The Other Settlements
As has become routine, there were widespread statements of condemnation from various international players after Israel announced in mid-August that it would be approving just over 2,000 new units in east Jerusalem neighbourhoods and certain large settlements. Never mind that every single one of these apartments, if built (and this will take at least a couple of years), will be in an area that will remain Israeli according to every serious peace proposal.
Moreover, the Jerusalem units are genuinely badly needed. According to Nadav Shragai, an Israeli journalist specialising in these issues writing in Israel Hayom (Aug. 12), “only 1,200 housing units were built in Jerusalem in 2012, and only 43 were built in neighborhoods that were beyond the Green Line [in what is commonly known as east Jerusalem], where 200,000 residents, 42% of the city, lives.” Meanwhile, the annual demand in the city is for 4,500 units of new housing and as a result of the lack of housing the Jewish population of the city has actually been declining, according to Shragai.
Shragai’s figures suggest the Israeli Government has actually been showing extraordinary restraint on building in the eastern half of Jerusalem, despite never agreeing to a freeze there. But of course, they get no credit for this.
Meanwhile, in May, Israel also announced it will be building a “settlement” deep in the West Bank, near Jericho, with a total of 1,140 new homes – but nobody protested. Why? Because these homes are earmarked for Palestinians – specifically those in the area currently living in illegally built housing and unauthorised villages – which are generally not connected to utilities.
And there is another very large settlement going up in the northern West Bank, again without international angst. It’s called Rawabi and its eventually intended to house no less than 40,000 people.
Rawabi is also intended to house Palestinian families, and is being built as a public-private partnership between the Palestinian Authority and private companies. In general, its a good thing, an example of Palestinian state-building of the sort needed for a two-state peace deal.
However, these “other settlements” – both Rawabi and the unnamed new neighbourhood being built near Jericho – highlight how ugly and discriminatory the discussion of building of homes in the West Bank is. It’s not about about building homes. It’s not about supposedly creating “new facts on the ground” or changing the status of the land. It’s not about who builds, as Israel is building the housing near Jericho. It comes down to this: Building homes designed for Palestinians? Great! Homes designed for Jews to live in? A major international scandal, which must be widely condemned and possibly boycotted!
Of course, those who make this distinction insist that they are merely enforcing international law in general and the Fourth Geneva Convention in particular.
I don’t think the international law argument is convincing either in terms of the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention or in terms of the interpretation that says the Convention’s provisions bar any Israeli from moving to the West Bank.
But setting aside those arguments, let’s see what it is being claimed “international law” demands.
As the “other settlements” illustrate, it is not that no housing be built pending negotiations over the final status of the area. Instead, it is being demanded that Israel act as ethnic police, making sure that no Jewish or Israeli person moves to the West Bank. Israel is being required to preserve in aspic the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Jews from the area, and the expropriation of extensive Jewish-owned land (see Lyn Julius opposite) there, by Jordan. According to this interpretation of international law, Jews may live anywhere in the world except the West Bank – and it is Israel’s job as “occupier” to police this policy and keep the area completely “judenrein”.
Can anyone seriously argue that this is a moral and sensible policy?
Protocols on the Nile
There are many reasons today to doubt that a democratic, non-violent and prosperous future is in store for Egyptians. Here’s one more.
How does the ousted Muslim Brotherhood explain their overthrow by the military, led by General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi? According to Gamal Nassar, the former media secretary to the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, speaking on al-Jazeera (August 17), the explanation is this:
“Al-Sisi is of Jewish origin. His mother is called Mulaika Titani, and her brother was a member of the Jewish Haganah organisation. Thus, we see that this man, by any standard, is implementing a Zionist plan to divide Egypt… Whoever reads The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the writings of [the Jews], including those who were writing in the US, realises that this plot was premeditated.”
And how does the other side explain the alleged misdeeds of the Brotherhood government and their supporters?
Pretty much the same way. The secularist paper Al-Wafd published a long article (August 11) summarising the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood was acting out the provisions of the Protocols, and was therefore part of the conspiracy.
A few days later, the larger state newspaper Al-Ahram claimed that there was a “Zionist-American-Muslim-Brotherhood conspiracy” against Egypt. The newspaper argued that “America, Israel, and the Muslim Brotherhood have one goal in common: to demolish the Egyptian army and to balkanise the country.”
Needless to say, when bizarre antisemitic conspiracy theories are core political arguments of both sides in any country, good things seem unlikely to follow.