Sunday, June 13, 2004

Bush and "Settlements"

President George W. Bush, in his speech on the White House steps on Monday, made one direct reference to the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and another, oblique reference.

In the one section of his address, he stated that "Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories must stop." This is a bit unclear to me. Did he mean a "provisional" stop, like as in a provisional state a la Colin Powell? Is this a halt that is to be temporary or part of the final resolution of the conflict? Are the communities to be allowed, at a future date, to begin natural development once again, or must they remain fixed at the current situation or what?

In a second section, he touched on the core issues that divide Israel and the Palestinians and insisted that if there is to be a real peace, these claims must be resolved. In this context, Bush said that "the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended...with Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognize borders." Again, I am not sure of the details. Must the Jewish civilian presence in these areas be banned and the communities dismantled? Would President Bush be amenable to accept that Jews can live in Shiloh, Samaria and Hebron, Judea just like we can do so in Shiloh, Ohio (or Illinois or Wisconsin) or in Hebron Texas, (or Nebraska or Maryland)?

And if he does accept the rather immoral and unjust Palestinian stance that their territory must be emptied of Jews, would he accept a rather more permanent resolution of the conflict that would permit Israel to move its Arab population into the new Palestine?

Obviously, the question of the legality of the Jewish residential communities in areas beyond Israel's former "Green Line" border is one that simply will not go away. Kofi Anan, last March, spoke of an "illegal occupation" what George P. Fletcher called "careless language". Arabs are insistent that international law forbids Jewish communities in the territories of Judea, Samaria and Gaza (which in Hebrew acronym form is initialized as YESHA).

The constant repetition of this theme has browbeaten many. Others simply ignore the claim, assuming it may be correct but nevertheless promote a Jewish presence due either to Israel's security needs or out of a religious-based recognition that these are actually the heartland of the Biblical geographical landscape. Israel's Foreign Ministry's wishy-washy information services, mainly due to partisan internal politics, never tackle the issue head-on. In truth, international law supports those villages, agricultural communities and municipalities.

What Mr. Bush may not be aware of is that the text of the 1917 Balfour Declaration of 1917 had been approved by a previous United States President,
Woodrow Wilson, prior to its publication. Indeed, the Inquiry Commission established by President Wilson affirmed "that Palestine should become a Jewish State" and that "Palestine...was the cradle and home of their vital race", a succinct statement of the essence of the principle of self-determination, a principle the Arabs have absconded away with as if applicable only to their cause.

That declaration, issued by the British Government and later to serve as the basis for the League of Nations Mandate approved in 1922, refers on the one hand to "a National Home for the Jewish people in Palestine" while on the other, it refers to "non-Jewish communities in Palestine".

The distinction is not coincidental nor unintentional. National and historical rights are recognized clearly in the context of the Jewish people only. The assumption that the land in question, 'belonged' as it were, to an Arab people (there were no Palestinians to speak of at the time), was, and is, textually unsupported. What was included in the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate were the "civil and religious rights" of non-specified "non-Jewish communities". Again, no "Arabs".

Furthermore, the Mandate acknowledges that "recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country". In Article 6, the administration apparatus of the Mandate, the temporary form of government, was charged with facilitating and encouraging "close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes". Well, it seems that international recognition of "settlements" and settlement activity is over 80 years old.

President Bush should also be apprised that the United States House of Representatives and the Senate adopted resolutions supporting the Mandate, on June 30, 1922 and May 3, 1922 respectively. Indeed, President W. Harding signed a proclamation on September 21, 1922 which stated that "the United States of America favors the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish People...and that the holy places and religious buildings and sites in Palestine shall be adequately protected". These acts reinforced the position fully understood that the rights accruing a national grouping belonged solely to the Jewish people and that non-Jewish elements could claim but protection for property and civil rights on an individual buildings basis.

Interestingly enough, one might ask if the administration can pursue a policy - the prohibiting of residence - which if activated in the United States would surely be struck down by the Supreme Court there as racist and illegal. Given that the U.S. Congress has already expressed a principled support to the right of Jews to live throughout its historic homeland, I would suggest that President Bush should review his policy.

In the end though, it comes down to a gut feeling: can it be that a Jew cannot live in the places where his religion, cultural and national identity was shaped for many hundreds of years? What "law" touts that?

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