Debbie Hall

Settlement Building is Bad for Israel

There are many Jewish and non-Jewish Zionists, particularly in the diaspora, who see Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank) as Jewish land, as our birthright. They also believe it is not only our right, but also our obligation, to build Jewish homes and towns there. These people tend to agree with building settlements as a legitimate response to Palestinian violence against Israelis, or as a legitimate response to a lack of acceptance by the Palestinians of terms laid out in peace talks, the latter being much to the chagrin of those mediating those peace talks.

Let us examine the history of Judea and Samaria (J&S) in brief.  This land was originally part of the 1947 UN Partition Plan that was to be the Arab Partition, ultimately rejected by the Arabs but accepted by the Jews.  Technically, because of that rejection, the Arabs forfeited this land and when Israel became an official country in May of 1948, it included J&S within its borders.  When Israel was attacked by five neighboring countries the day after declaring independence, a declaration supported and recognized by the UN, J&S was captured by the Jordanian Army, including the Old City and East Jerusalem.  Jews who lived in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and in East Jerusalem for hundreds of generations were marched out of the city with just the clothes on their backs.  They were rounded up like cattle and banished.

Almost two decades earlier, in 1929, the Jews of Hebron, another city in J&S that is sacred to the religious Jewish community, were massacred by an Arab mob, essentially cleansing the city of its Jewish presence.  Upon the Jordanian Army confiscating this land, if not rounded up and banished or killed, every Jew remaining in J&S had to flee for safety. These events began an almost 20-year period where Jews did not enter J&S.

Then the war of 1967 occurred and Israel recaptured J&S, East Jerusalem and the Old City.  Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the Old City, but it did not annex the whole of J&S for a couple of reasons.  One reason being that there was a large presence of Arabs living on the land and annexing the land meant they would have to provide citizenship to each of those Arabs, which in turn would upset the demographics of the Jewish nation and potentially tip the scale to an Arab majority. In a democracy, this demographic shift meant that through one election, the Jewish nation could cease to exist. Another reason is that Israel planned to use that land to broker peace. Both reasons are legitimate reasons for lack of annexation, though in hindsight, annexation would have been a reasonable action and safeguards could have been put into place to maintain a Jewish nation, such as creating an electoral college and voting districts where delegates’ votes would replace a popular vote.

Technically, since J&S was part of Israel upon its declaration of statehood, Israel did not have a legal need to annex it or East Jerusalem or the Old City.  However, because of the demographic fear, Israel decided to play a game and annexation meant it was now part of Israel, while lack of annexation meant it was up for negotiation, which set a legal precedent.  Israel’s decision to not annex J&S and not provide citizenship for the thousands of Arabs (at the time) living there was a decision where Israel now forfeited its right to voluntarily claim this land.

For almost 30 years, the Arabs of J&S lived as non-citizens of any land.  While some had Jordanian citizenship, others did not, and some even had Jordanian citizenship that was ultimately revoked by Jordan. Israel was the governing country of this region during those almost 30 years, but instead of taking this opportunity to establish schools and commerce to assist and influence a population of people hostile toward Israel and turn them around, Israel largely ignored the Arabs of the region.  There was freedom of movement and no checkpoints, so the Arabs of J&S were able to travel into Israel proper without a problem and obtain work, but these were only jobs that non-citizens were able to get –cooks, laborers, nothing that would provide economic prosperity for a family living in Jenin or Ramallah. This lack of economic freedom and freedom to vote, this status of non-citizen, fueled more animosity toward Israel.  Meanwhile, Israel began building Jewish settlements in J&S.  The Jews who lived in settlements in Hebron could vote in Israeli elections, yet their Arab neighbors could not. Unsurprisingly, on December 7, 1987, the day I left my Ulpan, the first Intifada reared its ugly head and violence ensued, not that there wasn’t violence before, there were pockets, but Israel had not seen an organized effort on the part of the people they’d been charged with governing until now.  The violence did not ebb. Suicide bombers began attacking places where Jewish civilians gathered: cafes, discos, buses and more.

This new form of violence created an untenable situation and in 1993, the Oslo talks began. Both Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chair Yasser Arafat agreed to and signed the terms of these accords.  The terms of the Oslo Accords included carving J&S into sections: Areas A, B, and C. Area A was under full Palestinian sovereignty. Area B was under Palestinian governance with IDF oversight. Area C was under Israeli sovereignty. These accords and this carving up of the land is how the checkpoints were born, which are essentially border crossings between each of these Areas and Israel proper. The Oslo Accords were to be a temporary agreement until a final peace agreement could be reached. When Prime Minister Rabin signed on the dotted line to these accords, he gave up the right for Israel to have a legal claim to any portion of Areas A and B of J&S.

Since that time, a permanent peace agreement has not been reached, but there is no turning back from these partitions.  They were mutually agreed upon by both sides and are forever etched into history and forever the landscape of the region, at least until another war occurs. What Oslo did was to establish a pseudo-country of Palestine. The Palestinian Authority has their own laws and their own police force.  They are charged with providing infrastructure and commerce for their citizens, who now hold Palestinian passports.

The pseudo-country of Palestine, the first time a sovereign Palestine has ever existed in the history of the world, has large support from the international community.  The international community has so much support for Palestine that it has sought to punish Israel for not achieving a final peace agreement through the BDS movement, even though both sides hold blame for this lack of achievement,.

Though it’s a double-standard, the international community understands that Areas A and B will remain sovereign Palestinian, but Area C, the Israeli sovereign portion of J&S, is still up for negotiation toward a final resolution because the ultimate goal of the Oslo Accords is to provide for a Palestinian state that will exist alongside Israel.

Although technically legal, building more Jewish settlements in Area C sends a clear message to the international community that Israel is not willingly going to give up any of this land and is not a viable partner in establishing a sovereign Palestinian state, a state that is demanded by the entire world. More so, this Palestinian state is going to be established with or without Israel’s input. It is a strategic error on the part of Israel to voluntarily remove itself from this process by building settlements, yet that is precisely what Israel is doing with each building they erect in Area C. This will ultimately result in the establishment of a Palestinian state that may or may not be palatable to Israel.

Israel cannot exist in a vacuum and Israel cannot exist without international support. For those who support building settlements, you must realize that doing so is detrimental to Israel’s future and if you love Israel, you will join me and millions of other Jews in Israel and beyond who understand these realities and protest this activity. Please consider this when you cast your vote on Tuesday.

About the Author
Debbie Hall is a writer and activist living in the diaspora.