By Carl Pearlston, August 6, 2003.
If there is one item of conventional wisdom that unites most of the world’s
governments, the UN, various humanitarian, civil rights, and religious
organizations, and diverse academics and intellectuals, it is that Israeli
settlements in Gaza and the West Bank of the old Palestine Mandate are the
only real impediment to peace between the Arabs and Jews.
In this view, if only the Jewish settlers — all 380,000 of them — would
pack up and move back to Israel proper, abandoning their neat suburban
villages and planned communities to the Palestinians, peace would reign over
This naive article of faith, endlessly repeated by its partisans, conveniently
ignores the hard fact that there were no such settlements in 1948 when
nascent Israel fought the massed Arab armies intent on its destruction, nor at
the time of the 1956 war, nor when the PLO was formed in 1964 pledged to
the elimination of the Jewish state, nor before the 1967 war when the West
Bank territories were seized from the attacking Jordanian army and Gaza from
If the elimination of Jewish settlements is the key to peace, then how to
explain the absence of peace before there were any such settlements?
The answer is that in the Arab view there have been intrusive Jewish
settlements such as Tel Aviv and Haifa since the end of WWI destroyed the
Ottoman empire, and the League of Nations adopted an international policy for
the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the Palestine Mandate under British
governance. This policy encouraged Jewish settlement of the Mandate, and
some settlements were established under the British administration.
Such actions were fiercely opposed by the Arabs, and in 1921 the first
of many Arab pogroms killed forty Jews in the coastal city of Jaffa, followed in
1929 by riots in Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed in which Arabs killed and injured
over 500 Jews and drove out the Hebron survivors. From 1936-1939, hundreds
more were killed under the leadership of Yasser Arafat’s uncle, Hajj Amin
al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who met with Hitler in Germany
during WWII to plan for extension of the Final Solution for the Jews of Palestine.
The Arabs tried for that Solution when they rejected partition of Palestine into
two states in 1948 and made war on Israel. When Jordan captured the West
Bank in that war, it prohibited Jews from settlement in that area, as they had
earlier been banned from Jordan itself. It was not until 1967, when Israel
captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, that
Jews were free to settle in the areas intended for them to settle by the
It is not the settlements in any particular area to which the Arabs object, but
the very fact of Jewish presence in any part of what the Arabs identify as Arab
land, which is the entirety of the Palestine Mandate, encompassing Israel, Gaza,
the West Bank, and Jordan.
Thus, rather than having a two-state solution in 1948, the then-secretary
of the Arab League stated: “this will be a war of extermination and a
momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres
and the Crusades.”
This is still the stated policy of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah; the PLO claims
to have tempered its own goals to a two-state solution, though its rhetoric and
incitement belies this assertion. Having lost five wars and failing to exterminate
and drive the Jews into the sea, some of the Arabs now assure us that they
will be content with Arabs and Jews living side-by-side in their own states, but
not together, at least not in the Arab state.
The current fashionable view is that Arabs have the right to live anywhere in
the old Palestine Mandate – Gaza, Israel, West Bank, Jordan – but Jews have
only the disputed right to live in Israel proper, along with the nearly one million
Arab citizens of Israel, who constitute almost 20 percent of the population.
These Arabs live under Israeli law, protected by the police and the army,
and do not fear each day for their lives at the hands of either the government or
But in the proposed Arab state, there is to be an ethnic cleansing in which all
Jews will be expelled, and their neat suburban communities turned over to the
Arab refugees who have been kept languishing by their Arab masters for these
past 55 years in squalid camps.
The Arab demand for elimination of any Jewish presence in areas
claimed by Arab is a recognition by the Palestinian Authority that it lacks both
the means and the will to ensure the safety of any Jews who would choose to
live under Palestinian control in a future land agreement. But just as Arabs live
peacefully in Israel under Israeli law, so should Jews be able to live in the
suburban communities they have established in the West Bank without the need
for protection by the Israeli army.
As was contemplated by the old League of Nations, Jews should be free to live
in any part of the Mandate area; that they are not is a symptom of the problems
intractable nature and the relatively primitive state of Arab political culture.
Logically, this should lead to another enforced population exchange,
wherein the Arabs of Israel are relocated to the West Bank as the Jews there
are expelled to Israel. If ethnic cleansing is to be practiced, it should be
This would be, of course contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted
right after WWII to prevent forced population transfers as was done in Eastern
Europe before and during the war.
That Convention is frequently, but erroneously, cited as proof that the
Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank are ‘illegal,’ but the Convention
bans only forcible transfers or deportations from or into the occupied territories,
not voluntary movement of persons into those areas as is the case with the settlements.
The Convention was intended to ban ethnic cleansing, which is of
course exactly what the Arabs intend to do in their new state.
Further, since Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank areas in a defensive war
in 1967 from countries who had illegally occupied the areas since 1948, the
Convention does not even apply.
It only addresses the situation where the areas in question were
occupied from another nation with legitimate sovereignty over those areas,
which is not the present case. There is no basis for calling the settlements illegal.
But the legal niceties are irrelevant to the conventional wisdom, which
plans to eventually force Israel to resettle its Gaza and West Bank population
behind the Green Line, permitting the ethnic cleansing which the Convention
was intended to prevent.
It is naive to believe that removing the settlements will bring peace, since in the
Arab view, all of Israel is a series of settlements on Arab land.
Israel is viewed as a Crusader kingdom, which like the first, may last
200 years, but is eventually fated to fall under Arab domination, if not from
armed invasion, then from natural population demographics. The Arabs take the
long view of history and are in no hurry.