Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jews

Spain, Portugal and the Right of Return

Ali Jarbawi, a former Palestinian Authority minister, regurgitated several standard Palestinian talking points in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. Jonathan Tobin has already ably dissected most of them, but I’d like to focus on one he didn’t address: Jarbawi’s claim that the “right of return” is “guaranteed to refugees by international law.” Unfortunately for Jarbawi, this is a bad time to try to make that particular claim, because two European Union members, Spain and Portugal, are currently decisively refuting it.

Both countries recently announced plans to offer citizenship to descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews they expelled 500 years ago. At first glance, this might seem as if they had recognized a “right of return” – were it not for the fact that they’ve simultaneously refused to offer citizenship to descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Muslims expelled at about the same time.

 This has infuriated Muslim organizations, which are demanding equal treatment for their co-religionists. And if, as Palestinians claim, “return” were indeed a right guaranteed to all descendants of refugees in perpetuity, regardless of circumstances, these organizations would be justified. But in reality, it’s no such thing. And the arguments raised against it in Spain and Portugal apply to the Israeli-Palestinian case as well.

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Ali Jarbawi, a former Palestinian Authority minister, regurgitated several standard Palestinian talking points in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. Jonathan Tobin has already ably dissected most of them, but I’d like to focus on one he didn’t address: Jarbawi’s claim that the “right of return” is “guaranteed to refugees by international law.” Unfortunately for Jarbawi, this is a bad time to try to make that particular claim, because two European Union members, Spain and Portugal, are currently decisively refuting it.

Both countries recently announced plans to offer citizenship to descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews they expelled 500 years ago. At first glance, this might seem as if they had recognized a “right of return” – were it not for the fact that they’ve simultaneously refused to offer citizenship to descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Muslims expelled at about the same time.

 This has infuriated Muslim organizations, which are demanding equal treatment for their co-religionists. And if, as Palestinians claim, “return” were indeed a right guaranteed to all descendants of refugees in perpetuity, regardless of circumstances, these organizations would be justified. But in reality, it’s no such thing. And the arguments raised against it in Spain and Portugal apply to the Israeli-Palestinian case as well.

First, according to the legislator who drafted Portugal’s law of return, the circumstances of the Jewish and Muslim expulsions were completely different. “Persecution of Jews was just that, while what happened with the Arabs was part of a conflict,” Jose Ribeiro e Castro said. ”There’s no basis for comparison.”

That, of course, is equally true of Palestinian refugees: Far from being the victims of persecution, they fled and/or were expelled during a bloody conflict in which five Arab armies, aided by large contingents of local Palestinian irregulars, invaded the newborn state of Israel and tried to eradicate it. Thus Israel owes no moral debt to the refugees comparable to that of Spain and Portugal to their Jews.

Second, as noted by Egyptian-Belgian journalist Khaled Diab, there’s the demographic issue: While “only a few thousand” Jews are considered likely to apply for Spanish and Portuguese citizenship, “unknown millions of Arabs and Muslims” might be eligible. And that creates a real problem:

If only a fraction of these were to apply, it could significantly and rapidly alter Spain’s demographic make-up. And in a country that was devoid of Muslims for half a millennium but lies on the fault line separating the two “civilizations,” this could well spark civil strife or even conflict.

That, of course, is far more true of tiny Israel, with only 8 million people, compared to Spain’s 47 million. If you believe UNRWA’s figures, the original 700,000 Palestinian refugees now have 5 million descendants. If substantial numbers of them relocated to Israel – and given the choice, they probably would, since Israel offers a better economy and more civil rights than the Arab countries where most now live – that could convert Israel’s Jewish majority into an Arab one. In short, it wouldn’t just risk “civil strife”; it would completely eradicate the Jewish state.

To be clear, nobody thinks Spain and Portugal have a legal obligation to offer citizenship even to descendants of their Jewish refugees: There is no such obligation under international law. But to the extent that one might posit a moral obligation, the Spanish and Portuguese cases clearly show that this obligation applies only to victims of persecution, not to those of armed conflict – and only if the demographic consequences won’t endanger the recipient country.

So the next time you hear someone claim Palestinians have a “right of return,” just refer them to Spain and Portugal for a brief lesson in what that “right” really means: exactly nothing.

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Barack Obama vs. Jerusalem Day

This was no ordinary Jerusalem Day celebrated in Israel today. This date on the Jewish calendar notes the anniversary of the unification of the city in 1967, when Israeli troops routed the Jordanian occupiers of the eastern, northern, and southern parts of the town, and of the Old City. In June 1967, the barriers that had divided Jerusalem since the 1949 armistice were torn down, and the Jewish people were reunited with their holiest places, from which they had been barred during that period. But while today’s ceremonies, displays, and parties were the usual mix of historic remembrance and recognition of contemporary achievements, there can be no denying the fact that a shadow hung over the festivities there as well as over the observances of the date elsewhere.

The problem is the knowledge that this is the first Jerusalem Day since President Barack Obama made it clear that a repartition of the city has become one of America’s priorities in the Middle East. Though no American government ever recognized Israel’s unification of Jerusalem or, indeed, even the fact that the city has been the country’s capital since 1949, Obama’s is the first administration to state explicitly that the Jewish presence in the parts of the city that the Jordanian occupiers vacated in 1967 is illegal and to actively oppose the building of Jewish housing even in existing Jewish neighborhoods in the city.

Though more than 200,000 Jews live in the eastern, northern, and southern sections of the city, which the media routinely incorrectly labels “East Jerusalem,” those Jewish neighborhoods there are, according to this administration, a violation of international law and an “insult” to America. U.S. diplomats have made it clear to the Israelis that any building that goes on in these neighborhoods of the capital is a “provocation” that is not only anathema to the United States but also a legitimate excuse for the Palestinian Authority to boycott the so-called proximity talks now going on (so named because Palestinian representatives will only allow themselves to communicate indirectly with Israeli negotiators rather than sit and speak directly with them). And though the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted that Israel will not be deterred from continuing to build the Jewish presence in the city, it is not exactly a secret that all such projects have been put on hold, in order to avoid escalating the tensions that are already apparent in the relationship with the White House.

It is worth repeating on this, of all days, that despite the unique connection between the Jews and Jerusalem (it was never the capital of any entity other than a Jewish kingdom), only in the 43 years of full Israeli sovereignty over the united city has there been freedom of worship for all faiths. (The Jordanians prevented Jews from worshipping at the Western Wall or at other Jewish shrines under their control from 1949 to 1967, just as any Jewish sites currently under the control of the Palestinian Authority have become no-go zones for Israelis.)

Moreover, Netanyahu couldn’t be more right when he notes, as he did again today in his Jerusalem Day speech, that Jews “are not foreign invaders” in their own capital. Yet that is exactly the implication of Obama’s stand. By turning the building of Jewish housing in the city’s Jewish neighborhoods into an international incident, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to demand anything less than the eviction of the Jews from the city; just as they demand of the Jews who live in settlements in the West Bank. Though it must be admitted that there was never any chance that the Palestinians would accept any peace deal under any circumstances, Obama’s ultimatum about freezing housing projects in Jerusalem has certainly ensured that peace is further away than ever.

The juxtaposition of a Jerusalem Day celebrated under tacit American protest ought to remind American friends of Israel who remain supporters of Obama that the man they elected president has done more to undermine the unity of the Jewish state’s capital than 43 years of Arab propaganda. Those who never wish to see the city divided again or to have Jews barred from parts of it must understand that this is exactly the direction in which the Obama administration is headed.

This was no ordinary Jerusalem Day celebrated in Israel today. This date on the Jewish calendar notes the anniversary of the unification of the city in 1967, when Israeli troops routed the Jordanian occupiers of the eastern, northern, and southern parts of the town, and of the Old City. In June 1967, the barriers that had divided Jerusalem since the 1949 armistice were torn down, and the Jewish people were reunited with their holiest places, from which they had been barred during that period. But while today’s ceremonies, displays, and parties were the usual mix of historic remembrance and recognition of contemporary achievements, there can be no denying the fact that a shadow hung over the festivities there as well as over the observances of the date elsewhere.

The problem is the knowledge that this is the first Jerusalem Day since President Barack Obama made it clear that a repartition of the city has become one of America’s priorities in the Middle East. Though no American government ever recognized Israel’s unification of Jerusalem or, indeed, even the fact that the city has been the country’s capital since 1949, Obama’s is the first administration to state explicitly that the Jewish presence in the parts of the city that the Jordanian occupiers vacated in 1967 is illegal and to actively oppose the building of Jewish housing even in existing Jewish neighborhoods in the city.

Though more than 200,000 Jews live in the eastern, northern, and southern sections of the city, which the media routinely incorrectly labels “East Jerusalem,” those Jewish neighborhoods there are, according to this administration, a violation of international law and an “insult” to America. U.S. diplomats have made it clear to the Israelis that any building that goes on in these neighborhoods of the capital is a “provocation” that is not only anathema to the United States but also a legitimate excuse for the Palestinian Authority to boycott the so-called proximity talks now going on (so named because Palestinian representatives will only allow themselves to communicate indirectly with Israeli negotiators rather than sit and speak directly with them). And though the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted that Israel will not be deterred from continuing to build the Jewish presence in the city, it is not exactly a secret that all such projects have been put on hold, in order to avoid escalating the tensions that are already apparent in the relationship with the White House.

It is worth repeating on this, of all days, that despite the unique connection between the Jews and Jerusalem (it was never the capital of any entity other than a Jewish kingdom), only in the 43 years of full Israeli sovereignty over the united city has there been freedom of worship for all faiths. (The Jordanians prevented Jews from worshipping at the Western Wall or at other Jewish shrines under their control from 1949 to 1967, just as any Jewish sites currently under the control of the Palestinian Authority have become no-go zones for Israelis.)

Moreover, Netanyahu couldn’t be more right when he notes, as he did again today in his Jerusalem Day speech, that Jews “are not foreign invaders” in their own capital. Yet that is exactly the implication of Obama’s stand. By turning the building of Jewish housing in the city’s Jewish neighborhoods into an international incident, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to demand anything less than the eviction of the Jews from the city; just as they demand of the Jews who live in settlements in the West Bank. Though it must be admitted that there was never any chance that the Palestinians would accept any peace deal under any circumstances, Obama’s ultimatum about freezing housing projects in Jerusalem has certainly ensured that peace is further away than ever.

The juxtaposition of a Jerusalem Day celebrated under tacit American protest ought to remind American friends of Israel who remain supporters of Obama that the man they elected president has done more to undermine the unity of the Jewish state’s capital than 43 years of Arab propaganda. Those who never wish to see the city divided again or to have Jews barred from parts of it must understand that this is exactly the direction in which the Obama administration is headed.

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More on the Jewish Vote

John McLaughlin, who recently conducted a poll of American Jews, reviewed his results in a conference call today. He stressed that although exit polls showed 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama, it is significant that 46 percent would now consider voting for someone else. That number is dramatically higher among Orthodox voters (69 percent) and somewhat higher among denominationally Conservative Jews (50 percent) as well as those with family in Israel (48 percent) or those who had been to Israel (49 percent). This pattern – linking criticism of Obama with religious observance and affiliation with Israel — held on virtually all questions, including Obama’s job approval, the imposition of a peace plan, and the division of Jerusalem. On Obama’s job performance, for example, 80 percent of Orthodox Jews disapprove, and 50 of Conservatives disapprove, but only 26 percent of Reform Jews.

I asked McLaughlin if Reform Jews were also more liberal. He answered, “They are definitely more Democratic, more liberal and more concerned about domestic issues.”  I also asked about the correlation between support for Obama and age. His poll screened for likely voters in the coming November and suggested there will be a drop-off in general among younger voters from 2008, which brought many new voters to the poll. Within American Jewry, older voters are more loyal to Obama and to the party. Among voters over 55 years old, only 42 percent would consider voting for someone other than Obama, while 52 percent under 55 would. In the sample, among voters over 55 years old, 64 percent were Democrats, while “only” 53 percent under 55 identified as Democrats. As a group, however, Jews remain far more liberal (40 percent identified as such in the poll, only 21 percent as conservative) than voters in general.

McLaughlin stressed that it is unusual for a Democratic president to potentially lose the support of Jews and that the issue with Israel has created a potential wedge between Obama and this constituency. He advises to keep an eye on some key Congressional races for signs of dissatisfaction with Democrats among Jewish voters — the special election in Pennsylvania’s District 12 and some New York races, including in District 4, as well as Mark Kirk’s seat in Illinois.

Is there an opening for Republicans to make headway with Jewish voters? Among Orthodox, Conservative, and young voters, most certainly. But stay tuned, as we have learned it takes a lot to separate overwhelmingly liberal Jews from their Democratic affiliation.

John McLaughlin, who recently conducted a poll of American Jews, reviewed his results in a conference call today. He stressed that although exit polls showed 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama, it is significant that 46 percent would now consider voting for someone else. That number is dramatically higher among Orthodox voters (69 percent) and somewhat higher among denominationally Conservative Jews (50 percent) as well as those with family in Israel (48 percent) or those who had been to Israel (49 percent). This pattern – linking criticism of Obama with religious observance and affiliation with Israel — held on virtually all questions, including Obama’s job approval, the imposition of a peace plan, and the division of Jerusalem. On Obama’s job performance, for example, 80 percent of Orthodox Jews disapprove, and 50 of Conservatives disapprove, but only 26 percent of Reform Jews.

I asked McLaughlin if Reform Jews were also more liberal. He answered, “They are definitely more Democratic, more liberal and more concerned about domestic issues.”  I also asked about the correlation between support for Obama and age. His poll screened for likely voters in the coming November and suggested there will be a drop-off in general among younger voters from 2008, which brought many new voters to the poll. Within American Jewry, older voters are more loyal to Obama and to the party. Among voters over 55 years old, only 42 percent would consider voting for someone other than Obama, while 52 percent under 55 would. In the sample, among voters over 55 years old, 64 percent were Democrats, while “only” 53 percent under 55 identified as Democrats. As a group, however, Jews remain far more liberal (40 percent identified as such in the poll, only 21 percent as conservative) than voters in general.

McLaughlin stressed that it is unusual for a Democratic president to potentially lose the support of Jews and that the issue with Israel has created a potential wedge between Obama and this constituency. He advises to keep an eye on some key Congressional races for signs of dissatisfaction with Democrats among Jewish voters — the special election in Pennsylvania’s District 12 and some New York races, including in District 4, as well as Mark Kirk’s seat in Illinois.

Is there an opening for Republicans to make headway with Jewish voters? Among Orthodox, Conservative, and young voters, most certainly. But stay tuned, as we have learned it takes a lot to separate overwhelmingly liberal Jews from their Democratic affiliation.

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Israel Lobby Author Compares Pro-Israel Pastor to Hitler

Over at the Foreign Policy magazine website, Harvard professor and Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt weighs in on Germany’s decision to continue to ban the publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf even after the Nazi leader’s 70-year copyright expired in 2015. Walt is right when he says that banning the publication of this evil book is pointless and does nothing either to suppress racism in Germany or to promote a proper understanding of the history it evokes.

But that said, there is also something ironic, if not downright creepy about the author of a book that promoted its own dangerous conspiracy theory about Jewish power and sought to demonize American Jews and others who support Israel, pontificating about Hitler’s work.

Granted, The Israel Lobby is not to be compared to Mein Kampf in its intent, vitriol, or historical impact. The former, written by Harvard’s Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, is far more sophisticated in its language and purpose than Hitler’s screed. But its agenda, while not as avowedly vicious or murderous as the Nazi book, still sought to single out the advocates of a particular political cause and not only to treat them with opprobrium but also to brand them as working against the national interests of the United States. Of course, The Israel Lobby was widely excoriated not just because of its clearly anti-Zionist bent, but because Walt and Mearsheimer’s error-filled book painted a picture of a pro-Israel conspiracy that was so large it included virtually everyone in the mainstream media and just about the entire political system in this country — except, of course, for anti-Semitic elements of the far Right and far Left. The book tars Jews and a vast number of non-Jewish Americans who back the State of Israel as an alien force subverting United States foreign policy. Which is to say that there is a clear path from its pages to those who espouse more overt forms of Jew hatred and Israel-bashing.

Yet just as egregious as Walt posing as the scholarly arbiter of questions about the publication of hate literature is his notion of contemporary analogies to Mein Kampf. Walt writes: “When you actually look at the book, and read about the history of Nazism, it may be hard to believe that serious people in an advanced society could be persuaded by arguments of this sort. But they were. And while Hitler may be the extreme case, we live in an era where plenty of political (and I regret to say, religious) figures offer all sorts of memoirs and tracts of their own, some of them nearly as bizarre and illogical (if not as murderous) as Hitler’s infamous tome.”

So which religious figure is Walt referring to here? His link is not to the many Muslim religious leaders whose works have inspired not only hatred of Jews, Israel, and the West but also actual attempts at mass murder. It is rather to an American pastor whose primary claim to fame is his support for the State of Israel: Pastor John Hagee.

Hagee’s religious beliefs may seem a bit loopy to non-evangelicals. And he is the sort of fellow who is prone to saying foolish things for which he must apologize. But the main impact of Hagee’s life work has been to try building support for the one democratic state in the Middle East and to fight against those — like Walt — who have aided those who seek to delegitimize both Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense. The idea that this cleric is the best analogy to Hitler in our own day is more than ludicrous. This analogy is quite an insight into the mindset of an academic who, while happily condemning the work of a great anti-Semite and mass murderer of the 20th century, is so full of hate against Israel and the Jews of our own day that he views anyone who supports them as somehow comparable to Hitler.

Walt is right when he writes about Mein Kampf that while the marketplace of ideas in a democracy is not perfect, it is generally competent enough to sort out hate speech from legitimate comment. That is why The Israel Lobby has had little impact on American politics or foreign policy. It is also why his anti-Israel policy prescriptions, though given a bully pulpit by Foreign Policy, will continue to be ignored by the overwhelming bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus in this country.

Over at the Foreign Policy magazine website, Harvard professor and Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt weighs in on Germany’s decision to continue to ban the publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf even after the Nazi leader’s 70-year copyright expired in 2015. Walt is right when he says that banning the publication of this evil book is pointless and does nothing either to suppress racism in Germany or to promote a proper understanding of the history it evokes.

But that said, there is also something ironic, if not downright creepy about the author of a book that promoted its own dangerous conspiracy theory about Jewish power and sought to demonize American Jews and others who support Israel, pontificating about Hitler’s work.

Granted, The Israel Lobby is not to be compared to Mein Kampf in its intent, vitriol, or historical impact. The former, written by Harvard’s Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, is far more sophisticated in its language and purpose than Hitler’s screed. But its agenda, while not as avowedly vicious or murderous as the Nazi book, still sought to single out the advocates of a particular political cause and not only to treat them with opprobrium but also to brand them as working against the national interests of the United States. Of course, The Israel Lobby was widely excoriated not just because of its clearly anti-Zionist bent, but because Walt and Mearsheimer’s error-filled book painted a picture of a pro-Israel conspiracy that was so large it included virtually everyone in the mainstream media and just about the entire political system in this country — except, of course, for anti-Semitic elements of the far Right and far Left. The book tars Jews and a vast number of non-Jewish Americans who back the State of Israel as an alien force subverting United States foreign policy. Which is to say that there is a clear path from its pages to those who espouse more overt forms of Jew hatred and Israel-bashing.

Yet just as egregious as Walt posing as the scholarly arbiter of questions about the publication of hate literature is his notion of contemporary analogies to Mein Kampf. Walt writes: “When you actually look at the book, and read about the history of Nazism, it may be hard to believe that serious people in an advanced society could be persuaded by arguments of this sort. But they were. And while Hitler may be the extreme case, we live in an era where plenty of political (and I regret to say, religious) figures offer all sorts of memoirs and tracts of their own, some of them nearly as bizarre and illogical (if not as murderous) as Hitler’s infamous tome.”

So which religious figure is Walt referring to here? His link is not to the many Muslim religious leaders whose works have inspired not only hatred of Jews, Israel, and the West but also actual attempts at mass murder. It is rather to an American pastor whose primary claim to fame is his support for the State of Israel: Pastor John Hagee.

Hagee’s religious beliefs may seem a bit loopy to non-evangelicals. And he is the sort of fellow who is prone to saying foolish things for which he must apologize. But the main impact of Hagee’s life work has been to try building support for the one democratic state in the Middle East and to fight against those — like Walt — who have aided those who seek to delegitimize both Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense. The idea that this cleric is the best analogy to Hitler in our own day is more than ludicrous. This analogy is quite an insight into the mindset of an academic who, while happily condemning the work of a great anti-Semite and mass murderer of the 20th century, is so full of hate against Israel and the Jews of our own day that he views anyone who supports them as somehow comparable to Hitler.

Walt is right when he writes about Mein Kampf that while the marketplace of ideas in a democracy is not perfect, it is generally competent enough to sort out hate speech from legitimate comment. That is why The Israel Lobby has had little impact on American politics or foreign policy. It is also why his anti-Israel policy prescriptions, though given a bully pulpit by Foreign Policy, will continue to be ignored by the overwhelming bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus in this country.

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What About the Occupation of the Western Wall?

I’m having a hard time understanding the thinking behind the Obama administration’s decision to criticize construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. The administration seems to have decided that Gilo is a settlement, and the international press is of course helping the cause by falsely reporting that Gilo is in (Arab) East Jerusalem. As Maurice Ostroff points out in a must-read Jerusalem Post piece:

The reality is that Gilo is very different than the outposts in the West Bank. It is not in east Jerusalem as widely reported. It is a Jerusalem neighborhood with a population of around 40,000. The ground was bought by Jews before WWII and settled in 1971 in south west Jerusalem opposite Mount Gilo within the municipal borders. There is no inference whatsoever that it rests on Arab land.

Gilo is one of several neighborhoods that sit on land occupied by Jordan from 1948-1967, after the withdrawal of the British Mandate. This border is called the Green Line, and it

refers only to the 1949 Armistice lines established after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. … Nor is it fixed, as explained by Justice Stephen M. Schwebel, who spent 19 years as a judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, including three years as President. He wrote “…modifications of the 1949 armistice lines among those States within former Palestinian territory are lawful (if not necessarily desirable), whether those modifications are, in Secretary Rogers’s words, “insubstantial alterations required for mutual security” or more substantial alterations — such as recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem.” …

The Palestinians never had sovereignty over the West Bank nor east Jerusalem and Justice Schwebel concluded that since Jordan, the prior holder of these territories had seized that territory unlawfully in 1948, Israel which subsequently took that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense in 1967, has better title to it. Jordan’s illegal annexation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1948 was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan and Jordan now makes no claim to it.

In terms of international law, between 1948 and 1967 this territory was terra nullius, or “land belonging to no one” over which sovereignty may be acquired through occupation. The concept of terra nullius is well recognized in international law.

Getting back to the Obama administration: what is the principle behind the critique of construction in Gilo? There are many parts of Jerusalem that share its standing. Those places include the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall, both of which, like Gilo, were controlled by Jordan during the twenty years between the founding of the state and the Six Day War.

Is the Jewish Quarter a settlement? Is the Western Wall occupied? Is Israeli construction in them inimical to the peace process? Someone should ask these questions of Robert Gibbs at the next press conference. By the administration’s Gilo logic, the answer to all three would have to be yes.

I’m having a hard time understanding the thinking behind the Obama administration’s decision to criticize construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. The administration seems to have decided that Gilo is a settlement, and the international press is of course helping the cause by falsely reporting that Gilo is in (Arab) East Jerusalem. As Maurice Ostroff points out in a must-read Jerusalem Post piece:

The reality is that Gilo is very different than the outposts in the West Bank. It is not in east Jerusalem as widely reported. It is a Jerusalem neighborhood with a population of around 40,000. The ground was bought by Jews before WWII and settled in 1971 in south west Jerusalem opposite Mount Gilo within the municipal borders. There is no inference whatsoever that it rests on Arab land.

Gilo is one of several neighborhoods that sit on land occupied by Jordan from 1948-1967, after the withdrawal of the British Mandate. This border is called the Green Line, and it

refers only to the 1949 Armistice lines established after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. … Nor is it fixed, as explained by Justice Stephen M. Schwebel, who spent 19 years as a judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, including three years as President. He wrote “…modifications of the 1949 armistice lines among those States within former Palestinian territory are lawful (if not necessarily desirable), whether those modifications are, in Secretary Rogers’s words, “insubstantial alterations required for mutual security” or more substantial alterations — such as recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem.” …

The Palestinians never had sovereignty over the West Bank nor east Jerusalem and Justice Schwebel concluded that since Jordan, the prior holder of these territories had seized that territory unlawfully in 1948, Israel which subsequently took that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense in 1967, has better title to it. Jordan’s illegal annexation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1948 was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan and Jordan now makes no claim to it.

In terms of international law, between 1948 and 1967 this territory was terra nullius, or “land belonging to no one” over which sovereignty may be acquired through occupation. The concept of terra nullius is well recognized in international law.

Getting back to the Obama administration: what is the principle behind the critique of construction in Gilo? There are many parts of Jerusalem that share its standing. Those places include the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall, both of which, like Gilo, were controlled by Jordan during the twenty years between the founding of the state and the Six Day War.

Is the Jewish Quarter a settlement? Is the Western Wall occupied? Is Israeli construction in them inimical to the peace process? Someone should ask these questions of Robert Gibbs at the next press conference. By the administration’s Gilo logic, the answer to all three would have to be yes.

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