“Excuse Me, I’ve Been Listening to this Conversation, but What’s a Settlement?”

Gershom Gorenberg

There’s a lot of discussion on this blog about the issue of Israeli settlements. For someone just dropping in, some of the terms may be unclear.

As it happens, the Los Angeles Times’ opinion section today includes a package on the settlement issue, and the editor asked me to explain some of the basic terms and issues. The piece is here, and includes definitions of “settlement,” “Green Line,” and “outpost,” as well as an explanation of the current U.S.-Israel tensions over the issue. (It doesn’t include a discussion of international law, because the package includes a separate article on that, by Sarah Leah Whitson,  Middle East director at Human Rights Watch).

Since I’ve written a lot on this issue over the past month, here’s a brief directory for anyone wanting more info:

On how settlement threatens Israel:

At Slate: Barack the Zionist: Why President Obama’s approach to settlements is better for Israel than Benjamin Netanyahu’s is.

In the American Prospect: Settling for Radicalism

On the Netanyahu government’s sundry arguments against a freeze, and other deceptions:

At the Washington Post: Netanyahu’s Settlement Smoke Screens: Yes, the government does have the legal power to freeze settlement, even if it tells Washington differently.

At the American Prospect: House Hunting in the West Bank.

At Foreign Policy: Unnatural Growth.

And at the Forward: Ignore the Theatrics, Bibi Just Wants To Build. Netanyahu would like to convince Obama that he’s making a good-faith effort to evacuate the outposts. The con might work on a legacy student with a C average named George.

As always, feel free to come back to South Jerusalem to comment.

16 thoughts on ““Excuse Me, I’ve Been Listening to this Conversation, but What’s a Settlement?””

  1. What’s Obama’s next move?

    The Israeli press reports that Netanyahu thinks Obama has already blinked. If he has, his credibility in the region will disappear. So the world is waiting to see what he’ll do next. But his range of realistic options is limited. What can he do to further pressure Israel to stop all settlement growth, which will set off the next wave of reciprocal steps in the peace process, without crossing the line of permissible actions that would cause him to be perceived by American Jews and Congress as no longer “pro-Israel?”

  2. A settlement is defined as anyplace Jews live. Jews are not endogenous to anywhere (see Shlomo Sand’s new book on how Jews are not a people). Their presence (like that of microorganisms) is automatically inflammatory. The presence of Jews inflamed the Spaniards, who responded with the Inquistion, inflamed the Crusaders, who rightfully destroyed these bacterial colonies in Mainz, Trier, etc, and infected Europe as a whole, necessitating the Holocaust. Some bugs survived the Holocaust and have now re-emerged with increased virulence

  3. Any definition of “settlement” is necessarily polemic; there’s no way around that. So Mr. Gorenberg’s definition, by which the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is a settlement, is no exception.

    I think the best approach is to leave the word undefined. The second best approach is to give some of the most common definitions. Something close to Mr. Gorenberg’s definition is common in the West (including Israel) among those on the Zionist left.

    Among Arabs, pace Mr. Gorenberg, the word does not clearly refer to post-1967 territories, except when that’s clear from context. English-language Arab rhetoric at its most skillful leaves the definition of “settlement” ambiguous, referring either to post-1967 settlements or to post-1948 settlements depending on the listener’s interpretation. (Some official Arab statements about settlements and settlers would be nonsensical if they were taken to refer only to post-1967 territories, but most Westerners don’t notice that.) I think that a good lexicon would note the various polemical uses of the term, however briefly, rather than just providing one side’s definition as if it were the only one in use.

  4. see this racist screed below. It is judaism at its insolent worst

    No one, including a president of the United States of America, can presumeto tell me, a Jew, that I cannot live in the area of my national homeland.That’s one of the main reasons my wife and I chose in 1981 to move toShiloh, a so-called settlement less than 30 miles north of Jerusalem. After Shiloh was founded in 1978, then-President Carter demanded of PrimeMinister Menachem Begin that the village of eight families be removed.Carter, from his first meeting with Begin, pressed him to “freeze” theactivity of Jews rebuilding a presence in their historic home. As his formerinformation aide, Shmuel Katz, related, Begin said: “You, Mr. President,have in the United States a number of places with names like Bethlehem,Shiloh and Hebron, and you haven’t the right to tell prospective residentsin those places that they are forbidden to live there. Just like you, I haveno such right in my country. Every Jew is entitled to reside wherever hepleases.” We now fast-forward to President Obama, who declared on June 15 in remarksat a news conference with Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, thatJewish communities beyond the Green Line “in past agreements have beencategorized as illegal.” I believe the president has been misled. There can be nothing illegal abouta Jew living where Judaism was born. To suggest that residency be permittedor prohibited based on race, religion or ethnic background is dangerouslyclose to employing racist terminology. Suppose someone suggested that Palestinian villages and towns in pre-1967Israel were to be called “settlements” and that, to achieve a true peace,Arabs should be removed from their homes. Of course, separation or transferof Arabs is intolerable, but why is it quite acceptable to demand that Jewsbe ethnically cleansed from the area? Do not Jews belong in Judea andSamaria as much as Palestinians who stayed in the state of Israel?Some have questioned why Jews should be allowed to resettle areas in whichthey didn’t live in the years preceding the 1967 war, areas that were almostempty of Jews before 1948 as well. But why didn’t Jews live in the area atthat time? Quite simple: They had been the victims of a three-decades-longethnic cleansing project that started in 1920, when an Arab attack wiped outa small Jewish farm at Tel Hai in Upper Galilee and was followed by attacksin Jerusalem and, in 1921, in Jaffa and Jerusalem. In 1929, Hebron’s centuries-old Jewish population was expelled as a resultof an Arab pogrom that killed almost 70 Jews. [I KNOW OF A WOMAN WHO HADLIVED FOR YEARS IN PEACE WITH HER ARAB NEIGHBORS, ATTENDING EACH OTHER’SCELEBRATIONS, ETC. WHEN THE “GRAND” MUFTI OF JERUSALEM CALLED ON ARABS TOSLAUGHTER THE JEWS OF HEBRON HER FORMERLY FRIENDLY NEIGHBORS RANSACKED HERHOME, BRUTALLY ATTACKED HER – CUTTING OFF HER BREASTS AND LEAVING HER TOBLEED TO DEATH. 70 JEWS DOESN’T SOUND LIKE A POGROM? PERHAPS THIS HORRIFICDESCRIPTION OF WHAT WAS PERPETRATED WILL CONVINCE YOU AND OTHERS. LLM] Jewsthat year removed themselves from Gaza, Nablus and Jenin. The return of myfamily to Shiloh — and of other Jews to more than 150 other communitiesover the Green Line since 1967 — is not solely a throwback to claimedbiblical rights. Nor is it solely to assert our right to return to areasthat were Jewish-populated in the 20th century until Arab violence drovethem away. We have returned under a clear fulfillment of international law.There can be no doubt as to the legality of the act of my residency inShiloh. I am a revenant — one who has returned after a long absence to ancestrallands. The Supreme Council of the League of Nations adopted principlesfollowing the 1920 San Remo Conference aimed at bringing about the”reconstitution” of a Jewish National Home. Article 6 of those principlesreads: “The administration of Palestine … shall encourage … closesettlement by Jews on the land, including state lands and waste lands.” That”land” was originally delineated to include all of what is today Jordan aswell as all the territory west of the Jordan River. In 1923, Britain created a new political entity, Transjordan, and suspendedthe right of Jews to live east of the Jordan River. But the region in whichI now live was intended to be part of the Jewish National Home. Then, in ahistorical irony, a Saudi Arabian refugee, Abdallah, fleeing the Wahabis,was afforded the opportunity to establish an Arab kingdom where none hadexisted previously — only Jews. As a result, in an area where prophets andpriests fashioned the most humanist and moral religion and culture on Earth,Jews are now termed “illegals.” Many people insist that settlements are illegal under the Fourth GenevaConvention. But that convention does not apply to Israel’s presence in Judeaand Samaria and the Gaza district. Its second clause makes it clear that itdeals with the occupation of “the territory of a high contracting party.”Judea and Samaria and Gaza, which Israel gained control of in 1967, were notterritories of a “high contracting party.” Jewish historical rights that themandate had recognized were not canceled, and no new sovereign ever tookover in Judea and Samaria or in Gaza. [THIS IS SUCH AN IMP. POINT THAT ISUNKNOWN BY ALMOST EVERYBODY WHO TALKS ABOUT THE “ILLEGAL OCCUPATION.” ISPOKE WITH THE SENIOR CORRESPONDENT OF AN ABC-AFFILIATED ALL NEWS RADIOSTATION WHO HAS LIVED IN ISRAEL FOR DECADES AND HE HAD NEVER HEARD, OR ATLEAST EVEN REALIZED THAT HE HAD HEARD, THIS POINT. IS IT SO COMPLICATED? ALL IT MEANS IS THAT NO SOVEREIGN STATE HAD LEGAL CONTROL OF THE TERRITORYPRIOR TO THE ENTRY OF THE JEWS IN 1967, THEREFORE THE PRESENCE OF JEWS THERESINCE THEN IS NOT ILLEGAL, I.E. THE OCCUPATION PREOCCUPATION IS BASED ON AFLAWED UNDERSTANDING OF HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL LAW. LLM] Obama has made his objections to Israeli settlements known. But other U.S.presidents have disagreed. President Reagan’s administration issued adeclaration that Israeli settlements were not illegal. Support for thatposition came from Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, former president of theInternational Court of Justice, who determined that Israel’s presence inJudea and Samaria did not constitute “occupation.” It also came from aleading member of Reagan’s administration, the former dean of the Yale LawSchool and former undersecretary of State, Eugene Rostow, who asserted that”Israel has a stronger claim to the West Bank than any other nation orwould-be nation [and] the same legal right to settle the West Bank, the GazaStrip and East Jerusalem as it has to settle Haifa or West Jerusalem.” Any suggestions, then, of “freezing” and halting “natural growth” arethemselves not only illegal but quite immoral.

  5. Regarding the comment submitted by P Brooks above – it’s a narrow selfish righteous argument that I have heard before, that goes around. I think it threatens Israel’s existentially much more than an Iranian nuclear bomb.

    Settlements in the occupied territories need to be confronted head on. They will have to be confronted on moral philosophical grounds (rebutting arguments like Nimrod Tal’s). It will have to be confronted legally (the self-serving notion that the occupation is not occupation, the argument that territories are merely “disputed” and settlement is legal. The argument “it’s not the settlements” The argument “we won they lost”). They will have to be confronted finally by physical removal of the most stubborn settlers or allowing them, leaving them to live under Palestinian rule.

    That day of reckoning has been postponed so long, during which time settlements have grown to produce even greater fears of removing them and understandable despair ( producing violence) amongst Palestinians. I believe this was intended. This is not about the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. That’s an old dog that can’t hunt.

    This might break the country apart but it has to happen. Otherwise you will surely see more war, sanctions, boycotts. The international community and the international public, awakened through the media, understands now more than ever that it has part to play in enabling or ending the conflict.

    I hope that Obama does not cave in, that he has the resolve to insist on a complete freeze… to insist that the alcoholic cannot at this late date have the drinks from all the bottles he has bought if he promises not to buy any more.

  6. Suzanne
    You have misquoted me. Above, you can see that I have titled the argument below a racist screed. I do agree that Jewish settlement ANYWHERE in Palestine is extremely inflammatory and that the 1949 or 1967 lines are red herrings. The situation needs to be brought back to the pre Balfour declaration status, and Israelis need to be resettled elsewhere. Otherwise the resistance will continue, and as you say there will be more wars and sanctions.

  7. Phillip,
    where would you stop? Should all the sins of history be undone? Are you really serious? Do you expect t e taken seriously?

    How about we give America back to .. oh wait, the native Americans are dead.


  8. Phillip Brooks- We disagree. The international community supports the country/nation of Israel’s existence. Israel belongs within the 67 borders. Your position as I read it, is the other extreme.

    As Zak says- everyone is an invader. But the world community has drawn a bright line with international law and international boundaries.

  9. Suzanne-
    NO ONE in the world recognizes the pre-67 lines as an “international border” except for some “progressives”. As you you, the Arabs have rejected a peace agreement on the basis of a more-or-less complete withdrawal to the pre-67 lines which has been offered to them more than once in the last 10 years. This is because the Arabs insist on the “Palestinian Right of Return”, which means they do not accept Israel’s sovereign rights within those lines.

  10. I know that we cannot undo all the sins of history. However, we can undo the creation of Israel. As one of your own, Shlomo Sand recently published (and received a prestigious French prize for) the Jewish people is really a modern creation of a nonpeople. Therefore you do not merit a nation state. The existence of Israel is preventing us from solving the other problems of mankind, such as HIV, malaria, and other conflicts, because so much resources is expended on you people. As long as Israel and Jews continue to use consume so many tangible and emotional resources, you will rightfully attract the opprobium that you have cleverly labeled anti-semitism

  11. Y. Ben-David- I did not say that the world recognizes Israel ‘s 67 line as an international border. I said Israel belongs within the ’67 borders which is a general statement I believe to be true. And I know of no progressives that claim an international border when there is clearly none yet.

    Internationally recognized borders are formal designations that need to happen with an agreement of the parties and then international recognition of that ( through the UN committee on such for instance)

    You are wrong about what Arabs will accept when issues such as ROR are ironed out. ROR, it’s been said over and over, has to be dealt with but it does not mean millions returning to Israel with the 67 lines. This is a hard concept to get across apparently. There will be no agreement (obviously) on the Israeli side if the proposal is to take in floods of Arabs.

    Israel’s “sovereign rights” will be accepted when Palestinian “sovereign rights” are accepted. This is part of the deal waiting. Why is this so hard to get? You will not get anything before that. So those are fear based excuses that prevent going forward. These phoney arguments get passed around and repeated and repeated no matter how many times they are refuted.

  12. Phillip Brooks- Before we undo Israel- let’s please undo the Holocaust of this non-people.

  13. We cant undo the Holocaust, although one must ask why a civilized nation killed a lot of people-have you ever thought that the Germans had been provoked and are thus not solely to blame? We can undo Israel, and that is what all progressives should strive for. Why is this so hard to get?

  14. The pre-war Jewish population of Poland was 10 per cent of the population – who I now encouraged to wonder whether are responsible for their own murders.

    Let’s try a simple experiment. Mr. Brooks walks in on Reform minyan (lots of Jewish mothers) and runs his mouth in a manner similiar to his antagonistic prose. Let’s see if he is willing to publicly bear the responsibility of the results of having “provoked” a bunch of now pissed-off little old ladies.

    I wonder if this Mr. Brooks ever considered what Hitler planned to do with the British people if he ever conquered Britain. After the population marched off to become slave labor, would he have then said that the British “provoked” Hitler?

  15. Mr. Brooks reveals himself.

    The German scapegoating of Jews and their industrialized genocide of them produced something that was unique in history to this day.

    For Mr. Brooks to say that this was provoked by Jews themselves is way beyond the pale of any reasonable discussion. I presume, then, Mr. Brooks would have been supporting the Germans.

    Support for the establishment and continuing support of Israel’s existence is based on and made stronger by evidence that such views are still alive. This is gives hardliners in Israel and elsewhere all the evidence they need.

    I would hope that progressives disassociate themselves from you very strongly. I do.

    Israel cannot be and will not be undone. History does not go backward.

Comments are closed.