Judea and Samaria (which they renamed the West Bank) and the eastern part of Jerusalem, they expelled Jews, destroyed synagogues, and paved some streets with Jewish headstones. No Jews currently live in Gaza (they were expelled by their own government in an ill-fated attempt to placate Gazan authorities), and Palestinian leaders have made it clear that they do not want any Jews living in the future Palestinian state. About 1.3 million Arabs live in Israel as full citizens, but the state of Palestine must be Judenrein. For those looking for apartheid analogies in the Middle East, the Palestinians’ desire for a complete separation of the two peoples is much closer to the Afrikaner ideal than the Israeli model of granting citizenship and full legal rights to more than a million Arabs.
Finally, it must be emphatically stated that the number of Israelis allowed to live on the West Bank by their government is not properly the business of the United States. Our history of meddling in the peace process over the last two decades has led to bus bombings, the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza, an Israeli counterattack invasion, and many other ills. While our desire to bring the two parties together is commendable, we can’t want peace more than they do. Everyone involved with these negotiations has known the outline of the eventual final agreement for many years. Preventing a few more Jews from living in Judea and Samaria is not going to fundamentally alter that outline. I think that each member of the American peace team, including our President, should be required to recite St. Francis’s immortal prayer before every trip to the Middle East: “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I will be speaking at the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, January 12 (time TBD). Single LDS women are especially encouraged to attend.
I will also be speaking with Rabbi Alan Cohen in Kansas City on January 16.