SETTLEMENT TRUTHS By Aron U. Raskas

 

 U.S. President Barack Obama asserts that "nowhere is truth-telling more important than in the Middle East." Thus, after decades of distortion, some truth-telling about Israeli settlements in the West Bank also seems timely in order to dispel many of the myths that nowadays masquerade as the truth about this issue.

The real truth is that Jewish communities in the West Bank are not a product of Israeli colonialism, as Mr. Obama now misleadingly suggests and others routinely argue. Many of those communities represent the return of the Jewish people to the very cities of their ancestors, and a drive through these territories highlights the historic Jewish presence - marked by ancient dwellings, tombs and other landmarks - rooted in this land.

Indeed, there is no greater historical truth than that reflected in the names "Judea" and "Samaria," which have been used continuously since antiquity to describe this land. Opponents of Jewish settlement in these territories recoil disdainfully when they encounter these terms, dismissing them as mere propaganda invented by extremist "settlers" for political ends. Yet it is the term "West Bank" that barely existed 60 years ago, when it was substituted into the lexicon of the debate in an effort to eradicate the collective memory of a great Jewish past.

It is also true that Judea and Samaria were the seats of the Jewish kingdoms and represent the deep Jewish roots in the land, which began in biblical times and long predated any Arab Muslim presence. Indeed, throughout history, maps, drawings, photographs, travel guides and other books continuously described these territories by those time-honored names. Even United Nations resolutions - including, notably, the 1947 resolution for partition - employed those terms.

The 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine similarly noted that "recognition has been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country." That recognition was applied to the allocation of territory that included Judea and Samaria.

Neither the Palestinian Arabs nor any Arab nation has since acquired sovereignty over this land in an internationally recognized fashion. Trans-Jordan seized these territories in war and sought to annex them, however that claim was rejected by every nation but the United Kingdom and Pakistan.

Given this history, the rights of the Jewish people in these lands are plentiful, historic and firmly enshrined. While Arabs certainly have had a presence in these lands as well, and negotiations about sharing Judea and Samaria may therefore be necessary for the sake of peace, they cannot proceed from the false premise that all of this is "Palestinian land" or occupied "Palestinian territory." The Jewish claim stands as strong. At most, these are "disputed territories."

Another truth is that Jewish communities are not "impediments" to peace, as Mr. Obama and other settlement opponents simplistically suggest.

Polished Palestinian propaganda has for years purveyed the myth that Israeli settlements are choking Palestinian communities the way urban sprawl has invaded and strangled formerly green spaces and placid rural areas. Yet, in truth, no such thing exists in the largely unsettled expanses of the West Bank. One can look out from points in any number of Jewish settlements, and not a village, building or even a herd of sheep can be seen.

When Mark Twain walked this land in 1867, he described in his book, "The Innocents Abroad," this very same "deserted" and "desolate country" with its "rocky and bare" landscape. Today, despite Palestinian efforts to portray it differently, not all that much has changed outside the towns and villages that dot the land.

Even Peace Now concedes that Israeli settlements - most of which are bedroom communities of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv - occupy less than three percent of the West Bank. Meanwhile, more than 98 percent of Palestinians already live under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, and there is adequate land there for Palestinian expansion.

Moreover, Israeli professionals living a suburban life with their children in the vast expanse of these territories need not impede Palestinians' day-to-day affairs. Israeli checkpoints and security measures were implemented only because Palestinians have seemed more interested in killing Jews than establishing an independent Palestinian state. And the truth is that these measures have saved many Jewish lives. As the Palestinian leadership demonstrates its willingness to confront Palestinian terrorists, those checkpoints are already being reduced.

Once terror ceases, there is no valid reason why the existence of Jewish communities near Palestinian ones should hinder growth under the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, Israel has more than a million Arab citizens, many Arab parliament members and dozens of Arab cities, towns and villages in its midst. The contention that Jewish communities must be uprooted as the only way for Palestinians to make peace is, truthfully, a troublingly racist notion.

Israelis know, and have demonstrated, that Arabs and Jews can get along. When Palestinians compromise, accept the presence of Jews and find a way to share this land, Israel will once again find the way to achieve peace.

Aron U. Raskas, an American attorney, has held leadership positions in several prominent U.S. Jewish organizations. 

http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasen/spages/1092333.html