Commentary Magazine


Topic: E-1 corridor

What’s Makes an Outpost Illegal?

For years, Israel’s critics have been railing against the construction of illegal outposts by Jews in the West Bank. The hilltop enclaves are erected without government permits and are therefore illegal, but the settlers have often been able to win delays from sympathetic politicians or to otherwise tie up their status in court. This is seen as a failure of the rule of law in Israel but the Palestinians have apparently been taking notes from the settlers’ tactics. Today a group of Palestinians erected a tent city in the controversial E1 area just outside Jerusalem protesting plans to incorporate the area into the city and the Jewish state. Police told them they would eventually be evicted, but those involved say they are on Arab-owned land and intend to stay until their camp is incorporated into a independent Palestinian state rather than Israel.

This is an effective tactic, but at the heart of their stunt is a concept that doesn’t necessarily work in favor of their cause. If, as their sympathizers will argue, Palestinians have the right to live and/or build on Arab-owned land anywhere in the country, then why shouldn’t Jews, who want to do the same thing, have that same right? In other words, is an outpost only truly illegal, not because of the lack of government building permits, but because the residents of the tent are Jewish rather than Arab?

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For years, Israel’s critics have been railing against the construction of illegal outposts by Jews in the West Bank. The hilltop enclaves are erected without government permits and are therefore illegal, but the settlers have often been able to win delays from sympathetic politicians or to otherwise tie up their status in court. This is seen as a failure of the rule of law in Israel but the Palestinians have apparently been taking notes from the settlers’ tactics. Today a group of Palestinians erected a tent city in the controversial E1 area just outside Jerusalem protesting plans to incorporate the area into the city and the Jewish state. Police told them they would eventually be evicted, but those involved say they are on Arab-owned land and intend to stay until their camp is incorporated into a independent Palestinian state rather than Israel.

This is an effective tactic, but at the heart of their stunt is a concept that doesn’t necessarily work in favor of their cause. If, as their sympathizers will argue, Palestinians have the right to live and/or build on Arab-owned land anywhere in the country, then why shouldn’t Jews, who want to do the same thing, have that same right? In other words, is an outpost only truly illegal, not because of the lack of government building permits, but because the residents of the tent are Jewish rather than Arab?

According to those Palestinians interviewed by the New York Times, there is a distinction between their outpost and Jewish ones. It is that they think that only they have a right to live there and that Jews are foreign invaders. But the area involved is one in which both peoples have claims. Those of the Jews are backed by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine as well as by history. Moreover, Israeli settlements are almost all on land that is not owned by individual Arabs. The point is, if the Arab tent city in E1 can be justified, so, too, most Jewish hilltop settlements as well as others that have been built with permission.

Those who oppose the Jewish presence in the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem often argue that incorporating these areas makes a two-state solution to the conflict impossible or undermine Israel’s future as a Jewish state. But the E1 area is not some remote hilltop outpost deep in the West Bank that would likely be given up in the event of a peace accord. It is a close Jerusalem suburb that would be incorporated into Israel in any treaty under the concept of land swaps that even President Obama supports. Should the Palestinians ever decide to make peace and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state next door, having the E1 area under Israeli control won’t prevent them from creating an independent nation next to it. 

While Israel’s critics complain about Jews building in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the Palestinians are building there all the time. But by choosing to seize an area that is in between two large Jewish areas, they are, in fact, the ones complicating any possible two-state scheme. Their true goal is not really to create a new Arab town but to ultimately evict Jews from their homes in Maale Adumim next door.

The notion that Arabs can live anywhere in the West Bank or Jerusalem but that Jews may not is a recipe for unending conflict, not peace. Peace will only come when Palestinians reconcile themselves to the existence of Israel. But such a peace isn’t likely to last if a Palestinian state remains off limits to Jews. 

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Why Israel Has to Build in E-1

Yesterday, I took issue with the Union for Reform Judaism for condemning planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 region. Many liberal American Jews would doubtless respond that they don’t object to E-1 remaining Israeli under an Israeli-Palestinian agreement; they merely object to building there before such an agreement exists. That, after all, is precisely what Ehud Olmert said last week when asked how he could condemn the Netanyahu government for doing something he himself supported as prime minister.

Unfortunately, this response betrays a serious lack of understanding of how the “peace process” actually works. First, as I noted yesterday, insisting that Israeli construction is an “obstacle to peace” even in areas that every proposed agreement has assigned to Israel merely encourages Palestinian intransigence by feeding their fantasies that the world will someday pressure Israel into withdrawing to the 1967 lines. Equally important, however, is that in a world where Israeli security concerns are routinely dismissed as unimportant, construction has proven the only effective means of ensuring Israel’s retention of areas it deems vital to its security.

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Yesterday, I took issue with the Union for Reform Judaism for condemning planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 region. Many liberal American Jews would doubtless respond that they don’t object to E-1 remaining Israeli under an Israeli-Palestinian agreement; they merely object to building there before such an agreement exists. That, after all, is precisely what Ehud Olmert said last week when asked how he could condemn the Netanyahu government for doing something he himself supported as prime minister.

Unfortunately, this response betrays a serious lack of understanding of how the “peace process” actually works. First, as I noted yesterday, insisting that Israeli construction is an “obstacle to peace” even in areas that every proposed agreement has assigned to Israel merely encourages Palestinian intransigence by feeding their fantasies that the world will someday pressure Israel into withdrawing to the 1967 lines. Equally important, however, is that in a world where Israeli security concerns are routinely dismissed as unimportant, construction has proven the only effective means of ensuring Israel’s retention of areas it deems vital to its security.

In theory, construction shouldn’t be necessary to stake Israel’s claim, because the world has already recognized it: UN Security Council Resolution 242, still officially the defining document of the peace process, explicitly recognized Israel’s right to obtain “secure” borders by retaining some of the territory it captured in 1967, since, as then-U.S. Ambassador to the UN Arthur Goldberg explained, “Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

But in practice, the only parts of the West Bank that successive peace plans have envisaged Israel retaining are the ones where there are just too many Jews to easily remove. As former President George W. Bush put it in his 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”

In contrast, the world has generally dismissed Israeli demands to keep sparsely settled areas, even when they are equally vital for security. For instance, all Israeli governments have considered military control over the Jordan Valley essential for security, but even Washington hasn’t backed this demand. And the European Union is much worse: It officially views the entire West Bank as occupied Palestinian territory to which Israel has no claim whatsoever unless the Palestinians allow it.

For this reason, Israel should long since have built in E-1–an area every Israeli premier has deemed vital for security–rather than leaving it vacant at the urging of successive U.S. administrations. But the issue received new urgency after the UN overwhelmingly recognized a Palestinian state last month “on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.” With virtually the entire world having just declared that Israel has no right to any part of the West Bank, it has become imperative for Israel to strengthen its claim via the only means that has ever proven effective: by building.

The question now is whether Israel will actually do so, or whether its government will once again sacrifice the country’s long-term security needs on the altar of global opposition.

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Jerusalem’s Mayor Defends His City

Israel’s current government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has never shied away from engaging its critics abroad, as is evident by the numerous op-eds authored by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Oren was considered an inspired choice for ambassador to the U.S. in part because he is one of the leading historians on the Middle East and has written perhaps the definitive history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from its founding.

Oren was also teaching at Georgetown before being asked to represent Israel’s government in Washington, and he had previously worked as an IDF spokesman as well. Netanyahu himself speaks in flawless, almost accentless English, having spent so many years in top-flight American schools. It seemed that Netanyahu had recognized Israel’s weakness in communication, and sought to rectify that. Netanyahu himself stresses the history of Israel and of the Jewish people when he talks about the challenges confronting the Jewish state–a feature of his diplomatic style that often annoys the media in part because of their sometimes-staggering ignorance of that very history.

And on that topic, with Israel embroiled in just such a diplomatic controversy over building in Jerusalem, the city’s mayor has joined the effort with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat takes readers on a historical journey through the ages, explaining the Jewish people’s thousands-year-old connection to the city and its existence as a united capital (until Jordan’s occupation of the city from 1948-67). Barkat also makes the important point that Jewish sovereignty over the city has been its only reliable guarantor of religious openness, access, and equality.

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Israel’s current government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has never shied away from engaging its critics abroad, as is evident by the numerous op-eds authored by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Oren was considered an inspired choice for ambassador to the U.S. in part because he is one of the leading historians on the Middle East and has written perhaps the definitive history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from its founding.

Oren was also teaching at Georgetown before being asked to represent Israel’s government in Washington, and he had previously worked as an IDF spokesman as well. Netanyahu himself speaks in flawless, almost accentless English, having spent so many years in top-flight American schools. It seemed that Netanyahu had recognized Israel’s weakness in communication, and sought to rectify that. Netanyahu himself stresses the history of Israel and of the Jewish people when he talks about the challenges confronting the Jewish state–a feature of his diplomatic style that often annoys the media in part because of their sometimes-staggering ignorance of that very history.

And on that topic, with Israel embroiled in just such a diplomatic controversy over building in Jerusalem, the city’s mayor has joined the effort with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat takes readers on a historical journey through the ages, explaining the Jewish people’s thousands-year-old connection to the city and its existence as a united capital (until Jordan’s occupation of the city from 1948-67). Barkat also makes the important point that Jewish sovereignty over the city has been its only reliable guarantor of religious openness, access, and equality.

Barkat then gets to the practical issues:

By 2030, the city’s population will expand to one million residents from 800,000 today (33% Muslim, 2% Christian and 65% Jewish). Where does the world suggest we put these extra 200,000 residents? The expansion of Jerusalem’s residential areas is essential for the natural growth of all segments of our population. It enables Jewish and Arab families alike to grow and remain in the city. The capital of a sovereign nation cannot be expected to freeze growth rather than provide housing to families of all faiths eager to make their lives there.

As for “E-1,” this land has always been considered the natural site for the expansion of contiguous neighborhoods of metropolitan Jerusalem. “E-1” strengthens Jerusalem. It does not impede peace in our region. The international alarm about planned construction is based solely on the misplaced dreams of the Palestinians and their supporters for a divided Jerusalem.

There are two points worth making here. The first is that in addition to Jewish support for a united capital, the city’s Arab residents who prefer to live in Israel outnumber those who would choose Palestine, making a united Jerusalem also a democratic Jerusalem.

The second point is that Barkat’s seeming incredulity at the sudden support for preventing Israeli sovereignty over E-1 is genuine. As Evelyn wrote earlier, Tzipi Livni is making the same point to foreign diplomats–a point which is within the consensus across the ideological spectrum in Israel. One reason Barkat and others are honestly taken aback by the E-1 controversy is that the Clinton parameters apportioned E-1 to Israel–another point Evelyn made.

So let’s take this to its logical next step. Since the failure of Camp David at the tail end of Clinton’s second term, the chattering classes and the world’s diplomats have accepted, consistently, the following premise: any deal between Israel and the Palestinians over a final-status agreement would be based on the Clinton parameters. So: are the liberal American Jews that Evelyn mentioned, and the foreign diplomats that Livni spoke to, and the members of the press so furious at Netanyahu all finally and forcefully rejecting the Clinton parameters?

That’s the question at the heart of Barkat’s op-ed. As far as I can remember, liberal American Jewish groups have not gone so far as to publicly repudiate that plan, which rejecting Israeli sovereignty over E-1 would do. Are they now rejecting the Clinton parameters?

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Liberal American Jews, Tzipi Livni, and the Israeli Consensus

Last week, Seth wrote an excellent post on the irreconcilability of European and Israeli visions for a two-state solution. What’s far more worrying, however, is that liberal American Jews appear to be on the European side of the divide. To grasp just how wide the gap yawns, compare the Union for Reform Judaism’s response to planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 area to today’s remarks by one of Israel’s most dovish politicians, Tzipi Livni.

Last week, the URJ issued a statement condemning Israeli settlement activity, “especially in the E-1 area,” saying it “makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution.” Now here’s what Livni–long the darling of liberal American Jews for her dovish views, and someone who has consistently blamed the Netanyahu government for the impasse in peace talks–told a gathering of foreign ambassadors today:

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Last week, Seth wrote an excellent post on the irreconcilability of European and Israeli visions for a two-state solution. What’s far more worrying, however, is that liberal American Jews appear to be on the European side of the divide. To grasp just how wide the gap yawns, compare the Union for Reform Judaism’s response to planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 area to today’s remarks by one of Israel’s most dovish politicians, Tzipi Livni.

Last week, the URJ issued a statement condemning Israeli settlement activity, “especially in the E-1 area,” saying it “makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution.” Now here’s what Livni–long the darling of liberal American Jews for her dovish views, and someone who has consistently blamed the Netanyahu government for the impasse in peace talks–told a gathering of foreign ambassadors today:

“It doesn’t matter what you think about settlements,” Livni said with uncharacteristic bluntness. “We have settlement blocs close to the Green Line and the only way for the conflict with the Palestinians to end is for Israel to keep them. Any pre-agreement by the international community to a withdrawal to 1967 borders before the talks occur, makes it difficult to negotiate. It was clear in the talks I conducted with the Palestinians that there would not be return to 1967 borders.”

Given that E-1 is the corridor that links one of those settlement blocs, Ma’aleh Adumim, to Jerusalem, it’s hard to reconcile those two views. After all, if the settlement blocs will be part of Israel under any agreement, then so will E-1–which, as Rick noted yesterday, is precisely why every peace plan every proposed, including former President Bill Clinton’s, in fact assigned E-1 to Israel. Indeed, the annexation documents for E-1 were signed by the patron saint of the peace process himself, Yitzhak Rabin, less than a year after he signed the Oslo Accords. Like everyone else who has seriously studied this issue, Rabin concluded both that it was vital for Israel’s security and–contrary to the widespread misconception today–that it would in no way preclude a viable and contiguous Palestinian state (a point Rich’s post also explains).

So if everyone knows that Israel is going to retain this area anyway, how can advancing construction within it possibly “make progress toward peace far more challenging”? In fact, as Livni noted, the opposite is true: The real impediment to negotiations is the Palestinian belief that the world will back their demand for a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines and eventually force Israel to comply. And that’s precisely the belief the URJ reinforced via its condemnation: After all, the Palestinians must be saying, if even American Jews won’t back Israel’s position, it will soon have no choice but to capitulate.

Back in 2008, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned the Palestinians that if they weren’t prepared to concede Ma’aleh Adumim, “Then you won’t have a state!” Livni said the same thing today. But the URJ effectively told the Palestinians the opposite: It’s not the Palestinian refusal to cede Ma’aleh Adumim that’s the problem, it said, but Israel’s insistence on acting as if Ma’aleh Adumim will remain Israeli.

And when liberal American Jews can’t support a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus that encompasses even its most dovish politicians, you have to wonder whether they support the real Israel at all–or only some idealized fantasy of it that exists only in their own minds.

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