US President Joe Biden says that some Israeli cabinet members are “extreme” because “they say, ‘we can settle anywhere we want.’”
He’s wrong. Here are three reasons why.
Reason #1: The Oslo Accords don’t prohibit settlements.
There is not one word in the Oslo I accord of 1993, or the Oslo II agreement of 1995, that prohibits Israeli construction in the 60% of Judea and Samaria that Israel controls. Not a word about it in the Jordan-Israel peace treaty (1994), the Hebron Agreement (1997) or the Wye River Memorandum (1998). Nor is it in the Abraham Accords.
The position Biden articulated in his July 9 CNN interview goes above and beyond anything to which Israel has ever agreed in the treaties it has signed with various Arab governments.
So, yes—according to Oslo and the other accords—Jews can “settle anywhere they want” in the Israeli-controlled parts of the territories.
Just as the various Israeli-Palestinian agreements do not prohibit Jewish construction in the Israeli-governed portion of the territories, they do not prohibit Arab construction in the Palestinian Authority-governed 40% of the territories. And, in fact, the PA undertakes construction constantly—yet for some reason, Biden never calls its cabinet ministers “extreme.”
Reason #2: There’s an Israeli national consensus on the issue.
Biden’s remark gave the impression that allowing Jews to make their homes in Judea and Samaria is an “extreme” position. In fact, polls have consistently shown that there is a very broad consensus among Israelis from right to left (except for the fringe) that Jews have a right to live in the territories.
Certainly, there are disagreements among Israelis about some details or questions of timing. But the principle is shared by Israelis across the board.
Biden might be surprised to learn that some of the oldest and largest Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria were established under Labor Party governments. That includes towns such as Kiryat Arba, Kedumim, Ma’ale Adumim, Ofra and the communities of the Gush Etzion bloc.
They were created under governments whose prime ministers or other senior ministers were Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Yigal Allon, Abba Eban, Shimon Peres and Moshe Dayan. Not exactly right-wingers!
Dayan told the United Nations in 1978:
“It is inconceivable to us that Jews should be prohibited from settling and living in Judea and Samaria, which are the heart of our homeland.” (The Jerusalem Post, Oct. 10, 1978)
Peres said in 1973:
“I cannot understand why a Jew can build a house in London or New York and not in the West Bank or Sinai.” (The Jerusalem Post, June 17, 1973)
Even after the settlements became a subject of international controversy in later years, Labor Party leaders continued to defend the principle of Jewish construction there.
In Peres’s 1978 book, Tomorrow Is Now (published in 1978), he wrote that Israel needed “to create a continuous stretch of new Jewish settlements; to bolster Jerusalem and the surrounding hills, from the north, from the east, and from the south and from the west, by means of the establishment of Jewish townships, suburbs and villages—Ma’ale Adumim, Ofra, Gilo, Beit El, Givon and Nahal outposts … .” That, Peres wrote, was the only way for Israel to escape “the curse of Israel’s ‘narrow waist’”—that is, the old nine-miles-wide borders.
After becoming prime minister in 1992, Rabin initiated a policy of not establishing new communities in Judea and Samaria, a policy his Likud successors continued. But Rabin continued the construction of Jewish homes within the existing communities.
He told the Associated Press (Jan. 10, 1995):
“I am not ready for there to be a law in Israel to forbid building houses in existing settlements, or a kindergarten or a cultural center in palace where people live today.”
Likewise, Peres, as Rabin’s defense minister, said:
“Building, which is necessary for normal life, like schools, private apartments, we are not going to stop.” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Jan. 25, 1995)
Reason #3: Jews have a right to settle in the Land of Israel.
That right is enshrined in the historical record, in international law, and in the Bible, which is revered by millions and millions of Americans.
That Jewish right is not invalidated just because some racist Palestinian Arabs don’t want to have Jewish neighbors. There are white supremacists in the United States who don’t want to have black neighbors; that doesn’t mean supporters of integration are “extremists.”
In short, Biden got it backwards. It is Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria that is the mainstream position; preventing Jews from building there is the extreme position.
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