Why Israel Should Keep Building the Settlements
An oft-repeated sentiment in the international community, college campuses, and both Democratic and Republican administrations is that Israeli settlements built following the 1967 Six-Day War are inhibiting peace in the Middle East. This sentiment, however, is wrong.
Settlements have never stood in the way of peace. In fact, Israel withdrew from territory and uprooted its own people, receiving mostly war in exchange. The settlements are a red herring; those opposed to them simply do not understand that Arab violence towards Jews predates, and runs much deeper than, the settlements. Israel has every right to build settlements and they are of vital importance to the survival of the country.
The Jews Are Indigenous to Judea and Samaria
First, the very idea that Jews should not build in Judea and Samaria (known to many as the West Bank) runs counter to the history of the last three millennia. As the indigenous people, Jews had sovereignty and pseudo-sovereignty in these lands from 1010 BCE to 617 CE (a mere twenty years before the Arab occupation of Jerusalem in 637 CE). After the Jews lost political power in Judea and Samaria, they continued to reside there until the modern period, with interludes when occupying powers forbade them from living in places like Hebron and Jerusalem. In fact, during Israel’s War of Independence (1947-1949), approximately 10,000 Jews were kicked out of or killed in Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
The Settlements Don’t Prohibit a Peace Deal
The settlements in Judea and Samaria are not prohibiting a peace deal. The Arabs were offered and rejected sovereignty in Judea and Samaria before the settlements (Peel Commission (1937) and U.N. Partition Plan (1947)), when there were very few settlements (the Khartoum Resolution (1967) and the Allon Plan (1967-1968)), and when there were many settlements (Camp David (2000), Taba (2001), and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer to President Mahmoud Abbas (2008)). Regardless of the presence, absence, and number of settlements, the Arabs either rejected or left unanswered peace offers in all of these instances.
Israeli Withdrawals Have Brought War, Not Peace
An Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would likely not bring peace, because previous withdrawals have brought war. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, only to see Hizb’allah instigate war in 2006, as well as massively arm itself. Israel’s withdrawal from parts of Gaza and Judea and Samaria during the Oslo Accords in the 1990s was met with the Second Intifada (2000-2005). In exchange for Israel’s full civilian and military withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Hamas gave Israel at least three wars. Since 2005, Hamas massively armed itself, and other terrorist groups have set up shop in Gaza as well. Lastly, while the benefits of Israel’s peace with Egypt should not be understated, there are now jihadi groups in Sinai targeting Israel, despite Israel completely withdrawing its civilian population from there in the 1980s.
The Main Reason for the Lack of Peace is Arab Incitement and Violence
Arab incitement and violence against Israel, Zionism, and Jews long predates 1967 and the settlements and is the primary reason why peace is elusive. Multiple pogroms against Jews in the Arab world go at least as far back as the Damascus Affair of 1840. By the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967, most of the exodus of the 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands from 1948 through 1970 was complete, largely as a response to Arab violence and state persecution.
Violence directed towards Jews in the former British Mandate and later Israel also pre-date 1967 and the settlements. These include the Nebi Musa Riots (1920), the Jaffa Riots (1921), the Western Wall Riot and Hebron Massacre (1929), and the Arab Revolt (1936-1939) including the Tiberias Massacre (1938). Arab attacks from Jordan, Syria, and Egypt against Israel continued following Israel’s War of Independence (1947-1949), especially from 1952-1967.
Arab groups propagating terrorism against Jews operated well before 1967 and the settlements. Mohammed Amin al-Husseini was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the 1920s and 1930s, and played a role in instigating terrorism against Jews in the Mandate at that time, as well as during the Farhud in Iraq in 1941. Nazi Germany paid him to spread Nazi-sponsored anti-Semitism over Radio Berlin to the Arab world, and he also aligned with Adolf Hitler in opposing any Jewish sovereignty in the Mandate.
More recently, Yasser Arafat founded Fatah -- trumpeted by many as a secular party but which in reality propagates Islamist jihad against Israel and the Jews -- in 1965. The Arab League and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser founded the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Egypt in 1964. (The PLO essentially merged with Fatah when Arafat was elected its chairman in 1969 -- also in Egypt.) While Hamas was not founded until 1987, it is the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was created in 1928 in Egypt. The Brotherhood, like Hamas, is steeped in anti-Semitism from its inception. The Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), which was supported by Syria, was formed in 1961. (The PLF would later merge with others to form the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) immediately following the Six Day War.)
The Settlements are Not Illegal
While a more thorough discussion of why the settlements are not illegal is can be found in detail elsewhere, in short, the settlements are not illegal because there was not a sovereign from which Israel could “occupy” these settlements. No indigenous Arab Palestinian state ever existed, and “Palestine” used to refer to the British Mandate of Palestine, slated to be a homeland for the Jewish people under the Balfour Declaration and San Remo Conference. Previous custodians of the land, including the British Empire, Ottoman Empire, and others, no longer exist to claim this land. Jordan, which was created out of cloth by a partition of the British Mandate of Palestine, invaded Judea and Samaria (1948), annexed it (1950), lost it to Israel in a war that Jordan started (1967), and finally relinquished all claims to it (1988).
Interestingly, the Oslo Accords themselves further bolster Israeli rights to build in Judea and Samaria. In 1995, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed the Oslo II Accord. While giving the Arabs sovereignty of parts of Judea and Samaria, the Oslo II Accord also brought back long-dormant Jewish sovereignty in other parts of Judea and Samaria. Oslo II granted Israel full military and civilian control in Area C, which is where the Israeli settlements are located. So yes, Israel can build settlements. So says the Palestinian Authority.
Judea and Samaria is of the Utmost Importance Strategically
Finally, Israel should continue to build in Judea and Samaria given its significant strategic value. Shortly after the Six Day War, the heads of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a now-declassified report in which it recommended that Israel retain at least half of the West Bank, and this would provide Israel with “a militarily defensible border.”
Israel should retain the Judea and Samaria’s mountain ridge. The ridge looks down on Israel’s coastal plain, which contains 70 percent of its population and 80 percent of its industry, and surrounds Jerusalem on three sides. The ridge looks down on Tel Aviv (12 miles from the Green Line, or the 1949 armistice line between Israel and Jordan), and Ben Gurion International Airport (6 miles from the Green Line), among other vital areas. If Israel withdrew from these mountains, it would be extremely vulnerable to rocket attacks from its east. The “narrow waist” of Israel before the Six Day War was eight miles wide. Israel could be overrun rather quickly in a future war if it ever withdrew to the Green Line.
Israel should retain the settlements surrounding Jerusalem, as they are important to protect it against terrorism and invasion. The E-1 Corridor, an area of land between eastern Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, is also critical to connect the two. This would prevent Ma’aleh Adumim from being isolated and indefensible in wartime, as Jerusalem was in Israel’s War of Independence.
Retention of the Jordan Valley is vital given the prevention of smuggling of weapons, infiltration of terrorists, and land invasions. With control of the Jordan Valley, Israel only needs to patrol a 62-mile long border, instead of the 223-mile long “Green Line.”
A recent New York Times op-ed by the spokesman of Hebron’s Jewish community highlighted that there are at least five alternative peace plans that don’t involve Israel ceding most or all of Judea and Samaria to a new Arab state. Such an alternative is much needed; it would be self-destructive for Israel to adopt the conventional wisdom. Israel indeed has many options to choose from, the option it chooses should include as much of Judea and Samaria as possible and practical. Israel certainly has the right and the necessity to do so.