Friday, July 13, 2007

On the Zionist Settlement Enterprise

In memory of my teacher (for one course), Prof. Yosef ben Shlomo, z”l

Bloggers, I am told, shouldn’t write long posts. So I will be long on claims and short on arguments.

Let’s start with some of my assumptions.

From its inception the Zionist movement in its statist form threatened the aspirations of the emerging Arab nationalist movement, and the vast majority of the Palestinian residents. The increasing settlement of Jews in Palestine with the express purpose of that settlement being a Jewish state was obviously opposed to the national self-determination of the native population. Of course, given the context of nationalism, colonialism, and orientalism, etc., Zionism was understandable, and I am not for a minute casting aspersion on the morality of the political Zionists. (On the contrary, the view of Zionism as a national liberation movement is one I basically accept – as long as that liberation is not at the expense of another people with claims at least as equal.)

Hence , the resistance of Arab nationalists to Jewish nationalism was entirely reasonable. I am not claiming that the Arab position was right; I am claiming that it was reasonable. Israel is now nervous about being swamped with Sudanese refugees. Just imagine how we would feel if those refugees claimed that they were coming home to rebuild their ancient homeland.

Even if one accepts the justice of some Zionist claims, those claims would have to be balanced with the claims of the native population, who had every reason to believe, especially following the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, that in the normal course of things, a Palestinian state would arise that would reflect the makeup of the majority of its inhabitants.

Irreconcilable claims are often settled through a reasonable compromise mediated by outsiders. In retrospect, the Arabs miscalculated badly in rejecting partition, but that rejection was understandable. The Zionists miscalculated badly by rejecting partition after they got the upper hand, but that rejection was also understandable. In any event, the UN ratification of the partition plan did not justify the unilateral declaration of independence in 1948, much less the failure to relinquish territory achieved in war, much less the horrible decision not to let the Palestinian refugees return to their homes.

And now for the question of Zionist settlements. I am not here talking about private ownership but of national sovereignty. (Important distinction. I will talk about private ownership in a separate post.)

Land held by Jewish individuals or companies prior to 1948 should in no way have been seen as automatically belonging to a future Jewish state. If I buy a house “for the Jewish people” in Kansas with the intention of that land being part of a future Jewish state, then this purchase doesn’t advance that claim. Of course, if Jews live in the house, then a democratic government should represent them. But what makes territory part of the state is recognition of that fact, based on international law, treaties, etc.

Territory acquired as a result of the 1948 war belongs to the State of Israel by force of that land being recognized by the countries of the world, and by the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, as under Israeli sovereignty. This includes the land that was acquired in the 1948 war beyond the UN Partition borders. Without such recognition, this territory remains disputed territory. In the eyes of Hamas, for example, it remains disputed, just as in the eyes of some Israelis, the West Bank remains disputed. Still, I believe that the Israel’s sovereignty over such land is as provisional as are its borders. Until a treaty is signed and Israel has recognized borders, everything, in principle, is up for grabs -- including Sheikh Yunis (today Ramat Aviv -- that line was for Prof. Ben Shlomo!)

Territory acquired after 1967 is universally viewed by international bodies as Occupied Territory. That includes, in my book, anyway, areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Some conclusions I draw from the above:

1. What counts when it comes to sovereignty is not just what we think but what everybody thinks, i.e., the Palestinians and the world. At the moment, the vast majority of the world, including the Palestinian people, including Hamas, are willing to conclude some sort of peace settlement with Israel on the basis of the 1948 armistice lines. While there is nothing holy about these lines, they are a convenient starting point because of international recognition and the passage of time.

2. That there are Jews and Christians who believe that Israel has a historical claim to Judea and Shomron means as much to me as that there are Iraqis who believe that Iraq has a historical claim to Kuwait. (I am not referring here to the religious question of Eretz Yisrael, which I find utterly irrelevant to Zionism. )

3. Every step that Israel takes with respect to settlement inside the green line should be done taking into account its implications for bilateral relations with the Palestinian national entity.

4. No Israelis should be settled on post-67 occupied territory against the wishes of the Palestinian people, and in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. I think that Israelis have the right and the responsibility to negotiate for settlement for Jews – for example, the Jewish settlement in the Jewish Quarter – but as part of a peace settlement, and not unilaterally by the occupying power.

I wish I had time to argue these points, but I don’t. I haven’t said enough about the morality of the Zionist settlement program. That is a difficult topic, but I think that parts of the settlement program was justifiable in light of the norms and expectations of the time, many of which are no longer relevant.

Again, I am not talking about private ownership, but about national sovereignty.

So, it is more legitimate for Israelis to settle territories that are within their recognized national sovereignty, than for those that are without. Settlements outside must conform to the guidelines of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as generally interpreted.


Shabbat Shalom...please enjoy the Shabbat respite from the Three Weeks, and no public display of mourning, please!

No comments: