Once again, the announcement of a small housing project by Israel is causing the United Nations to claim that such settlement building prejudices the peace process. But the overwrought statement from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on this subject was even more off the mark than most such condemnations of Israeli actions. The plan that set off alarms at the UN and other Israel critics is for the building of 40 homes in the town of Efrat in the Gush Etzion bloc just outside of Jerusalem.
The place where the homes are being built is a town that even many Palestinians have conceded would remain part of Israel in the event of a peace deal. If there are to be the “land swaps” that President Obama has said would be part of his demand for negotiations on the basis of the 1967 lines, then there is no doubt that Efrat and Gush Etzion will be areas that are swapped. So how then would the addition of 40 new families or even 400 or 4,000 Jews to that settlement prevent a two-state solution in the event the Palestinians ever changed their minds and accepted one? More to the point, the history of Gush Etzion makes the effort by the Palestinians, and implicitly supported by the UN, to evict not only new settlers but also the existing inhabitations of Gush Etzion, particularly inappropriate.
Perhaps someone at the UN should point out to the secretary general that the Gush Etzion bloc was not a Jewish settlement that was created on disputed territory after the 1967 war. Rather, it was a Jewish community that existed prior to 1948 that was overrun by the Arabs and its inhabitants massacred or evicted. The return of Jews to this Jerusalem suburb after June 1967 was greeted with jubilation throughout all of Israel. It was a sign — like the revival of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City —that the Arab efforts to eradicate the Jewish presence in the land would not stand.
But even if you ignore the history, the idea that building a few more houses (and adding a few more Jews to towns that the overwhelming majority of Israelis have no intention of relinquishing under any circumstances) harms the peace process is absurd. Indeed, the new homes in Efrat are no more an obstacle to peace than the thousands of housing units now under construction in Arab neighborhoods in the Jerusalem area which are, for some reason, not deemed controversial.
Were the Palestinians the least bit interested in a two-state solution in which they would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state of Israel no matter where its borders were drawn, the presence of Jews in any of the settlements wouldn’t be an issue. They know very well that the majority of Israelis are prepared to sacrifice many of the settlements in exchange for real peace. They also know that if they want peace, they need to forget about a repeat of 1948 when the Gush bloc was wiped out. That is one spot on the map Israelis will never agree to give up.
Leaving aside the hypocrisy of the UN and the intransigence of the Palestinians, it should also be noted that a representative of Peace Now was quoted as criticizing the new homes in Efrat. Those wondering why the Israeli left has lost its influence over the Israeli public need only read that statement for evidence of just how out of touch that organization — and its American cheering section — are with Israeli public opinion.