Even though a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems very far away, it is still the only solution that preserves Israel’s democratic and Jewish character, and it is the only solution that will restore Israel’s international standing.

Everything good that Israel is and does, however, is being eclipsed by terror, violence and the contentious issue of West Bank settlements.

The Times of Israel reported this week (“US backs European move to distinguish Israel from West Bank,” January 20) the following:

“Our longstanding position on settlements is clear,” [US] State Department spokesman John Kirby said at the department’s daily press briefing Tuesday.

“We view Israeli settlement activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace,” he said. “We remain deeply concerned about Israel’s current policy on settlements, including construction, planning, and retroactive legalizations.

“The US government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements, because administrations from both parties have long recognized that settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines and efforts to change the facts on the ground undermine prospects for a two-state solution,” Kirby added. “We are no different.”

A few historical points:

  1. West Bank land after World War I became part of the British Mandatory Authority. Before that it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire and over the past millennia by a number of  different sovereign powers going back to Biblical days;
  2. After the 1948 Israel-Arab War, Jordan conquered the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Old City of Jerusalem. Egypt took the Gaza Strip. Syria occupied the Golan Heights;
  3. During the 1967 Israeli-Arab War, Israel conquered those five areas;
  4. No nation, not the Ottomans, Great Britain, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, or Israel was necessarily entitled to the West Bank by treaty because there never were any treaties. In every instance, occupation came about as a consequence of war and armistice agreements;
  5. The UN Security Council and General Assembly unilaterally conferred upon these territories legal status as belonging to the Arabs/Palestinians, and Israel’s occupation as “illegal”;
  6. In 1979, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 446 by a vote of 12-0 with 3 abstentions from Norway, the UK and the US that determined: “… the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
  7. With the passage of Resolution 446, the UN determined that territories administered by Israel are subject to the Fourth Geneva Convention (adopted in 1949) requiring Israel to refrain from taking any action that would change the status or demographic composition of those territories including moving civilians onto this land.

In other words – all West Bank settlements are “illegal” and “illegitimate.” But, is it true?

I agree with the Israeli government position that they are not illegal. The Israeli position is that since none of this land ever “belonged” to any nation by treaty Israel is not “legally” constrained by Resolution 446 or the Fourth Geneva Convention.

However, Israel’s policies of settlement and expansion are hardly politically smart, constructive, wise, or helpful if a two-state solution is ever going to become a reality.

Israel’s policies in the West Bank since 1967 have effectively blurred the “Green Line” (the 1949 Armistice line following Israel’s War of Independence) to such a degree and enmeshment has become so extensive between the West Bank Palestinian Arab population and Israeli Jewish settlements that no contiguous Palestinian state will be possible in the West Bank if new settlements and settlement expansion do not stop. At some point fairly soon, what will be left is a nightmare situation of a one-state solution that will be in a perpetual state of terror, violence and war.

Many observers believe that it is not yet too late to reverse the slide towards a one-state reality. Only an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians can bring the kind of peace and security both Israelis and Palestinians crave.