In a recent article published by the Israeli Embassy in Dublin Boaz Modai asked the Question: What's the problem with Israel's Settlements.
'Settlements': the Ambassador repliesThere are 32,711 apartments and 22,997 private homes, 187 shopping centres and 321 sports facilities, 127 synagogues, 344 kindergartens and 211 schools... at first sight, humdrum civilian infrastructure, but, in the eyes of some, as big a threat to world peace as Syria's civil war or Iran's nuclear weapons programme.
At least, some seem convinced that these structures the sum total of the Jewish towns and villages built between 1975 and 1998 in Judea and Samaria are 'illegal under international law'. In case readers were in any doubt, they were told this no less than nine times in a six-page spread in last Sunday's Business Post.
The 350,000 Jewish inhabitants of Judea and Samaria make up 12 per cent of its population; their communities occupy about 2 per cent of its area. They are all located in Area C, the otherwise largely uninhabited part of the region which, under the Oslo Accords, remains under Israeli control and which also contains 4 per cent of its Palestinian Arab population. The case against them boils down to three arguments: firstly, that it violates international law for Jews to live in Judea and Samaria; secondly, that their presence disrupts and impoverishes the lives of their Palestinian Arab neighbours; thirdly, that their presence prevents the emergence of an independent Palestinian state living alongside Israel.
History and current reality contradict these assertions. After World War 1, the League of Nations stipulated the right of the Jewish people to settle in their ancestral homeland, the lands of Palestine taken from the Turkish Empire and entrusted to Great Britain in the San Remo Treaty. In 1922, the British revoked this right in the area that later became Jordan, but the right of Jews to live anywhere west of the Jordan river has never been revoked. Only between 1948 and 1967, after Jordanian forces had occupied the territory and expelled all its Jewish inhabitants, were Jews prevented from live in Judea and Samaria.
So whence the allegation of 'illegality'? Its chief support is a certain interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the World War 2 practice of forcible transfer of people of one state to the territory of another state that it has occupied as a result of a war. This interpretation fails on two grounds. Firstly, Jews moving to Judea and Samaria do so voluntarily often moving back to pre-1948 Jewish community sites such as Neve Yaakov, Gush Etzion, Hebron and Kfar Darom destroyed by massacre or expulsion. Neither are Arab Palestinians being displaced to make way for Jews the majority of the 'settlements' are in otherwise uninhabited areas. Secondly, the lands occupied in the 1967 war of self-defence forced upon Israel were not part of another state: they were taken from Jordan and Egypt, neither of which had ever been recognised by the international community as the sovereign authority there.
True, the UN has branded the Jewish communities illegal. But the 'UN' in this case means the General Assembly, with its notoriously automatic anti-Israel majority of Islamic and 'non-aligned' states, or the UN Human Rights Commission, dominated by states with poor human rights records (it elected Gaddafi's Libya to membership in 2010), 48 per cent of whose human rights resolutions between 2006 and 2010 singled out Israel, alone in the world, for condemnation.
Does the existence of the Jewish communities disimprove the lives of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants? On the contrary, latest figures show 24,660 Arab employees working in these communities (still short of the numbers seen before the Second Intifada). According to Palestinian data, their average daily wage is double the average for the area as a whole. The potential damage of a boycott campaign to the Palestinian economy should be obvious.
It is true that the security needs of the Jewish communities result in disruption of normal civilian life, though the number of ro******************************************s and checkpoints has been reduced dramatically. Unfortunately, the presence of terrorists who wish to kill Jews as happened at Itamar in 2011 when two parents and three of their young children were slaughtered with knives makes them necessary.
It should be borne in mind that, since 1967, the Israeli 'occupation' of this disputed land has brought with it enormous improvements in the life quality of the Arab population. Life expectancy rose from 48 to 75.24 years, infant mortality fell from 60 to 14.47 per 1,000 births (compare Turkey with 24.8 and Egypt with 26.2) and the number of universities rose from 1 to 7.
Finally, it cannot be emphasized enough that the real obstacle to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is not the existence of the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria but the continued refusal of the Palestinian leadership to engage in negotiations in which the future of these communities whether they will be part of the Jewish state of Israel or will be a Jewish minority in a new independent Palestinian Arab state (as Arabs make up a 20 per cent minority in Israel) can be decided along with other final status issues.
BOAZ MODAI is Israel's ambassador to Ireland