President Obama’s insistence that Israel halts all settlement growth, even “natural growth,” has upset many. Charles Krauthammer, for instance, bemoans:
No "natural growth" means strangling to death the thriving towns close to the 1949 armistice line, many of them suburbs of Jerusalem, that every negotiation over the past decade has envisioned Israel retaining. It means no increase in population. Which means no babies. Or if you have babies, no housing for them -- not even within the existing town boundaries. Which means for every child born, someone has to move out. No community can survive like that. The obvious objective is to undermine and destroy these towns -- even before negotiations.
What Krauthammer fails to mention is that Israel had no right to build these settlements in the first place. You see, there’s this thing called the Fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel has ratified. And according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
And it’s simply ridiculous to claim that a halt in settlement expansion would cause any sort of human catastrophe. As Gershom Gorenberg, a Jerusalem-based writer, points out: “West Bank settlements aren’t ancient communities in isolated valleys hundreds of miles from the nearest town. They are recently established bedroom communities, within commuting distance of Israeli cities -- where many settlers in fact work.” He continues: “Inside Israel, as in other developed countries, it’s perfectly normal for people to change neighborhoods as their families grow.”
Now it’s true that past peace talks have envisioned some sort of land swap, whereby Israel would retain some of the settlements in exchange for Israeli land. But such peace talks have also envisioned the creation of a Palestinian state, something which the ruling Israel government outright opposes! So it makes little sense for Israel apologists like Krauthammer to criticize Obama for failing to adjust his foreign policy according to future peace talks when the Israeli government has precluded the possibility of such talks.
Israel’s continued occupation, it should be noted, violates international law, as well as the international consensus on resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Regarding international law, the International Court of Justice, in a 2004 ruling on the legality of the separation wall, affirmed the illegality of acquiring land through force and emphasized that the Palestinians have the right to self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza. Regarding the international consensus, every year the UN General Assembly votes on the “Peaceful resolution of the question of Palestine.” And every year, the vast majority of nations agree that Israel must withdraw to its pre-1967 borders and allow for Palestinian self-determination. The yearly vote is never even close. Last November, for instance, the following nations voted in favor of the resolution:
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.While the following nations voted against the resolution:
Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Palau, United States of America.So, given this current state of affairs, given Israel’s continual defiance of international law, given Israel’s continual defiance of the international consensus, given the continual suffering of the Palestinian people, we should applaud Obama’s demand that Israel halt settlement expansion. Undoubtedly the President, who seems genuinely committed to bringing about a two-state solution, realizes that the more settlements Israel builds, the more difficult it will ultimately be to pressure it to give up the West Bank. We can only hope that he remains true to his professed ideals and continues pressing for an end to the occupation.