In response to the Israeli settlement policy column

| Staff Columnist

Allow me to sum up Alex Greenberg’s Israeli settlements policy: Israel has been building settlements in East Jerusalem since 1967; Palestinians have never been happy about the settlements; the peace process hasn’t worked; therefore, Israel should build more settlements. To my eye, that is not sound logic.

In his article “Some perspective on American-Israeli diplomacy,” [Mar. 19] Greenberg makes some far-out claims while supporting continued and unconditional U.S. support of Israel, specifically in regard to its settlement policies; and as an American Jew with a drastically opposing opinion, I feel obliged to respond.

For starters, Greenberg gives us a clear distinction between bad settlements (extreme-rightist settlements in the West Bank run by “zealots” and representing “a fervent opposition to the more liberal land-for-peace doctrine”) and good settlements (East Jerusalem settlements that are extensions of already existing Israeli suburbs in a “fairly evenly” split population).

According to Greenberg, since it “reclaim[ed] Jerusalem…in 1967, Israel has every right to build as it pleases, especially in a Jewish suburb.” Remember, of course, that this construction refers to the settlements not rooted in zealotry.

Should Israel continue building settlements in East Jerusalem?

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The use of the term “reclaimed” is highly intentional on Greenberg’s part and essential to Israel’s “argument” for its continued settlement of East Jerusalem. Incidentally, Israel refused to make any argument to the World Court in 2004 when the court gave its unanimous opinion against the construction of Israel’s separation wall. In its opinion, the World Court reiterated that “The territories situated between the Green Line…and the former eastern boundary of Palestine under the Mandate were occupied by Israel in 1967 during the armed conflict between Israel and Jordan…Subsequent events in these territories…have done nothing to alter this situation. All these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories, and Israel has continued to have the status of occupying Power.”

That is to say that the World Court did not find that Israel had “reclaimed” Jerusalem at all, but rather “occupied” it. Far from being a “PO-TAY-TOE, PO-TAH-TOE” distinction, word choice here has had the terrible price of bloody conflict and loss of human life.

As for Israel’s “right to build as it pleases” that Greenberg suggests, the World Court had the exact opposite opinion, stating that the Israeli practice of building settlements in all occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, has “no legal validity.” It doesn’t stop there, though, as the court went on to call upon “Israel, as the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by the Fourth Geneva Convention” (i.e., to stop building settlements and to rescind its past actions).

Which brings us to Greenberg’s exhortation to “consider the track record of Israeli land policy that accommodates Palestinian interest.” Greenberg instructs us to remember Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, supposedly an olive branch that only resulted in “increased rocket attacks,” as the cornerstone example how Israel’s generosity has been exploited by Palestinians.

It seems the author is selectively remembering only that Israel withdrew its settlements from the Gaza Strip. What he is neglecting to remember is that Israel also removed its industry in Gaza, resulting in increased unemployment. Coupling its withdrawal from Gaza with a hefty blockade, Israel maintained its control of Gaza’s borders (including its sea border), a condition that most rational adherents to the Geneva Convention view as continued occupation rather than emancipation.

How this land policy in Gaza can be viewed as accommodating Palestinian interests is beyond me; but I do fully agree with Greenberg that this example is representative of Israel’s track record.

I encourage all members of the Washington University community who aim to give perspective on American-Israeli diplomacy to at least entertain a whole-picture view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict before lobbying our government to support 62 more years of failed policy.

Bram is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at

  • In addition to the fact that I don’t see the U.S. position helpful in achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, it is even more disturbing to me that the U.S. seems to have been far more aggressive in its condemnation of Israel building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem which would not have been conceded by Israel even in the most magnanimous agreement than the U.S. has been of Palestinians naming a square after a Palestinian terrorist who murdered 38 Israeli civilians. Additionally, not only does the U.S. position not make sense from a negotiation standpoint, but the U.S.’s open disagreement with Israel has emboldened Palestinians to demand further preconditions to talks and to rioting (e.g. Day of Rage).

  • John Smith

    It is amazing how critics of the Jewish State attempt to rely on international law to justify their contention that whatever Israel engages in, it violates this law. I seem to remember that international law created a Jewish state, with the United Nations voting for partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The former accepted, the latter rejected, and went to war to destroy the nascent state. The creation of Israel was international law; where were people like Bram then?
    In addition, the International Court of Justice’s rulings are not legally binding, especially if a state refuses to acknowledge its jurisdiction, like the United States does. Furthermore, when one already knows the outcome before trial, one can hardly present a case that will yield an objective ruling.
    I would hope that Bram would research a little more, and become better versed in international law and the Geneva Conventions. The Fourth one, which he cites, is a prohibition of unilaterally moving an indigenous population off their land, and filling it with new ones. However, the key point is that this refers to an offensive war, or a war of aggression. Since every war that Israel has fought has been defensive in nature, this prohibition, one does not apply, and two is not even relevant.
    I assume that Bram would like to reference UN Security Council Resolution 242, which calls “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” It does not define the extent of withdrawal, with the author of this resolution, Arthur Goldberg, saying that he purposefully stated it as such, for it was not expected that Israel withdraw from all the territory. Thus, one could even make an argument that by withdrawing from the Sinai Desert and from Gaza, Israel has complied with this demand.
    Bram, I am surprised that you would so distort the truth and manipulate it to your own ends; you claim that, “What he is neglecting to remember is that Israel also removed its industry in Gaza, resulting in increased unemployment. Coupling its withdrawal from Gaza with a hefty blockade, Israel maintained its control of Gaza’s borders (including its sea border), a condition that most rational adherents to the Geneva Convention view as continued occupation rather than emancipation.”
    Israeli settlers had beautiful industries, notably greenhouses which produced fruits and vegetables that were world renowned. One of the first things that the Palestinians did upon entering Gaza is they systematically uprooted and destroyed these greenhouses, not to mention burn down synagogues which were left standing!
    Israel additionally gave up control of the Rafah crossing into Israel from Gaza; Hamas, the terrorist organization, which came to power in Gaza via a coup, has over 1,000 smuggling tunnels. Every time Israel withdrew, it was condemned for the fact that Palestinians let thugs and terrorists take over the land.
    Lastly, Israel during its “blockade” of Gaza, during 2009, let in 738,576 tons of humanitarian aid into the strip.
    Indeed, I agree with you Bram, if you would at least change your statement to an accurate one. “How this land policy in Gaza can be viewed as not accommodating, in spite of rocket attacks and terrorism, is beyond me; but I do fully agree with the facts that this example is representative of Israel’s track record.”
    Next time, research the facts before making a blatant assertion that at best, belies the facts, and at worst, is a conscious distortion and manipulation of the truth.

  • Arafat

    When will the following problem — a problem far more serious than the Middle East Conflict — be discussed openly at Wash Univ? Instead all we get is an endless stream of articles accusing Israel of this or that, all of which are not well researched nor reflect the reality on the ground.

  • Greenberg may not have put forward a great argument, I agree, but I do not think the U.S. demand for Israel to stop building in Jerusalem is productive or helpful for the peace process.

    The fact of the matter is that, in 1967, when Israel captured Jerusalem, it annexed it and offered Israeli citizenship to all its residents, unlike the West Bank and Gaza which it never annexed. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital; the Knesset (Israeli parliament) is located there as are other important state buildings. The city has had a consistent Jewish presence, predating Israel’s establishment. Israelis are overwhelming in favor of maintaining Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, and Israel is unlikely to concede any part of Jerusalem in future negotiations.

    Given that, practically speaking, Israel is not going to make any land concessions with regard to Jerusalem, is it really beneficial for the U.S. to demand they stop building there? What does it accomplish? In my view, this will only stir false hopes that Israel will agree to or will be pressured to agree to land concessions regarding Jerusalem. And, if history is to be learned from, unrealistic expectations about peace negotiations frequently lead to disappointment, which is then followed by rioting and a great deal of violence. Both sides need to come to the table with realistic expectations.

    So what should the Palestinians expect or ask for with regard to Jerusalem and what should the U.S. be pushing for Israel to concede? I think, realistically, that it would be reasonable to ask for increased access to Jerusalem, the ability for Palestinian citizens to easily establish shops within Jerusalem, and for some amount of taxes resulting from tourism to be given to the Palestinians. It might also be possible for an arrangement to be made whereby Palestinians in Jerusalem would be given greater autonomy… perhaps in a manner similar the way that Israel gives the Muslim Waqf control over the Dome of the Rock / Temple Mount, it might be possible to give Palestinians in Jerusalem a similar body to represent them in the affairs of Jerusalem.

    In short, I think that the U.S.’s position is not at all helpful, and that while I think some form of accomodation may be made regarding Jersualem, I think it is unrealistic that Israel will concede any part of Jerusalem, and that the U.S. demand of Israel that it stop building in Jerusalem is neither realistic, nor productive, and may even be detrimental to the hopes of peace in the region.

  • Arafat

    Bram mentions Israel withdraing its “industry” from Gaza when it left.

    What would Bram have Israel do? Work with Hamas — an organization whose founding charter calls for the elimination of Israel? Gosh, Bram, your suggestion makes a world of sense to me.

    Furthermore, Bram, Israel left state of the art greenhouses behind when they left Gaza. These greenhouses cost millions to build. What did the Palesinitans do with them? I’ll tell you. They destroyed them as soon as they could.

    When will anyone blame the Palestinians and the Arabs for their own problems?