The Battle Over Israel's 'Etzion Bloc'

How the Obama administration continues its bullying of the Jewish State.

While the Middle East burns and tens of thousands of corpses pile up in Syria and Iraq, Jewish residence anywhere beyond the 1949 armistice lines ––  in eastern Jerusalem, the West Bank, transfixes the attention of foreign governments. Just recall the Obama Administration saying nothing when, in March 2010, the Palestinian Authority (PA) named a public square in Ramallah in honor of blood-soaked terrorist Dalal Mughrabi –– but condemned Israel for announcing a program of building Jewish homes in eastern Jerusalem the day before.

Now, Israel has designated 988 acres in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem as state land, leading the Obama Administration to condemn this “settlement announcement” as “counterproductive to ... a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, Obama’s “blocking back,” the faux “pro-Israel, pro-peace” J Street organization, has gone still further, urging President Obama in the pages  of the Los Angeles Times to start calling Jewish communities beyond the 1949 armistice lines “illegal.”

There is some relevant history here. In 2011, President Obama vetoed a UN Security Council resolution making this false declaration –– although that was only after he unsuccessfully attempted have the U.N. Security Council baselessly call them “illegitimate.”

Clearly, J Street is trying to push the President in a direction he’d like to go but can’t, due to legal and factual hurdles that would cost him politically to straddle, but which J Street would like to ameliorate.

Factually and legally unsound, J Street’s agitprop on this issue is simply designed to isolate and increase pressure on Israel, not defend the cause of peace that is actually unthreatened by this Israeli administrative action.

The Etzion bloc was home to substantial Jewish communities even before Israel was created. It’s widely accepted that it would be incorporated into Israel in any feasible peace treaty, should one emerge one day.

Even an anti-Israel partisan like former President Jimmy Carter has publicly stated regarding the Jewish communities in the Etzion bloc that this “area is not one I ever envision being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory.’

So why the furor? It’s not as if the designation changes the land’s pre-existing status. Since the days of the British Palestine Mandate, the land in question has always been classed as public land. Its designation as ‘state land’ merely reaffirms this, following exhaustive investigation to ascertain that such a designation was not in conflict with any private property rights.

The Obama Administration and J Street object to any process that would seem to remove any obstacle to Jews living in or building homes in these disputed territories. That is because both subscribe to the canard that Jewish residence there is –– or ought to be –– illegal.

The basis of this canard is Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits

“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not ... The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Formulated in the aftermath of the Second World War to prohibit Nazi-like mass deportations and forced population transfers, Article 49 clearly holds no relevance: Palestinians are not being deported or forcibly transferred to another territory; Jews are not being deported or transferred from Israel to these Jewish communities; they are moving there freely of their own will.

Peace is presently impossible due to continuing Palestinian refusal to accept the permanence and legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel and the terrorism, aggression and incitement to hatred and murder against Jews and Israel that flows from this –– not due to Israel duly designating state lands.

Whether one favors or disfavors Jews living in the territories, no one should falsify the law in order to indict Israel as an international violator.

Last week, Israel announced the construction of thousands of apartments in eastern Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods. If building apartments is a crime, it remains so when done for Arabs no less than Jews. Is this a logic the Obama Administration wishes to embrace? So far it seems to be saying that it is a crime for Jews, and Jews only,  to move in or build homes in these areas –– a discriminatory and absurd argument.

The Congress should explicitly repudiate this logic and the canard of illegality that underlies it, a canard, moreover, which is fueling anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation worldwide. A damaging lie cannot be finessed; it must be exposed and repudiated.

Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Creation of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).

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