Israel has announced that it will be building 800 new housing units. Of these, 560 will be in Maale Adumim, a town of 40,000 located four miles east of Jerusalem, and 240 will be in three Jerusalem neighborhoods.
State Department spokesman John Kirby reacted with unusually strong language:
If it’s true, this … would be the latest step in what seems to be the systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions, and legalization of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution. We oppose steps like these which we believe are counterproductive.
Kirby added that Washington was “deeply concerned”:
This action risks entrenching a one-state reality and raises serious questions about Israel’s intentions.
It should be added that Maale Adumim and the three “East Jerusalem” (actually eastern, northern, and southern Jerusalem) neighborhoods are located on land that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967, and that Israel seized from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War after Jordan attacked Israel.
It should not, though, have to be added.
The notion that Israel, by building homes in such places, jeopardizes chances of resolving the Palestinian issue is fundamentally flawed, and the State Department — if it were not wedded to that notion — would be able to find out why by doing a little fact-checking.
As Evelyn Gordon illuminates, since Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 2009 (he has been reelected twice), Israel has not been engaging in a “systematic process of land seizures” or anything of the kind. Actually, construction in “settlements” — a term now used even for Jerusalem neighborhoods — has slowed to a crawl:
As data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics unambiguously shows, since taking office … Netanyahu has built far fewer units in the settlements than any of his predecessors. True, he periodically announces grandiose building plans, as he did this week. But most are quietly frozen again immediately afterward; very few ever get built.
Gordon also reports on an investigation by Shaul Arieli — a leftist Israel who opposes Israeli construction in land previously occupied by Jordan — that finds:
In 2015, as in the preceding five years, almost 90 percent [of population increase in the “settlements” was] a result of natural population growth.
In other words — scandalous as some may find it — Israelis living in these communities have babies.
Arieli wrote further:
Last year, as in all the preceding 40 years, 75 percent of the population growth occurred in settlement blocs.
In short, almost all the increase, from both births and migration, is happening in a handful of settlements near the Green Line that every peace plan ever proposed has agreed will remain Israeli. Thus it hasn’t affected the prospects of a two-state solution at all.
Such “settlements” emphatically include, of course, Maale Adumim and the three Jerusalem neighborhoods in question.
So much for the facts. But beyond that level, Kirby’s castigation of Israel harbors “smelly little orthodoxies,” as George Orwell once called them, that are worth unpacking and exposing.
One of these is that the “two-state solution” is desirable.
In the imploding Middle East, amid severe violence and the disintegration of states like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, would it be wise to create another Arab state? One rubbing up against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and constricting Israel to a nine-mile width in its most populated region? Would it be in America’s interest?
That assumption is disputable, to say the least. It also implies that there is no other possible solution to the Palestinian issue, when in actuality other possible, eventual solutions are proposed and discussed all the time.
The solutions include, for instance, a one-state solution in which West Bank Palestinians would be offered full Israeli citizenship; or an arrangement with Jordan that would offer them full Jordanian citizenship.
Also implicit, even more problematically, in Kirby’s words is the notion that no further construction for Jews of any kind should occur in any of the land that Israel won in 1967.
If even construction in Maale Adumim and “East Jerusalem” neighborhoods “raises serious questions about Israel’s intentions” and warrants a sharp rebuke from Washington, then the inference is that the land is solely Palestinian. That Israel’s only role is to hold it, keeping Jews out of it, until the Palestinians deign to receive it and set up their state in it.
That notion is, of course, morally problematic on several grounds. It erases Jews’ profound historical and religious attachment to the land. It sentences existing Jewish communities in the proscribed places to slow strangulation. It permanently confines Israel to the tiny 1949-1967 domain that is too small for its rapidly growing population. And it ignores the fact that without at least parts of the West Bank, Israel is militarily indefensible.
Israel and the United States are allies. How long will the robotic State Department denunciations continue?