Houses, Mr. Rico. Zillions of em!

This is a post about Ramat Shlomo (in East Jerusalem) and the thousands hundreds tens many new houses that have been built there in the last ten years.

How many?

None.

None.

None.

It’s the Elder of Ziyon, again, at his best:

From the NYT today:

But for all the international outrage that Ramat Shlomo has engendered, not a single new home has been built there in a decade.

The NYT article also mentions how incredibly crowded the neighborhood is, and how it is impossible to get building permits to even expand houses – the exact same problem that causes headlines when Arabs cannot get approvals.

No one seriously thinks that Ramat Shlomo will become part of a Palestinian Arab state. All of these news stories cause huge amounts of angst, and give the impression of ever-expanding Israeli encroachment on Arab areas – and it simply isn’t so.

It is obvious that most reporters have no interest in reporting the truth about how incredibly little Israeli settlements have expanded in the past 30 years.

It is equally obvious that the successive Israeli administrations have done an incredibly poor job of telling the world what has been going on, instead letting Peace Now send press releases to the media as many as eight times for each new apartment planned as if it is a huge new terrible development that puts the peace process in crisis.

Whether you agree with building across the Green Line, the Elder’s criticisms remain valid; painfully so. No wonder Israel haters feel free to mislead and offer deceptive propaganda, when Israel cannot get this simple truth across: settlements are not material. Settlements are not a real issue – at least they would not be to a party truly interested in negotiation and meaningful, long term, peace.

First, see a lawyer

Good advice when you get into a troublesome situation. Something Israel, as a country, doesn’t seem to have done when it took Judea and Samaria in 1967. But, even though it’s late, they have finally got lawyers involved:

For years, the world has regarded Judea and Samaria as Palestinian territory illegally occupied by Israel • But now a group of hundreds of jurists from Israel and abroad is fighting back in the battle for the historical and legal truth.

Of course, part of the reason Israel is behind the pace is that it has never properly made its case. I suspect there are more complex reasons behind that than us outsiders can possibly know, but whatever they are, something appears to have changed.

For example:

“As such, when the U.N. secretary-general states that ‘the settlements are illegal and are an obstacle to peace,’ or when [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas demands that Israel ‘dismantle the settlements built on Palestinian land since 1967, since their very establishment is illegal,’ and when even the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, refers to the settlements as ‘illegitimate’ — all of them are basing their statements on errant legal assumptions from a factual standpoint,” said Dr. Hagai Winitzki of Sha’arei Mishpat College.

To put it another way, those who talk of illegal settlements are talking out of an orifice not normally used for such discourse.

The article in Israel Hayom (here) really just scratches the surface, but it’s good to see any publicity for a view to oppose the accepted vision – the accepted vision which is wrong.

Nothing illegal about settlements

Courtesy of the excellent Elder of Ziyon, here is Alan Baker’s letter to John Kerry.

Unlike soundbite statements such as “illegal settlements”, Baker’s letter is factual, and authoritative.

Alan Baker, Attorney, Ambassador (ret’)
P.O.B. 182, Har Adar, Israel 90836
Tel: +972-54-3322643
E-mail: ambassador.alan@gmail.com

The Hon. James Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State,
The State Department,
Washington D.C.

November 8, 2013

Dear Secretary Kerry,

After listening to you declare repeatedly over the past weeks that “Israel’s settlements are illegitimate”, I respectfully wish to state, unequivocally, that you are mistaken and ill advised, both in law and in fact.

Pursuant to the “Oslo Accords”, and specifically the Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement (1995), the “issue of settlements” is one of subjects to be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations. President Bill Clinton on behalf of the US, is signatory as witness to that agreement, together with the leaders of the EU, Russia, Egypt, Jordan and Norway.

Your statements serve to not only to prejudge this negotiating issue, but also to undermine the integrity of that agreement, as well as the very negotiations that you so enthusiastically advocate.

Your determination that Israel’s settlements are illegitimate cannot be legally substantiated. The oft-quoted prohibition on transferring population into occupied territory (Art. 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention) was, according to the International Committee Red Cross’s own official commentary of that convention, drafted in 1949 to prevent the forced, mass transfer of populations carried out by the Nazis in the Second World War. It was never intended to apply to Israel’s settlement activity. Attempts by the international community to attribute this article to Israel emanate from clear partisan motives, with which you, and the US are now identifying.

The formal applicability of that convention to the disputed territories cannot be claimed since they were not occupied from a prior, legitimate sovereign power.

The territories cannot be defined as “Palestinian territories” or, as you yourself frequently state, as “Palestine”. No such entity exists, and the whole purpose of the permanent status negotiation is to determine, by agreement, the status of the territory, to which Israel has a legitimate claim, backed by international legal and historic rights. How can you presume to undermine this negotiation?

There is no requirement in any of the signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians that Israel cease, or freeze settlement activity. The opposite is in fact the case. The above-noted 1995 interim agreement enables each party to plan, zone and build in the areas under its respective control.

Israel’s settlement policy neither prejudices the outcome of the negotiations nor does it involve displacement of local Palestinian residents from their private property. Israel is indeed duly committed to negotiate the issue of settlements, and thus there is no room for any predetermination by you intended to prejudge the outcome of that negotiation.

By your repeating this ill-advised determination that Israel’s settlements are illegitimate, and by your threatening Israel with a “third Palestinian intifada” and international isolation and delegitimization, you are in fact buying into, and even fueling the Palestinian propaganda narrative, and exerting unfair pressure on Israel. This is equally the case with your insistence on a false and unrealistic time limit to the negotiation.

As such you are taking sides, thereby prejudicing your own personal credibility, as well as that of the US.

With a view to restoring your own and the US’s credibility, and to come with clean hands to the negotiation, you are respectfully requested to publicly and formally retract your determination as to the illegitimate nature of Israel’s settlements and to cease your pressure on Israel.

Respectfully,

Alan Baker, Attorney, Ambassador (ret’),
Former legal counsel of Israel’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs,
Former ambassador of Israel to Canada,
Director, Institute for Contemporary Affairs, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,
Director, International Action Division, The Legal Forum for Israel

I do not expect a substantive reply – ie one that addresses the legal issues directly. For those lurking in the ‘undecided’ camp, now would be a good time to ask the inevitable question: why? Why do the hordes of Israel haters, and some left wing Israelis and Zionists, declare the settlements illegal, yet are unable to answer the solid, methodical, factual, and legally sound narrative that says otherwise? Because there are none so blind as those who hate.

Meantime, Mr Kerry’s standing is like the proverbial ‘shoogly hook’.