Media outlets in the West as well as many mainstream and liberal Israeli media outlets refer to any and all Jewish communities over the green line, the area occupied by Jordan from 1949 until 1967, as settlements. Depending on the outlook or bias of the particular writer or editor or media outlet they are also all either termed “illegal” or all treated as an integral part of Israel. The left refers to the area as the West Bank or occupied territories. The right will generally use the proper names of the area, Judea and Samaria in English, or just the territories, without adding any judgment about their status. Both the left and the right engage in sloppy thinking or intellectual laziness or, in some cases, simply lack knowledge of both the history of the area and the wider region as well as the legal claims on both sides of the ongoing dispute.
The press often misrepresents the green line as Israel’s pre-1967 borders. In fact it was never agreed upon as a border by Israel, the Arab nations, the Palestinians, the United Nations or in any way that could be considered legally binding on anyone. The green line was an armistice line. It’s simply the line between the Israeli and Arab armies when the fighting stopped in 1949. Attempts by the Palestinians and their supporters to treat that line as a border and to recognize a mythical “State of Palestine” without any agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and without any changes on the ground contravene numerous United Nations resolutions as well as all the past agreements between the parties.
UN Security Council Resolutions 224 and 338, adopted after the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, state that future borders should be defensible and negotiated by the parties. They called for withdrawal from captured territories by Israel as part of a negotiated agreement, but not from all territories. Lord Caradon, the British Ambassador to the UN at the time and one of the principle authors of Resolution 242 repeatedly confirmed the intention was never to have Israel return to the armistice line in various interviews. The reason is simple. The 1949 armistice line was not defensible. It does not meet the conditions of those resolutions, and both resolutions were accepted by Israel and later by Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.
Most Israeli settlements are located in blocs along the armistice line and around Jerusalem. These settlements occupy only three percent of the land captured by Israel in 1967. The town of Alfe Menashe in Samaria is a perfect example of a settlement that can claim legitimacy on the basis of defense. Located on a high hilltop the town is roughly 10 miles from the Mediterranean. It is near the narrowest part of Israel between 1949 and 1967, which was only eight miles across. Former U.S. President George W. Bush famously said: “In Texas, some of our driveways are longer than that.” Arab armies have tried to cut Israel in half during wars at that point.
In the fall of 1997, during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s first term, many Israelis and Palestinians were hopeful about the prospects for peace. I spent Shabbat with my cousin and his wife in Alfe Menashe during a visit. On a beautiful, clear day I was shown how you can see most of the Israeli coast from that hilltop, from Haifa in the north, to Hadera, Netanya, Tel Aviv, and all the way to Ashdod in the south. 70 percent of Israel’s population lives in the area that you can see from Alfe Menashe. Prior to 1967 nobody lived there. It was used as a gun emplacement by the Jordanian army, It was used to shell Israeli cities during times of conflict. Building a Jewish town there made sense. I cannot imagine any Israeli government ceding Alfe Menashe.
Gush Etzion has legitimacy based not only on defense but also by the fact that it was a Jewish community prior to 1948. The fledgling, ragtag Israeli army at the beginning of the War of Independence couldn’t hold that area. All but one of the Jewish residents was killed in that war. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited Neveh Daniel in the Etzion bloc on June 14, 2009. He said, “This particular settlement area is not one I ever envision being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory.” He added that the Jewish communities in Gush Etzion are among a number of West Bank settlements “…that I think will be here forever.” Nobody would mistake President Carter for a friend of Israel or a supporter of settlements.
There are Jewish communities which are not near the green line but can claim legitimacy based on long term Jewish residency, both historical and modern. The city of Hebron was a place where the Arab and Jewish communities coexisted there for hundreds of years. In 1929 a particularly brutal massacre of Jewish residents by some of their Arab neighbors took place after incitement by then Palestinian Arab leader and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini. 67 people died and others were horribly injured. Their attackers attempted to hack the Jews to death with axes, cleavers and knives. The surviving members of the community were evacuated by the British mandatory authorities. In 1968 it was only natural and reasonable that the Jewish community of Hebron was reestablished. The city was divided between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 1997 with 80% transferred to Palestinian control.
Hebron is the birthplace of Judaism. It is the second most holy site to Jews after Jerusalem. The tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are located there. Former President Bill Clinton, recognizing the historical and religious significance of Hebron included retaining the Jewish community there as part of his proposals at Camp David in 2000. The Palestinians, on the other hand, refer to the Jewish community as a “settlement” and insist the entire city is theirs. Their leaders have often stated that Jews would not be allowed to live, visit or pray in Hebron once they are in control. I cannot imagine any Israeli leader agreeing to that. It certainly is not a reasonable demand.
Jewish residents of Jerusalem east of the old dividing line are often also misrepresented as “settlers” in the media. When they conquered the Old City in 1948 the Jordanians destroyed 57 synagogues. The Jewish residents fled or were killed temporarily ending the Jewish presence which had been a constant there. During almost the entire period of Ottoman rule, from 1517 until 1917, Jews had been either a majority or a plurality of the population of the city. The entire Jewish community was restricted to the Old City until 1865. The Old City is in what the press often mistakenly refers to as “Arab East Jerusalem.” The only thing that made the eastern part of the city exclusively Arab was 19 years of Jordanian occupation. In addition, unlike the rest of Judea, eastern Jerusalem was annexed to Israel in 1967 and Israeli law fully applied. Arab residents of the city are entitled to Israeli citizenship. Nothing in Jerusalem can reasonably be called a “settlement,” yet those who support returning to the days of barbed wire barriers dividing the city or who support replacing Israel with yet another Arab state do just that, including far too many “liberal” media outlets.
Dennis Ross, the former U.S. Middle East envoy and negotiator under both Democratic and Republican Presidents, and David Makovsky, who was part of Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating team during the failed 2013-2014 peace negotiations, coauthored an op-ed in the Washington Post on February 25th of this year. They included the line which I quoted as my title: “All settlements are not created equal.” In it they urge President Obama and his administration to differentiate between settlements in blocs that Israel is expected to keep in any agreement with the Palestinians and others which could be seen as problematic in future negotiations. They noted that 80% of the Jewish population of Judea and Samaria lives inside the security barrier along the green line. They wrote:
A new U.S. approach would acknowledge that building within the blocs does not change the contours of the ‘peace map.’ While not formally endorsing settlement activity, it would nonetheless seek to channel it into areas that will likely be part of Israel in any two-state outcome. In 2008, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas implicitly acknowledged the principle of settlement blocs remaining part of Israel…
They also note that President Obama effectively endorsed land swaps in 2011 which included Israel retaining some settlements. Ross and Makovsky see the current impasse as a drift towards a binational state, something which I believe is neither practical nor desirable. While I have no hope at this late date that President Obama will change his policy and acknowledge the legitimacy of any Jewish communities beyond the green line, this is something that can and should be presented to both candidates for the presidency. It is an approach supporters of Israel can and should push for when the next president takes office in January.