RESPONSE TO — Partners in Peace?
David Michelson pointedly inquires why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should extend the freeze on settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
There are three good reasons for doing so:
- The settlements are illegal under international law.
- The UN Security Council and General Assembly have both repeatedly condemned the settlements, as lacking any legal validity. The International Court of Justice has also been unconvinced that the settlements are necessary for “self-defense,” and concluded that the settlements are in “flagrant violation” of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Even under Israeli law, settlement outposts are unrecognized.
- The settlements are responsible for serious humanitarian concerns. Due to settlements and settlement infrastructure, 38.3% of land in the West Bank is inaccessible to Palestinians. A system of checkpoints and roadblocks has effectively fragmented Palestinian communities, which has crippled socio-economic conditions of the West Bank.
If respect for human rights and international law is not convincing enough for Prime Minister Netanyahu (or David Michelson), Israel should end its settlements in the pursuit of peace. Michelson implies that, somehow, settlements make Israel safer. There is no indication that this is true, and it seems much more likely that settlements increase hostility towards Israel. If settlements decrease violence, why would leaving the Gaza Strip “reduce terrorist attacks,” which was the stated purpose of the unilateral disengagement plan in Gaza? If the Israeli government is truly interested in peace, it should freeze its illegal settlement programs and continue peace talks.
Additionally, Michelson makes the claim that in 2005, Sharon “made a historic move towards peace” by dismantling the Israeli settlements in Gaza. Sharon himself said that, besides preventing “terrorist attacks” the disengagement plan was also an attempt to strengthen West Bank settlements.
According to the Associated Press (August 2005), Sharon “repeatedly said the withdrawal would help consolidate Israel’s control over large settlement blocs in the West Bank, where the vast majority of Jewish settlers live.” Israeli Interior Ministry figures showed substantial growth in those blocs during Sharon’s abandonment of Gaza settlements.
Many Palestinians also opposed the disengagement because they believed that it would divide the Palestinian people further, creating two separate national identities. In doing so, it has made it increasingly more difficult for the Palestinian Authority to hold any power over the Gaza Strip, and, consequently, Hamas.
If the Israeli government wants to strengthen the Palestinian authority, giving it the power to keep Hamas from resorting to violence, it must disengage settlements and other barriers to socio-economic development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.