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Indeed, the State Department lost no time reacting to the Levy Committee’s conclusions, with spokesman Patrick Ventrell saying:
“we’ve seen the reports that an Israeli government appointed panel has recommended legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts.”
With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the way to Israel next week, many expect further unpleasantness. And the New York Times, for its part, went so far as to call the committee’s report a “potentially disastrous blow” that, among other things, could help Iran progress with its nuclear program by diverting attention to something—Israeli settlements—that the Times views as a comparable if not worse menace.
The Levy Committee’s conclusions are not binding, and Netanyahu is now “studying” them without having endorsed them. Still, this is a good occasion for all who consider themselves friends of Israel, with its best interests in mind—including those inclined to object harshly to the report’s conclusions—to take heed of a few points:
1. Some 342,000 Israeli Jews now live in the West Bank along with about 250,000 in eastern Jerusalem—also reconquered in 1967 and considered “occupied.” Those 600,000 or so people constitute about 10 percent of Israel’s Jewish population. Moreover, some of this community is under violent attack, from stones and Molotov cocktails to, in some cases, outright slaughter or attempted slaughter. Under such circumstances, publicly branding this community as “illegitimate”—as the Obama administration repeatedly does—appears irresponsible, unreasonable, and as possibly fanning the flames of aggression. It also projects the image of Israel as a rogue state and appears to confirm, and encourage, those whose enmity to the Jewish state is deep-seated and radical.
2. The Palestine Mandate’s recognition of Jewish rights to the land west of the Jordan River was not arbitrary, but based on a unique historical connection going back thousands of years. Indeed, the only time for thousands of years when Jews did not live in Judea and Samaria—the heartland of Israel—was during the nineteen-year Jordanian occupation when they were barred from doing so. To sacralize—in effect—that brief span of Jordanian rule by delegitimizing all subsequent Jewish life in Judea and Samaria is an extreme position unwarranted by logic, history, or morality.
3. There are times when a paradigm needs to be shifted. The paradigm of Israeli land concessions as the key to peace has not only been regnant for decades—but, by now, put to the test several times whether in unilateral form or under the terms of peace agreements. Results: the Israeli withdrawals from southern Lebanon, Gaza, and Sinai have created vacuums that were sooner or later filled by radical Islamist forces—not only harming and threatening Israel but damaging and imperiling Lebanon and Egypt as well and creating anti-Western hothouses. As for the partial Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank in the 1990s, it unleashed a savage terror war that took Israel from 2002 to 2005 to quell. Today, the Arabs of Judea and Samaria enjoy a high level of autonomy with Israel maintaining ultimate security control. It would be a reasonable paradigm shift to start regarding this situation as relatively stable and optimal—yes, even with Jews living in the territory as well.
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