Kfar Etzion, the Meron Opinion and the Illegality of Settlement

Gershom Gorenberg

Today, according to the Hebrew calendar, is the anniversary of the founding of the first Israeli settlement in the West Bank following the Six-Day War. (Settlement had already begun in the Golan Heights.) In honor of the anniversary, I’ve decided to begin a project that’s been on my mind: An online archive of important historical documents dealing with the history of settlement.

The archive is located here. The first document is Theodor Meron’s legal opinion on civilian settlement in the occupied territories.

Meron was legal counsel of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in September 1967. He was asked by the Prime Minister’s Office for his opinion on the legality of civilian settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In a cover note to his opinion, he summarized his conclusion: “…civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

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You Mean Environmentalists Aren’t Zionists?

Haim Watzman

Tomorrow Israel’s National Planning and Construction Board will take up a proposal to establish a new settlement in the eastern Lachish salient, southwest of Jerusalem. An ad in today’s Ha’aretz, placed by twelve of Israel’s most senior environmentalists, calls on the Board to reject the plan.

“The establishment of the settlement will lead, in the opinion of all environmentalists, to the destruction of habitats and irreversible harm to open spaces. Approval of the settlement in opposition to all environmental impact statements will make a laughingstock of national planning policy, which places great importance on the reinforcement of existing settlements and the preservation of open spaces.”

The environmentalists have everything going for them—science, research, policy imperatives—except for one thing. Apparently, they’re not Zionists.

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The Extremists of Your Own City Come First

Gershom Gorenberg

This week’s key misunderstood news story from the Looking Glass Land of the West Bank is that the Defense Ministry is about to approve settlement at a spot called Maskiot, near the Jordan River. On first glance, that’s bad because it means that the government is abandoning its freeze on new settlements. At second glance, the freeze on new settlements is a joke – but Maskiot is really bad news. It shows again that the government consistently, reflexively, obsessively gives in to the most extreme elements of the settlement movement.

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Parallels for the Occupation? Colonialism, More or Less

Gershom Gorenberg

My friend John showed up in South Jerusalem. Long ago and far away, John and I slouched in the back of high school classes together in Los Angeles, mumbling snidely about what was being left out of American history (women, blacks, slaughter of Indians, lynch mobs, poor folk…). Eventually I went into mumbling snidely as a profession. John, by contrast, is gainfully employed in high-tech, working for an Israeli firm that kindly brought him for a visit to the home office.

In late afternoon we walked out to the promenade. Some Palestinian kids were playing soccer on a stretch of lawn despite the ferocious heat. In front of us was the Old City and the Dome of the Rock. On the east, I pointed out to John, was the high concrete wall dividing the Palestinian side of Jerusalem from the Palestinian towns of the West Bank.

“So,” John asked me, “is there anything parallel to Israel’s control of the West Bank? What do you think of Jimmy Carter calling it apartheid? Is it like Jim Crow?”

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Barack Obama’s Pilgrimage

Gershom Gorenberg

Sometime before November, traffic in Jerusalem will be tied up by Barack Obama’s visit. My new article in The American Prospect explains what Obama should do while he’s here to prepare for the presidency, and why he won’t do any of that:

…In Jerusalem, Obama has another task — shoring up support among voters who question his pro-Israel credentials. This is hardly the Jewish vote as a whole. Rather, it is the subset that falsely conflates “pro-Israel” with supporting the hawkish side of the Israeli political spectrum. Trying to satisfy those voters while demonstrating a fresh, diplomacy-based foreign policy increases the chances of a slip-up…

Besides those constraints are the practical ones. Protocol forces a visiting political figure to spend his time with top officials, providing a terribly restrictive view of a country.

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At a Settlement, a Battle Over Both Law and Judaism

Gershom Gorenberg

The Israeli Supreme Court today took a small step toward restoring the rule of law. It issued a temporary injunction against continuing to build nine new homes in Ofrah, the flagship settlement of Gush Emunim in the area north of Jerusalem.

Ofrah, as I explained in The Accidental Empire , was established in 1975 without government permission but with lots of government help, especially from then-Defense Minister Shimon Peres. Most of the settlement is built on private Palestinian land. It’s an embodiment of the settlement paradox – half rogue operation, half national project. The petition to the Supreme Court by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din against the latest construction is a bid to make the government live up to the principles of a state based on law.

My new article explaining the legal fight and what’s at stake  politically just  went up at The American Prospect.

There’s another facet of what’s happening at Ofrah that I didn’t mention in the Prospect:

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