It’s true that American presidents, to one degree or another, have always criticized Israeli settlements. But while they’ve called them “illegitimate,” they’ve generally resisted efforts to brand them as “illegal.” There’s a big difference between the two. Illegitimate implies controversy, dispute, debate. Illegal means the debate is over. You are living on stolen land. You are a thief.
The UNSC resolution 2334, which president Obama allowed to pass last Friday, does precisely that. It labels Israel as a land thief.
“If there is one area in the resolution that may be potentially problematic for the future,” longtime peace negotiator Dennis Ross wrote, “it is the reference to the settlements being illegal.”
And for good reason: Once you stipulate that settlements are illegal, what is there for the Palestinians to negotiate? Nobody owes a criminal anything, least of which the indignity of having to sit down and talk. A thief is lucky to avoid jail time. He must return stolen property. End of story.
Have you ever wondered why Palestinian leaders always appear so reluctant to make any concessions? It’s because they really do believe Israel is a thief. Thanks to bodies hostile to Israel like the United Nations, and the empowering of a world that coddles them, this belief has only gotten stronger through the years. Now, with Resolution 2334, and with the endorsement of President Obama, the Israel-as-thief narrative has taken on the force of an international legal judgment.
It gets worse. The resolution makes no distinction whatsoever between settlement blocs next to Jerusalem, isolated outposts in the West Bank and Jewish neighborhoods in the Old City. As far as the resolution goes, it’s all “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Never mind that there was no such thing as “Palestinian territory” prior to 1967. Never mind that past negotiations always endorsed the idea that the main settlement blocs would remain part of Israel. And never mind that there’s a compelling legal case to make that the land in question is “disputed” rather than belonging to any one party.
Never mind all that. With this new resolution, even Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall, is considered “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
So, when Israel builds anything near the Wall, such as the plaza which Obama once used to pray at the Wall, it is in “flagrant violation of international law.” It is tampering with “Palestinian territory.”
The flagrant chutzpah behind such declarations is astounding. I think this is why many of my pro-Israel friends on the left are sickened by this resolution. They can see through it. They can see it’s not out to promote reasonable compromise. They can see it has nothing to do with bringing peace and everything to do with bringing Israel down.
President Obama’s complicity in turning Jewish construction in all post-1967 areas illegal may turn out to be the last nail in the peace coffin. He’s taken away all of Israel’s cards, because a thief has no cards to play. If by some miracle the parties ever return to the negotiating table, all the Palestinians have to do is bring a copy of Resolution 2334 and say, “Give it all back.”
They’ve been saying that all along, only now they have the back-up of an international legal document with the blessing of Israel’s best friend.