By Richard Mather…

A plan to build homes for Jews triggers international outrage. A scheme to build homes for east Jerusalem’s Arab populations is virtually ignored by the international media? Why the disparity?

When Israel recently declared its intention to develop 400 hectares of land in Gush Etzion (an area settled before 1947, destroyed by the Arab Legion in 1948 and recaptured in 1967), the world loudly condemned it as a “land grab.” But when Jerusalem’s building committee announced 2,200 new homes for Arabs in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Arav al-Swahara, there was almost total silence.

The message is loud and clear. Despite residing in the land of Judea and Samaria for millennia, today’s Jews are now forbidden to live there at all.  Arabs, on the other hand, are endowed with a natural entitlement to “Palestine.” It is no surprise, then, that the Obama administration has officially demanded Israel reverses its land appropriation in Gush Etzion, saying it is counterproductive to the so-called peace process.

If Obama had any sense he would he see that Israel’s appropriation of land is both practically and legally comprehensible. Israel’s decision to bring the land under state control is simply an attempt to create contiguity between the Green Line and the settlements in Betar Ilit, Kfar Etzion and Gevaot. It is widely understood that this land will one day form part of an agreed land swap between Israel and the Palestinians.

Plus, if Obama knew his history (and he obviously doesn’t) he would know that the “West Bank” isunclaimed land. Contrary to popular opinion, Israeli settlements are entirely legal as long as they are within the parameters of the 1922 Mandate of Palestine. This is the same mandate that legalized and encouraged the immigration of Jews to all parts of historic Israel.

Israel’s critics may be surprised to know that the 1922 Mandate has never been superseded in international law, not even by the United Nation’s 1947 partition plan. Because the Arabs refused to recognize the partition of “Palestine,” the legal status of Judea and Samaria reverted back to the 1922 law . The capture of Judea and Samaria from Jordan in 1967 was the first step in the restoration of the territory’s true legal status.  It also means that Israel’s recent “land grab” is actually the fulfilment of the original 1922 Mandate.

(Quoting the Fourth Geneva Convention to argue that the settlements are in fact illegal is nonsensical. The Fourth Geneva Convention pertains only to cases of occupation of a sovereign entity. Because of the Arab refusal to reach an agreement between 1947 and 1949, the area popularly referred to as the West Bank never became the legal territory of any sovereign entity – not even Jordan, despite its occupation of the territory until 1967. Only Israel has a legal entitlement to Judea and Samaria.)

If anyone is in any doubt, they would do well to consult a document boasting the signatures of over 1,000 respected diplomats and legal experts from around the world, ranging from South Africa and Canada to Norway and Brazil. The file was delivered to the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in the form of a petition just over a year ago.

According to these legal experts, it is factually incorrect to refer to the settlements as illegal for the simple reason that the term “1967 lines” does not exist in international law. The pre-1967 lines are in fact 1949 armistice lines, and are not recognized lines or security lines. Moreover, the issue of borders is on the agenda of the peace talks and is subject to final status negotiations.

All of which means that the Palestinian claim that statehood is an unassailable right should not be taken at face value. Arab hatred of Israel has never been about the settlements or even about land. The primary obstacle is an ideological refusal to recognize the Jewish people’s deep-rooted historic, cultural and legal connections to the entire land of Israel. Until the Arabs and the rest of the world accept that the Jews have an inalienable and legal right to live in Judea and Samaria, there will never be peace.


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