Sunday, October 03, 2010

Some thoughts on Jewish settlements

It looks as though 'peace talks' between Israel and the Palestinians are in danger of breaking down because Mrs Cohen wants to build an extra bedroom or Mr Levy a garage. Daniel Greenfield in Right Side News has remarked on the absurdity and iniquity of blaming building in Jewish settlements for the absence of an agreement, especially when the Jews who are building are sometimes the very same people who have been evicted from their homes and communities in Arab countries. My comment on this thorny question follows:

Daniel Greenfield writes:

If you believe the newspapers, a kindergarten in a town built by Jewish refugees from Yemen is about to doom all hopes for peace in the Middle East. Forget the fact that there was never any peace long before a few dozen Jews who fled Yemen built themselves a small town where they could raise their families, without being murdered for their faith or driven into ghettos-- as is the fate of the last remaining Jews of Yemen.

kindergarten_terrorists_NOTForget a thousand years of Muslim bigotry, which time and time again have exploded into orgies of violence, pogroms of hate and terrorist atrocities. No, it is the kindergarten at Kiryat Netafim that is at fault here.(..)

There is of course no objection to Muslims building things anywhere they want. (...) While Jewish homes, barns and kindergartens are denounced as "obstacles to peace", Muslim construction is not even a topic of discussion. The underlying bias behind this attitude is rather blatant. A Jewish home is illegitimate. A Muslim home is unquestionably legitimate.

Through that distorted lens, a kindergarten can become a threat to peace and a mosque at Ground Zero, an act of tolerance.

Read article in full

My comment: it seems an act of astonishing bigotry and hypocrisy to condemn Jewish settlement on the West Bank (aka Judea and Samaria) as illegitimate. Jews used to live all over the 'Arab' world. Jews should be entitled to live in a future state of Palestine by the same token as Arabs are allowed to live in Israel. Anything less is racism.

1. The 'legitimate right to settle' argument: The oft-repeated canard that the West Bank is 'occupied Palestinian land' is effectively dealt with here. The West Bank never belonged to the Palestinians: Jews have lived in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria throughout history except for a short period during the British Mandate and for the 19 years of Jordanian occupation. The vast majority of recent Jewish settlement has been on previously uninhabited miri land. Jews are entitled to settle there according to the Sevres Treaty, among other legal instruments.

2. Minorities are good for states. The presence of a Jewish minority in an Arab-dominated state would guarantee minimal standards of tolerance and civil rights for all. Minorities are the canary in the coalmine. Where minorities are vulnerable, have dwindled in numbers, or have been wiped out altogether (all Arab states except Tunisia and Morocco are judenrein) it is a sure sign that the host society has embarked on the slippery path to intolerance and failure. Dissidents, reformers, women and all those who do not fit the mould of strict conformity are next in line for persecution.

Having defined the land as disputed, not occupied, two further pragmatic arguments may be then advanced for Israel to withdraw from Jewish settlements:

3. The demographic argument: It is not the place of this blog to say what territory Israel should concede and what it should not. It is said that Arabs will soon outnumber Jewish settlers in the West Bank and that Israel should withdraw in order to maintain a Jewish majority between the river and the sea. Whatever the pros and cons, there is reason to believe that Arab population figures have been exaggerated for political purposes. The natural demography of the West Bank has been distorted by the Palestinian law establishing the death penalty for Arabs who sell property to Jews, leading to an artificial property market.

4. The security argument: it is claimed that Jews will simply not be safe if they are not protected by the Israeli army, whose presence is itself considered a provocation to a future Palestinian state.

This argument gets to the heart of the matter. If a Palestinian state cannot be trusted to protect its Jewish citizens from attack, there cannot by definition be peaceful coexistence between a Israel and a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The logic of 'land for peace' is therefore blown sky-high. There is little justification for withdrawing Jews from the West Bank if the threat from a future Palestinian state simply moves forward to Israel's pre-1967 borders.

Which just goes to prove that Mrs Cohen's extra bedroom or a new kindergarten for Jews from Yemen are a red herring. The real issue is whether Arabs are willing to drop their hostility to recognising Jewish rights in Palestine.



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