This week Israel’s Civil Administration approved a plan to build 500 housing units in the West Bank community of Shiloh. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner complained like clockwork that such building is not “constructive.”
In so doing, he was following a U.S. practice of frequently publicly criticizing its ally Israel. No other U.S. ally gets this treatment; when was the last time you heard Washington publicly take Britain, Germany, or Japan to task? And this in a week when the U.S. is already heavily pressuring Israel both publicly and behind the scenes not to defend itself against a growing existential threat from Iran.
But is Toner right about the Israeli building plans not being “constructive”? In a world where there are mounting crises in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt, severe human rights abuses in America’s trading partner China, and so on, are housing units in Shiloh what Washington should fret about? In fact, these building plans not only pose no problem for the U.S. but are constructive, for several reasons.
1. They give people in Shiloh places to live. It’s natural for a community—especially a very life-affirming one like Shiloh, where people make a point of having children—to grow. One has to have a very crabbed perspective to want a place like Shiloh to freeze in place, so that parents can’t provide homes for their kids, no one can move in from outside the community, and so on. It’s a throwback to the early days of the Obama administration, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thundered against “natural growth” in such Israeli communities. Isn’t this supposed to be an election year, with the Obama administration cooling it toward Israel and wooing Jewish votes?
2. Shiloh is a modern-day iteration of the ancient biblical city of the same name, the center of Israelite religious and political life for about three hundred years before Jerusalem took that honor. Having a modern-day Jewish community there is a renewal and revitalization of one of the ancient roots of Western civilization.
Of course, many contemporary Western people no longer have the faintest idea or give a hoot what Shiloh was. This is particularly true in heavily secularized Western Europe, with its catastrophically low fertility rates and burgeoning Muslim presence. Can the United States and Israel—which still care enough about Western civilization to fight for it—afford this kind of contempt for its roots? Since taking office in 2009, the churchgoing President Obama’s behavior suggests that he sees any Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria as essentially scandalous and the Palestinians—part of the geographically starved Muslim _umma_—as the sole rightful possessor of this territory. Is Jew-free Judea (and Samaria) really an American desideratum?
3. Shiloh is located in the Judea-Samaria mountain ridge, which dominates Israel’s several-miles-wide, densely populated coastal plain. As noted by Israel’s current national security adviser, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, American military studies have assessed the mountain ridge to be indispensable to Israel’s defensibility. The 1967 Joint Chiefs of Staff study concluded that, in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), Israel should “control the prominent high ground running north-south.” The 1974 study by the U.S. Army’s Command and Staff College reached the same conclusion.
Seemingly, if Israel is to be a worthwhile U.S. ally, it should be able to defend itself. Even in the event of a territorial compromise in the West Bank, Israel would need to retain strategically vital land. Communities like Shiloh are built on such land, strengthening Israel’s hold on it and its security.
4. Furthermore, the West Bank communities make a major, disproportionate contribution to the Israeli army. Some 67.1 percent of draftees from these communities now serve in combat roles, compared to 39.5 percent of draftees overall. And nearly 16 percent of “settlers” serve as officers compared to a national average of 8.3 percent. Again, by building and cultivating communities like Shiloh—not that it has been doing so very much—Israel strengthens its army and itself. At a time of increasing U.S. dependence on Israel’s military capabilities, why should a weaker Israel be an American interest?
Those are reasons, then, why the Obama administration should refrain from destructive criticism of an ally.
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