Israel Returns Fire
One day after the United Nations General Assembly recognized "Palestine" as a "nonmember observer state" -- a status that it shares only with the Vatican -- an actual state responded. The Netanyahu government quickly fired a shot across the bow of the Palestinian Authority for its decision to court the United Nations rather than negotiate with Israel. Israel announced that it is authorizing the construction of 3000 housing units in East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Even more brazenly, it intends to proceed with plans for zoning and development in a barren area known as E-1, between Jerusalem and Ma'ale Adumim to the east, on the road to Jericho.
Like Captain Renault in Casablanca, liberal pundits were "shocked, shocked" to realize that the words of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the General Assembly and the votes of its members could so quickly be trumped by the Israeli government. According to the New York Times (in page 1 coverage that read like an editorial), Israel's response was a "surprise" that came as a "shock." It indicated the determination of the Jewish state to wage "diplomatic war" over the future of 4.6 square miles of barren landscape with nothing on it but a police station and some Bedouin shepherds.
There is no denying the strategic importance of E-1. Its development would create a seamless corridor between Israel's capital and Ma'ale Adumim, a hilltop community in the Judean desert inhabited by nearly 30,000 Israelis. That would effectively divide the West Bank, with Ramallah and the north linked to Bethlehem and the south only by a highway.
Two days after the UN vote, the Israeli Cabinet unanimously rejected it: "The Jewish People have a natural, historical and legal right to its homeland with its eternal capital Jerusalem," while Israel "has rights and claims to areas that are under dispute in the Land of Israel."
Indeed it does. Millennia of Jewish history in the ancient homeland prompted the League of Nations, ninety years ago, to assure Jews the right of "close settlement" in the land west of the Jordan River. That right has never been rescinded. It could have been overridden in 1947, when the United Nations voted to partition what remained of Palestine after the East Bank had become Jordan. But the Arab nations refused to permit a Jewish (or, indeed, Palestinian) state, however tiny, to exist in their midst.
Perhaps the time has finally come for Israel to claim in full its settlement rights in Judea and Samaria under international law. Ample justification has been provided by legal experts Eugene V. Rostow (who helped to draft Security Council Resolution 242 after the Six-Day War), Stephen Schwebel (for nineteen years a judge on the International Court of Justice), and scholars Julius Stone and Howard Grief, among others.
To be sure, their arguments are not likely to persuade Israel's liberal critics. Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg recently accused Israel of "colonizing" the West Bank "in destructive, and self-destructive, ways." The appropriate Palestinian remedy, he suggested, was not UN recognition but a demand for the right of occupied Palestinians to vote in Israeli elections. That, presumably, would force Israel to recognize Palestinian statehood in the West Bank. But Palestinian "shortsightedness," he conceded, would once again be likely to yield to Israeli "intransigence."
CNN pundit Fareed Zakaria, praising Goldberg's absurd "one-state" proposal, urged Palestinians to develop "a strategy that is geared more directly at persuading, convincing, cajoling -- or perhaps even pushing" Israel to make the necessary concessions for Palestinian statehood. That should not be too difficult. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in his opening remarks to the cCabinet meeting: "There will be no Palestinian State until Israel is recognized as a Jewish State, alongside a resolution to end the conflict."
Israel's E-1 development proposal is a necessary reminder to Palestinians, and to the international agencies, media and academic experts, and "human rights" organizations that support their cause and defame Israel at every opportunity. It properly asserts, on a tiny geographical scale, the legitimate claims of the State of Israel -- grounded in Jewish history, international law, and Zionist settlement -- to the Land of Israel. It also is a reminder that Palestinian statelessness is a direct consequence of sixty-five years of Palestinian obduracy.
The E-1 plan, which the United States has blocked for nearly two decades, may turn out to be little more than an Israeli warning to Abbas for attempting another end-run around direct negotiations. But continued Palestinian intransigence, ratified by the UN, could prompt Israel to develop the crucial space between Jerusalem and Ma'ale Adumim. That would facilitate the geographical unity of biblical Judea and Samaria with the Jewish state. Settling the land of Israel, after all, is what has defined Zionism for more than a century.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author, most recently, of Against the Grain: A Historian's Journey, published by Quid Pro Books.