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Israel’s Settlements and the Europeans

Those looking for an explanation for why almost all of Europe backed the Palestinians in the recent vote to upgrade their status at the United Nations are blaming it on Israel’s decision to continue building homes in Jerusalem and its suburbs. As reporter Laura Rozen put it in a tweet, “Does Israel really not get how fed up Europe is w/ its settlement policies?” The upshot of this sort of thinking is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fanatical devotion to “Greater Israel” is isolating Israel and forcing even its friends to abandon its cause in international forums.

The problem with this thesis is that it is pure bunk. As Jonathan Schanzer and Benjamin Weinthal point out in their article in Foreign Policy (about which Rozen was commenting), there are a lot of reasons why the Europeans stabbed the Israelis in the back at the UN, among which their objections to “settlements” is by no means inconsiderable. But as I pointed out earlier, if the Europeans believe that the 1967 lines with land swaps is the formula for peace, it’s hard to understand why they are upset with Israel building in places that everyone knows they would keep under such a plan. After all, does anyone who is actually interested in peace–as opposed to those who think every Jewish home anywhere in the country is an illegal settlement–actually think Israel will abandon 40-year-old Jerusalem neighborhoods or the suburbs that are close to the green line? Far from the Israelis pushing the limits in their quest for settlements, it is the Europeans who are redefining the terms of peace.

For Israel’s European critics, “Greater Israel” is no longer all of the West Bank, which even Netanyahu has conceded may be ceded for a real peace deal, nor even retention of an undivided Jerusalem. They are now acting as if any Israeli government that acts as if it is going to hold onto all of the Jewish areas of Jerusalem is a foe of peace. In doing so, they are not only distorting Israel’s position — which is still perfectly compatible with a two-state solution based on the ’67 lines with swaps — but also covering up or ignoring the fact that the Palestinians have refused Israeli offers of a state and now no longer even wish to negotiate.

The idea that the Europeans — save for the principled stand of the Czech Republic — have turned on the Israelis solely because of “settlements” is a misnomer. The tilt toward the Palestinians and against Israel is not a recent phenomenon, nor is it the product of Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister. Virtually any act of Israeli self-defense is treated as impermissible. Nor can one understand the unwillingness of these governments to stand with Israel outside of a context in which anti-Zionism has become the orthodoxy of European intellectuals and the rising tide of anti-Semitism on the continent.

Moreover, as Schanzer and Weinthal point out, the decision to back Mahmoud Abbas at the UN has just as much if not more to do with the hope that giving him a shot in the arm will undermine Hamas. This is a monumental misjudgment, since Abbas cannot hope to compete in the long run with the more violent Islamists who run what is already an independent Palestinian state in all but name.

Europeans who think isolating Israel in this manner will teach Netanyahu or the Israeli people a lesson are ignoring the realities of the conflict. Though they would divest themselves of almost all of the territories in exchange for an end to the conflict, the overwhelming majority of Israelis have no intention of allowing the West Bank to become another, more dangerous version of Gaza from which Islamist terrorists will launch missiles or terror attacks. A European demand for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines including a divided Jerusalem and the eviction of nearly half a million Jews from their homes to empower a Palestinian entity that won’t negotiate is antithetical to the idea of genuine peace.


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