Sunday, October 21st, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to expand building in East Jerusalem , despite protests from the Palestine Authority. The international community has criticized Netanyahu for allowing the building to continue, but a commission headed by Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy recently declared that the Jewish people have every right to the land; the term “Occupied Territory” doesn’t apply.
Israel has presented a complete building plan that includes 797 new homes and even a military college in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, a part of the West Bank annexed to the city of Jerusalem after the Six-Day-War. Europe immediately responded by declaring any such construction illegal.
“Settlements are illegal under international law and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible,” criticized Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top diplomat and high representative for foreign affairs. The Palestinian Authority has echoed her complaint.
“United Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital,” Netanyahu proclaimed on October 23rd during a visit with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. “We have full rights to build in it. We have built in Jerusalem, we are building in Jerusalem and we will continue to build in Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu has stated on many occasions that dividing Jerusalem is not an option and has declared the city off limits when discussing options for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Promoting construction in Jerusalem is consistent with the Israel’s position that Jerusalem is its capital, and no amount of negotiating will change that position. What’s more, people in Jerusalem need places to live.
Released in July, The Levy Report offered Israel a supportive legal position in the matter. Legal expert former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker, one of the report’s authors, stated that the purpose of the commission was to “examine the situation of building in Judea and Samaria and to advise the Israeli government accordingly, and to that end had to determine the legal nature of Israel’s presence in the area. Nothing more, nothing less. No hidden political agenda.”
The Levy Report does not advocate Israel’s annexing parts of the West Bank, but it does argue that Israel has a right to build settlements in the West Bank and recommends legalizing existing outposts. The report urges Israel to set up comprehensive legal procedures for building settlements with set boundaries, registering land purchases in the West Bank, and legally settling land disputes.
In his Jerusalem Post article, “The Levy Report: a vital beginning,” Kenneth Levin argues that the original League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, backed up by Article 80 of the United Nations charter, provides legal support for Israeli settlements, and the 1947 partition plan did not prevent Jews from residing outside of the land allotted to Israel. After the 1967 war, UN Security Council Resolution 242 recognized that the prewar boundaries were not realistic permanent borders and called for negotiating new lines.
Resolution 242 does not in itself strengthen the already strong legitimacy in international law of Israeli settlements. But it is relevant in several respects. First, most settlements have been established with a view toward reinforcing Israeli claims to key strategic areas in Judea and Samaria, those most germane to providing Israel with defensible borders in the context of a peace agreement. In addition, Resolution 242 does underscore the status of Judea and Samaria as disputed territory, whose ultimate disposition is to be decided by negotiations between Israel and its neighbors.
Those who assert that Judea and Samaria are Palestinian territory and that Israel, by its settlements, is usurping what properly belongs to the Palestinians are distorting the actual status of these areas in international law.
The EU and the rest of the world have been pushing for peace and see construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank as another bit of debris blocking the peace process. The Palestinian Authority has uttered the intention of making East Jerusalem into their own capital.
Liberal Israeli elements are frustrated that Netanyahu has boldly supported building in Jerusalem and see it as political positioning. Writing for Arutz Sheva, Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu said, “The Prime Minister’s comments to the Cabinet had a ring of electioneering,” suggesting that the Prime Minister has changed his tune in the past few weeks – since new elections were announced.
Nationalistic Israelis see little hope in negotiating with the Palestinian Authority; there are certain concessions that neither side is willing to make. After years of failed negotiations, there is a deeply held belief that the PA does not want peace; too many Palestinians will not be satisfied until Israel simply ceases to exist.
Israel has plenty of reason to question the possibility of true peace with the Muslim Arab world. The government of Iran has hardly hid its hostility toward the State of Israel. Within days of Netanyahu’s proclamation, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi joined in a public televised Muslim prayer asking Alah to destroy the Jews, repeating along with the crowd, “Oh Allah, absolve us of our sins, strengthen us, and grant us victory over the infidels. Oh Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, disperse them, rend them asunder. Oh Allah, demonstrate Your might and greatness upon them. Show us Your omnipotence, oh Lord.”
Directly following the prayer, Morsi gave a speech pushing for unity in Egypt, concerning those who promote religious freedom.
The upcoming United States’ elections will absolutely impact U.S. Policy toward Israel during the next four years. The United States has historically supported Israel, but the current administration has clearly turned its back on Netanyahu and Irael’s right to the land. Israel stands surrounded by enemies, and they are growing bolder. This November, Palestine will push for recognition from the UN.
While border disputes like this one remain open, and world opinion towards Israel stays rocky, the United States and the rest of the West will decide whether to stand up for what is right, encourage Egypt to continue to build peace with Israel, and to support Israel and a unified Jerusalem.