West Bank settlements are no longer illegal?
by Michael Lerner
On Monday, November 18, the Trump Administration announced that the United States would no longer consider Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank illegal, despite decades of US statements insisting that it was in fact illegal.
Strongly denouncing the US policy shift, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the leading candidates in the Democratic Party’s presidential primary, said: “Another blatantly ideological attempt by the Trump administration to distract from its failures in the region. Not only do these settlements violate international law—they make peace harder to achieve. As president, I will reverse this policy and pursue a two state solution.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, another prominent Democratic candidate, said that “Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal. This is clear from international law and multiple United Nations resolutions. Once again, Mr. Trump is isolating the United States and undermining diplomacy by pandering to his extremist base.”
Warren and Sanders are considered the most critical of Israel among Democratic presidential contenders.
Also rebuking the move, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend and a leading Democratic presidential hopeful, said that “the Trump administration’s statement on West Bank settlements is not only a significant step backward in our efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is the latest in a pattern of destructive decisions that harm our national interests.”
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the senior Democrat on the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, warned that “the Trump administration’s decision to reverse longstanding US policy and unilaterally legitimize Israeli settlements in the West Bank serves no strategic purpose except to further undermine the chances for a lasting and peaceful two-state solution.”
Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) called the decision “outrageous” and urged fellow members of Congress to pass a resolution in favor of the two-state solution for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lowenthal also warned of possible future steps taken by the Israeli government to annex parts of the West Bank in light of the American new settlement policy.
This is one of many moves by the Trump Administration to strengthen right-wing Jewish support for his presidency, hoping to overcome the growing recognition by many Jews that Trump’s legitimation of right-wing white-nationalist extremists has created a political atmosphere in which anti-Semitism is growing in the United States and around the world. There are some Jews who will bite at this bait, believing that giving in to Israel’s expansionist policies will somehow provide more security. The truth is the opposite – that the settlers have intensified hatreds between West Bank settlers and those Palestinians who have held up hope that someday they could have a politically and economically viable state of their own, rather than a series of isolated Palestinian cities in a countryside that was increasingly dominated by Jewish religious extremists.
From our standpoint at Tikkun, this recent development and the likelihood that they will be followed by acts to annex to Israel West Bank settlements only strengthens our view that this is a time for Jews and our allies to rally around Tikkun’s call for “one person one vote” for anyone living under Israeli rule, including the West Bank and Gaza. The call for one person one vote resonates with people all around the world as well as in Israel and the US It should be evident to many today that describing the settlement of the West Bank as illegal under international law did not have much teeth in terms of pushing Israel in a different direction. When I was in Israel most recently, even the most progressive activists laughed with bitterness at “international law” which has been broken so often by so many countries (including the United States, China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and the list goes on and on). On the other hand, many Israelis and Jews in the United States do have an attachment to the democratic ideal expressed in “one person one vote.” It’s time for progressives to reframe what we want.
How could this be an effective long-term strategy, rather than those that seek economic and political ways to coerce Israel into ethical behavior? If support for this strategy grows, as I think it will if the peace forces in Israel, Palestine, Western Europe and the United States enthusiastically use it as the center of their discourse, right wingers in Israel may start to feel that this kind of a movement demand might eventually be imposed on Israel. Rather than wait for that to happen, many of them would begin to feel that the creation of a Palestinian state is far less dangerous to the Jewish people than what would become a binational state imposed on them. At that point, perhaps a decade or two away, Israel might embrace the two state solution as their way of maintaining a Jewish state. There is, of course, nothing inevitable about this possible scenario, but it seems more plausible than a strategy based on somehow hoping that international law will be enforced on Israel or that economic boycotts will cause deep economic costs on Israel and that Israel will be willing to adopt a one-state solution.
In any event, we at Tikkun stand with all those who condemn the Trump Administration’s latest outrage, just as we stood with those who were outraged at 8 years of the Obama Administration’s empty proclamations of criticism of Israel policy while simultaneously vetoing every single UN resolution calling for changes in Israeli policy toward Palestinians (except the very last one which Obama supported AFTER the 2016 election when it was obvious that nothing he did or said then in the last two months of his presidency would have any lasting impact on the region). Obama last weekend warned Democrats to not be too responsive to the young people who have been insisting on substantial changes in America’s economy and health care program. Yet after eight years of his moderation, a substantial part of the American people were willing to elect Trump (aided by an electoral college system that Obama had taken no serious moves to build a constituency to replace with a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College). The last thing this country needs now is another Obama-style Democrat who will be a servant of the ruling elites of this country while making largely token gestures to address the needs of the rest of us.
How to get a more effective progressive movement is a central part of Rabbi Lerner’s new book Revolutionary Love, which you can order at http://www.tikkun.org/lj.
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