PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has said that a Palestinian bid for non-member status at the United Nations is the only way to stop the expansion of Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria. But anyone with a basic grasp of international law can see that Israel is perfectly entitled to build settlements on the “West Bank.”
In 1920, the San Remo Conference instructed Britain to establish a Jewish national home on territory covering what would become Israel, Jordan and part of the Golan Heights. In early 1921, Britain made a distinction between “Palestine” as a national home for the Jewish people, and Transjordan as a home for the Arabs. Already, the Jews had to accept a territorial compromise in order to appease Arab interests.
The 1922 Mandate of Palestine formalized the creation of a Jewish homeland, as well as Transjordan for the Arabs. The entire League of Nations unanimously declared that “recognition has been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” The Mandate not only legalized the immigration of Jews to Palestine, it encouraged close settlement of the land. Moreover, the notion of internationalizing or dividing Jerusalem was never part of the Mandate.
Two years after the Second World War, the British handed the Mandate to the UN, which recommended (rather than enforced) the partition of Palestine between Jews and Arabs. The Jews accepted the partition but the Arab states rejected it and declared war on the Jewish homeland, which resulted in the Jordanian annexation of the “West Bank.” At the insistence of the Arabs, the 1949 armistice line was “not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary.”
In 1967, Israel won control of the West Bank after a war of self-defence. To speak of Israeli occupation implies that Israel fought an aggressive war in order capture the West Bank, which was not the case.
UN Security Council Resolution 242 recommended Israeli withdrawal from territories in return for the right “to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” At a conference in Khartoum the Arabs refused to negotiate or make peace with Israel. In fact, they refused to recognise Israel at all. (Resolution 242 did not mention the Palestinians, although it did refer to “a just settlement of the refugee problem” in acknowledgment that both sides had their share of refugees.)
It is also worth pointing out that the Fourth Geneva Convention is not applicable to Judea and Samaria because it pertains only to cases of occupation of a sovereign entity. The “West Bank” has never been the legal territory of any sovereign entity. Or to put it in plain English, territories are only “occupied” if they are captured in war from an established and recognized sovereign. Jordan was never an established or recognized sovereign of the West Bank. Therefore, Israel is not an occupier and the “West Bank” is not occupied land.
Technically, Judea and Samaria is unclaimed Mandate land and should therefore be referred to as “disputed” territory. Israel’s capture of the West Bank in 1967 merely restored the territory to its legal status under the Mandate of 1922, which has never been superseded in law, not even by the 1947 partition plan. The settlers are simply enacting the Mandate and they should be allowed to continue with this enterprise.
The fact that the Palestinians and the Arab states collaborated with Hitler before and during Second World War, and then proceeded to invade Israel on three occasions between 1948 and 1973, seriously undermines any moral claim to establish a state on the “West Bank.” Even today, most Arabs still refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Professor Julius Stone, a leading authority on such matters, has stated that because of the attacks against Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973, as well as other belligerent acts, Arab states have “flouted their basic obligations as United Nations members.”
There are also moral and cultural reasons why the Jewish settlements are legitimate. Judea and Samaria is historically and religiously Jewish. The territory formed a major part of ancient Israel and is home to several sacred sites, including Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. It is only recently that Arabs have expressed an interest in Jerusalem. At no time between 634 CE (when Muslims overran “Palestine”) and 1967 did any Muslim entity ever declare Jerusalem as their capital. During the Jordan occupation, not a single foreign Arab leader came to pray in the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
Moreover, non-Jewish powers cannot be trusted to protect either Jews or Jewish sites. During the 1920 Jerusalem riots, an Arab mob ransacked the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, attacking pedestrians and looting shops and homes. On 24th August 1929, 67 Palestinian Jews were massacred in Hebron. Dozens were wounded. Some of the victims were raped, tortured and mutilated. Jewish homes and synagogues, as well as a hospital, were ransacked. During the Jordanian occupation, the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was desecrated and many synagogues in the Old City were destroyed.
Between 1948 and 1967, there was not a single settlement in Gaza or the “West Bank.” But this did not stop Arab states terrorizing Israel. Nor did the Arab states attempt to establish a Palestinian state. Furthermore, the dismantling of the settlements in Gaza actually destabilized the region because the withdrawal allowed Hamas to take control of the Strip, with devastating consequences.
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 land of Israel. Until the Arabs accept that the Jewish people have an inalienable right to Judea and Samaria, there will never be peace.