Bibi’s Con: “Economic Peace”

My new article on Benjamin Netanyahu’s new platform of “economic peace” appears in Ha’aretz today. For those who read from right to left, the original Hebrew is here. The English translation is here. A taste:

When Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about “economic peace,” his new, brilliant diplomatic platform, which will postpone any diplomatic moves far into the unforeseeable future, I see his face shrink, his chin sharpen, a patch cover his eye. Moshe Dayan is speaking, just as he spoke in a cabinet meeting 40 years ago, in early December 1968.

The Eshkol government met then to discuss Dayan’s proposal for a policy on the occupied territories. Dayan’s plan had three pillars: large-scale settlement on the West Bank mountain ridge, permanent Israeli rule of the territories without Israeli citizenship for the Arab residents, and economic integration of the territories with Israel. Arabs would work in Israel, Hebron would get its electricity from the Israeli grid, and Israel would raise the standard of living of the residents of the territories. As a result, Dayan argued, they would become dependent on Israel, maybe even grateful to it.

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House of Ill-Dispute

There have been some pleasant surprises this week. For instance, the Supreme Court ordered the state to explain why it isn’t removing the outpost of Migron, built on other people’s land. The state – meaning Defense Minister Ehud Barak, for practical purposes – wanted an indefinite delay, based on a supposed agreement with the Council … Read more

The Paper Trail: Settlement Land Theft

The legal battle over settlement building on privately owned Palestinian land is heating up. Yesterday, the Supreme Court barred settlers from taking up residence in houses at Beit El. The court was responding to a petition by two Palestinians from the village of Dura a-Kara, who say the buildings are on land they own. (The Supreme Court order in Hebrew is here; an AP story on the decision is here.)

In honor of that decision, I’m adding a new document to my online archive of settlement history. The mimeographed Hebrew flier, from the flagship settlement of Ofrah in 1976, shows how aware settlers were at the outset that they were using land that belonged to someone else, how intentional the theft was.

First, some background on the latest legal case.

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Update: Kfar Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Law

Gershom Gorenberg

The last week has been rather packed, and not just because of two days of Rosh Hashanah. On the first night of the holiday, while my wife and kids and I were at the synagogue praying, our kitchen caught fire. By the time we got home, the fire crew had been and gone. A cop was standing in the dark, smoke-filled, wet apartment to calm us – and to tell us we’d need to find someplace else to stay. Thank God for my friends and especially for my congregation, Kehillat Yedidya. Generosity has turned this from a crisis to an inconvenience.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been remiss in putting up the links to two new articles.

In the Washington Post, I wrote this article on a recurring pattern: Poorly implemented diplomatic initiatives on Israeli-Arab peace have actually spurred settlement construction. A prime example is Ma’aleh Adumim, born of the failed talks with Jordan in the mid-70s. It was also born in flagrant violation of international law:

The government’s method of acquiring land for the settlement was audacious — and, until now, well hidden. After a tenacious freedom-of-information legal battle, Israeli human rights activist Dror Etkes of the organization Yesh Din recently received data from the Israeli army’s Civil Administration on West Bank land expropriations. In April 1975, Israel expropriated 11 square miles east of Jerusalem “for public use.” In 1977, another square mile was taken.

On his laptop, Etkes showed me an aerial photo of the settlement today, superimposed on a map of the expropriation. Most of the built-up area of Maale Adumim lies inside the land that was confiscated.

This is a prima facie violation of international law. Under the 1907 Hague Convention, an occupying power may expropriate land only for the public use of the occupied population. Taking private West Bank land for Israeli use is therefore barred.

Meanwhile, my article on the 41st anniversary of Kfar Etzion went up at the Ha’aretz site – in Hebrew, and in English translation. As I explain there, the long-standing Israeli consensus on settling at the Etzion Bloc is based on some lazy and dangerous thinking:

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Olmert Promised a Pullout, and Built Settlements

Gershom Gorenberg I have a new article up at the LA Times explaining Olmert’s legacy: broken promises, more settlements.: …At last Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, Olmert chose to end his term with the same message with which he began it two years ago. “The Whole Land of Israel is done with,” he said, referring to the … Read more

Is All Criticism Anti-Israel? A Question for NGO Monitor

Gershom Gorenberg

NGO Monitor, Gerald Steinberg’s group, which tracks human-rights groups for anti-Israel bias, sent me its annual report. I don’t claim the resources to monitor every detail of its monitoring. But a section in the report on B’Tselem helps illuminate an underlying bias in the work of the bias-hunter.

The report quotes B’Tselem Executive Director Jessica Montell as acknowledging

that Israel is held to a higher standard within the international community and “in some ways Israel is discriminated against and disproportionately criticized.” But she also stated, “Israel is a democracy that holds itself to a higher standard. And I think that’s appropriate,” a comment which denies the universality of human rights. [my emphasis]

Does holding Israel to a higher standard in fact defy the universality of human rights? Sometimes, depending on context. Some groups, especially foreign ones, notice only Israeli offenses, because they begin by being offended that Israel exists.

But there are three essential flaws in the NGO Monitor argument against B’Tselem on this point.

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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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