President Donald Trump once again proved his unequaled friendship with Israel earlier this month when his administration declared that the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) was not illegal.
When he announced what should have been a non-controversial recognition of the fact that Israeli communities (or settlements) are not illegal, it generated a predictable response. The usual suspects came out to denounce him and predict the end of the world, just as they did when he withdrew from the catastrophic Iran nuclear deal; recognized Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights; and moved our embassy from Tel Aviv to the Jewish people’s eternal capital.
This latest decision completes the reversal of the disastrous policies pursued by his predecessor. It is particularly galling to read all the former State Department officials complaining. These are the same individuals who spent decades pursuing their ideas for achieving peace, which all failed. Nevertheless, they have the chutzpah to pontificate as experts on peacemaking.
We are hearing the usual hue and cry about the death of the peace process.
What peace process?
The last face-to-face negotiations between Israel’s prime minister and the Palestinian president were in 2008. That’s right, before Barack Obama became president.
If anything killed the peace process it was President Obama’s policies. Buying into the nonsensical argument made by the Palestinians and others that settlements – rather than the Palestinians refusal to accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish state – are the obstacle to peace, he insisted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declare a freeze on construction of new settlements, which he enacted for ten months. TTrump’s critics conveniently forget that the Palestinians still refused to negotiate. In fact, despite bending over backwards to satisfy Palestinian concerns while routinely criticizing Israel, no progress was made toward an agreement. If anything, President Obama set the process back nearly a decade.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, critics continue to recite the “settlements are the obstacle to peace” mantra. It is as useless as the calls for Israel to trade “land for peace,” which ceased after Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005 and was rewarded with more than a decade’s worth of rocket and terror attacks, including three wars. It is convenient to forget that no peace was achieved from 1948 to 1967 when there were ZERO settlements. The Palestinians rejected the autonomy offered by then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin when there were fewer than 10,000 settlers.
If their concern was the growth of settlements, the Palestinians should have signed a peace agreement long ago. But their conviction that Israel will disappear blinds them to the reality that the longer they wait, the more Jews will live in Judea and Samaria. By the time they decided to sign the Oslo agreement, nearly 150,000 Jews populated the area. Yet the Palestinians didn’t make peace.
They had another chance when Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat a state and the withdrawal of most settlements in the 2000 Camp David talks. By then there were more than 200,000 settlers. At the time of the talks between Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert in 2006, that number had grown to 260,000 and Abbas rejected a deal similar to the one Barak had offered Arafat. By the end of the misguided peace initiatives of the Obama administration, that number had grown to 400,000.
For those ignorant of more ancient history, let me remind you the Palestinians have never had a state in recorded history. Judea and Samaria have never been “Palestinian,” and therefore it is not occupied territory and Jews have as much right to live there as Arabs do. Actually, Jews have a greater claim given that they have lived in the area for more than 3,700 years and, if not for foreign conquerors, would have had a state for that entire period instead of the nearly 450 years of the Israelite monarchy and the Hasmoneans.
Judea and Samaria were supposed to be part of the Jewish homeland promised by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour in 1917 and later ratified by the League of Nations. It was Winston Churchill who decided to divide Palestine and create the entirely new country of Transjordan, and it was the Jordanian Legion that seized and occupied the West Bank (which got that name from its relationship to the Jordan River) from 1949 until 1967. During those 19 years, the Palestinians never claimed the land was theirs or demanded a state.
President Trump recognized that a fraudulent evenhandedness that put Israel, a human-rights abiding democracy, in the same box as the Palestinian autocracy not only failed to bring about peace, but also distorted American policy and values.
The United States is not ambivalent about which party is an ally that shares our values and interests, and which does not. It is absurd to believe that we should treat Israel, the only free country in the Middle East with Western liberal values, the same as the Palestinian Authority, which is essentially a dictatorship that glorifies terror and denies even its own people the rights we take for granted. The president should be applauded for recognizing this distinction.
The Palestinians have been operating under the assumption that time is on their side because they will outbreed the Jews; because a Muslim state such as Iran could obtain a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the map; or because the international community would join the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) campaign to delegitimize and, ultimately, destroy Israel.
The Palestinians are not easily disabused of their fantasies; however, the president’s actions have punctured them. For the first time the United States is not putting one-sided pressure on Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands and rewarding the Palestinians for their obstinance with financial aid and diplomatic sympathy. The president has made it clear he will not countenance the redivision of Israel’s capital. And now he has ended the phony characterization of settlements as illegal and the obstacle to peace.
It was unfortunate to witness several of the Democratic presidential candidates immediately condemn the Trump administration’s proclamation that settlements are not illegal. They offer a reversion to the bad old days, when Israel was routinely pilloried publicly while the Palestinians were coddled. Most Democratic candidates have also said they will rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, and some have suggested they will use foreign aid to pressure Israel, paternalistically, to adopt policies they think are best for Israelis.
But there should be a bipartisan consensus that Jews have a right to live anywhere in Biblical Israel — especially in Judea and Samaria, where the patriarchs and matriarchs are buried, the Tabernacle at Shiloh stood for nearly 400 years, and King David was crowned.
To suggest these lands are not Jewish is to erase most of Biblical history. To prohibit Jews from settling in these lands is to erase the Jewish connection to the very cradle of its formation and civilization.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of the forthcoming book Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell and is the founder of The World Values Network, which promotes genocide memory in mainstream media.
Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.