The announcement by the Israeli government that it will build 3000 housing units in a disputed suburb of Jerusalem has caused a great deal of scolding of the Jewish state in the capitals of Europe. British Foreign Minister William Hague went so far as to reiterate his government’s position that Israeli “settlements are illegal under international law.”
The area to be developed is the so-called E1 corridor – a largely undeveloped plot of land situated between Mt. Scopus (the location of Hebrew University) and the Jewish neighborhood of Maale Adumim.
One argument against the Israeli move centers around the impact it will have on the geographic contiguity of a future Palestinian state; one that, presumably (unlike the fictional one discussed last week at the United Nations), will have defined borders and a functioning government. The borders of Maale Adumim do, in fact, stretch quite far out into the Judean desert to within just a few miles of Jericho (to the north) and the Dead Sea (to the south). The hand-wringing that the move will “cut off” the northern West Bank from the southern West Bank is ridiculous, though, as anyone who can look at a map can see. Not to mention that, unless Israel plans to vacate Maale Adumim (home to 39,000 people) in a peace deal – an outcome that nobody including Palestinian leaders expect – the neighborhood will need to be connected somehow to the rest of Israel.
The other argument against developing E1 is, as Foreign Minister Hague helpfully reminded us, “settlements are illegal under international law.” The late Julius Stone decimated this argument about ten years ago. A more recent treatment of the issue by David Phillips comes to the same legal conclusions. Suffice it to say; no, Mr. Hague, they are not – at least not in as cut-and-dry a fashion as your statement suggests.
Here’s the thing: this amounts to a local zoning and development issue. Calling it, as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did, a “fatal blow” to the peace process is both overwrought and, in the week following the U.N.’s passage of an ill-advised and self-defeating upgrade of the Palestinian status at Turtle Bay, more than a bit curious. If we’re looking for a fatal blow to the peace process, I would suggest it was when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to negotiate with the Israelis … THREE YEARS AGO. Or when Hamas began lobbing thousands of rockets into Israel … EIGHT YEARS AGO. Or when Yasser Arafat started the Second Intifada terror war against Israeli civilians ELEVEN YEARS AGO.
I think we’re well past the time when we need to wonder why the world is so interested in this issue. Now we should wonder why we or anyone else should care what Europeans think.