Seeking A Realistic Mature Discussion About "Settlements"

Gil Troy responds to Emily Hauser's comments on the West Bank.

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Before I refute Emily Hauser’s distortions of my argument, and before criticizing the biased U.N. Human Rights Council Report bashing Israel yet again, I begin with my position on “the settlements.” Based on my reading of history, wherein drawing the Green Line in 1949 or taking over the West Bank in 1967 did not magically negate the Jewish people’s legally-recognized existing claims to Palestine, Israel’s control over the West Bank is legal.

That does not mean it is practical, advisable, tenable, moral or that it should be perpetual. Moreover, it is an act of political, legal, and historical oversimplification to talk about “the settlements”—a mistake that both the Right and the Left make. Different Jewish communities have developed in the territories Israel won in its defensive war of 1967—historic communities such as Gush Etzion, overrun by Jordanians in 1948, restored by survivors in 1967; security outposts in the Jordan Valley, built as garrisons, flourishing as farms; middle class suburbs just over the Green Line, appealing to the Israeli pocketbook, complicating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; ideological settlements, sometimes fulfilling Biblical dreams, sometimes deliberately provocative; and then Jerusalem, in all its dizzying variety and complexity.

A healthier, more constructive, and mature critique of Israeli policy must start by acknowledging those realities. Meanwhile, an understanding of the conflict’s current dynamics from the Israeli side demands recognition that twenty-two years of peace-processing yielded dozens of suicide bombings, hundreds of terrorist attacks, thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of rockets, and an untold magnitude of fear and mistrust.

Had the U.N. report acknowledged any of this complexity, had any U.N. General Assembly initiative since the 1970s or any U.N. Human Rights Council initiative acknowledged any of this, the U.N. would have some credibility. That is the failure I attacked in this myopic report that Hauser cheered, the latest in a series of incendiary, biased U.N. attacks on Israel. And my point—that Hauser distorted to allege I had not read the report—was that the “abuses” I acknowledged and the report I mentioned “get ignored amid a relentless pounding against Israel that undermines the report’s credibility, inflames tempers all around, and hinders peace.”

Hauser claims I accuse her “of ‘demonizing Israel’ and ‘validating every maximalist Palestinian demand.” No. I said “Hauser celebrated the nefarious report itself, blind to its biases.” I did say that the report and “too many progressives” demonize Israel and validate Palestinian maximalism. Just as I try not to encourage racist radical settlers when affirming the legal and security rationales for being in the West Bank, she should take responsibility by not encouraging the demonizers and extremists she says that she never “actually” joined. Her claim that it is “unfortunate that when given a chance to talk to the U.N. about its settlement project, Israel did what it regularly does: it refused,” is either naïve or dishonest. Pretending that the U.N. Human Rights Council was a neutral body making an innocent offer raises serious questions of authorial credibility.

Predictably, she plays the anti-Semitism card, saying (again with a mock innocence that ignores the conflict’s complexity) that people like me suggest “that applications of international law to Israel are acts of hostility or possibly anti-Semitism.” The world has enough anti-Semites without my help. I will not recruit others to that evil cause by using that appellation—unless it is well-deserved. So, no: I don’t think that well-meaning but misguided progressives who add fuel to the international fire by failing to use their pro-Palestinian credentials to criticize one-sided U.N. reports are anti-Semites. Other labels, however, might be suitable. Similarly, “applications of international law” are not “acts of hostility,” only distorted and perverted applications are.

This messy conflict has cloudy legal situations. Because Israel is a democracy, Hauser can find Israeli “legal counsels” and others who question the legal status, using the word “occupation,” which conflicts with my understanding. I welcome the debate. But let’s have an honest debate from unbiased institutions, not kangaroo courts and international hanging parties. That’s my challenge to the U.N.

My challenge to Hauser and other progressives remains. The moral question is how to distance yourself from the demonizers, and make sure you are neither an enabler or a useful idiot—and I recognize the challenge from those on the center and right, too. The tactical question is what will best help end this mess or at least improve the situation—hysterical attacks on Israel that make Israelis batten down their ideological hatches or more nuanced critiques, acknowledging the complexity and spotlighting abuses that demand immediate amelioration while building mutual respect and trust?

Many of these legal arguments remind us of neighbors quarreling about who will pay the increased water bill as their row house burns. The core issue remains: How do two stubborn peoples in love with the same land live together? Ideologues ignoring realities from all sides make peace more elusive, whether they label themselves as “peaceniks” or not.