A reminder to Kerry (and Netanyahu) about our right to build in Eretz Yisrael

Map of Mandate era Palestine, showing Israeli sovereignty over the area that was never legally superseded

The legality of house-building for Jews over the Green Line (which I shall call “settlements” for short and not for any other political reason)  has been the subject of much discussion in recent months, culminating in John Kerry’s unreasonable outburst at Netanyahu that “illegal building” and “land-stealing” will ignite a third intifada.  (NB: I use the term “Jews” and “Jewish housing” rather than “Israeli” advisedly. There appears to be no opposition to Palestinian house-building in those same territories, even if built without the necessary permits and licences, and even if built on land intended for Israel).

The American Administration has also done its utmost to tie the settlements to the capitulation nuclear disarmament talks with Iran in its attempt to strong-arm Israel to agree to an agreement with Iran , and it appears that even Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has taken that conflation under advisement.

Netanyahu also claimed that bad press regarding Israeli construction in the West Bank harms current diplomatic efforts aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Addressing the Knesset in a special session focusing on the housing crisis currently facing Israel, Netanyahu said continued economic pressure on Iran was the best alternative to two other options, which he described as a bad deal and war.

“I would go so far as to say that a bad deal could lead to the second, undesired option,” he said, referring to war.

The prime minister further noted that Housing Minister Uri Ariel’s plan to build 23,000 housing units in the West Bank creates “unnecessary clashes with the international community – at a time when we are making an effort to convince the international community to reach a better agreement with Iran.”

“In recent months we have been building and have offered numerous tenders for thousands of housing units,” the prime minister said, adding “it wasn’t easy, but it never is. Nonetheless we did it responsibly, as we have been doing for the last four years, standing in the face of international pressure.”

Hinting criticism at Ariel, Netanyahu further said “there is no need to take additional steps which are unpractical and testify to a theoretical potential in building, it creates friction with the international community. (Minister Ariel’s plans) are unfeasible and are not part of any real process. We need to fight for something real, practical and legal.”

Regarding the move’s timing, Netanyahu said that “at this time it is especially pointless wasting efforts, energy and expensive political clout for something that has no real world implications and in my opinion, harms settlement. We need to fight for those things that yield real results.”

On Tuesday, according to a PMO statement, Netanyahu slammed Ariel for “circulating the plan without coordination.”

Netanyahu does have a point that if Israel is going to build, we need to do it sensibly and logically and without enraging the outside world, especially those nations who are negotiating with Iran. He is also correct that his ministers should not act without consultation and without proper planning and shouldn’t make bombastic statements without any cover.

However it is precisely because the international community, aided and abetted by a hostile media, conflates the issues of settlements and Iran, and moreover constantly accuses Israel of acting illegally in building Jewish housing over the Green Line, that we must counteract this libel about the illegality of the settlements.

I have addressed this subject numerous times, but no matter how many times the slander is rebutted in the media, the refutation has to be repeated.

In fact the accusation of the settlement’s illegality was rebutted back in 1979, as Eli Herz writes at Myths and Facts:

The following excerpt, stated in June 1979, is sadly still relevant 34 years later:

“A corollary of the inalienable right of the Jewish people to its Land is the right to live in any part of Eretz Yisrael [Palestine], including Judea and Samaria which are an integral part of Eretz Yisrael. Jews are not foreigners anywhere in the Land of Israel. Anyone who asserts that it is illegal for a Jew to live in Judea and Samaria just because he is a Jew, is in fact advocating a concept that is disturbingly reminiscent of the ‘Judenrein’ policies of Nazi Germany banning Jews from certain spheres of life for no other reason than that they were Jews. The Jewish villages in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district are there as of right and are there to stay.

“The right of Jews to settle in the Land of Israel was also recognised in the League of Nations ‘Mandate for Palestine’ which stressed ‘the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and … the grounds for reconstituting’ – I repeat, reconstituting ‘their national home in that country.’ “The Mandatory Power was also entrusted with the duty to encourage ‘close settlement by Jews on the land, including state lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.’”

Israel’s Government position as expressed by Professor Yehuda Z. Blum, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations at the Louis D. Brandeis Award Dinner of the Zionist Organization of America. (Washington D.C., 11 June 1979)

But it is obvious that those wise words have fallen on deaf ears in the international community. Therefore, as a reminder to John Kerry, and to strengthen Netanyahu’s quavering spine, here is Ambassador Alan Baker, former Israel Ambassador to Canada, in an open letter to John Kerry (via Elder of Ziyon). I reproduce it in full:

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.


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

H.E. Daniel B. Shapiro, US Ambassador to Israel,
71 Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv, Israel 63903

Here is a copy of the actual letter as it appeared, which I have uploaded to Scribd:

How many more times will this slander against Israel, that she is stealing land and building illegally (in her own territory!) have to be refuted?

More importantly, how long will it take for our own leaders to internalize the fact that we are entitled to build wherever we wish in Eretz Yisrael, which includes our historical heartland of Judea and Samaria, because it is our land not only by Divine right, which not everyone recognizes, but by historical and political right.

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6 Responses to A reminder to Kerry (and Netanyahu) about our right to build in Eretz Yisrael

  1. PeteCA says:

    I will be frankly honest with you. The vast majority of people outside Israel have a hopeless knowledge of the geography of your region. I bet there are FEW people who could even sketch an accurate map of Jerusalem, or where Gaza is located, or where the Golan Heights are located, or where these settlements are being built. I’m not saying that sewttlements are being built in the Golan (Ha!), I’m just saying people cannot even sketch a broad map of your area. Let alone a very specific one about housing.

    Beyond that – absolutely nobody outside Israel has got any sort of clue about what the real agreements for housing and settlements actually are. What do the Israelis believe is legal? What do the Palesitinians accept? Truthfully – WE ARE CLUELESS. And this applies not only to day-to-day casual observers, but also to those outside people who are decision makers.

    Therefore the whole issue of “Israeli settlements” gets kicked around in the world press as a political football. What- you mean Abbas is UPSET about that Jewish house??? Well that’s terrible and that house “must come down now”. 🙂

    Honestly, the vast majority of people discussing this from outside of Israel have no idea what they are talking about.

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      I agree with you Pete, and that is why people like Ambassador Baker felt it necessary to send this letter to John Kerry. In other times, “the olden days”, a US Secretary of State would not have dared be so uneducated about a region or about the agreements the various parties have signed.

      This goes equally as much for Obama himself.

      Moreover, because Israel is so constantly in the news, the average layman thinks Israel is a gigantic country with at least 20 million people. They have a problem of cognitive dissonance when we try to explain that Israel is the size of New Jersey with a population of 8 million in the shade – less than the population of Greater London or Metropolitan New York.

      Once people see the maps, read the agreements and understand the numbers they can make educated decisions and simply understand the root of the conflict here. The Arabs have 22 countries – 22 Muslim majority countries. There is ONE Jewish country and it is tiny – and even that is a problem for the Arabs – and for an awful lot of anti-Semites too who don’t want to see one Jew in the Middle East (though they don’t really want them anywhere else either).

      As for the settlements, as I said, once people read the agreements and understand history they will hopefully understand what it’s all about.

      A big problem though is people who say “let’s not get into the history, it’s too long ago” – but it isn’t. The root cause of the conflict lies in the history of the region. I

  2. PeteCA says:

    You know you got ME there.

    The population of Israel : 8 million.
    The population of the greater metropolitan area of New York City: 19 million.
    The population of Iran: 77 million.

    People just dont understand this.

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Your surprise surprises me! I think that reflects the wider problem, that Israelis don’t realize how little the average layman outside the region understands.

      We, the Israelis, have been terribly remiss in not making our case clearly, strongly and confidently. Of course it’s difficult to do that when you are lambasted at every turn, no matter what you do or don’t do. But I feel we’ve given up too easily and left the field open to the lies and slander of the Palestinians, which are magnified by the hostile media.

      Our public relations used to be much better, but then the “victim mentality” of the Palestinians got taken up by the leftists in the media and academia and our case was lost.

  3. PeteCA says:

    Yes, its very true. I will be quite honest. I was taken aback when I actually realized what the population of Israel really is. I bet, Anne, that if you asked most people on some kind of survey – they would tell you that Israel has somewhere in the range of 15-25 million people. I don’t think most people out here in the “rest of the world” realize the relative size of Israel comapred to the rest of the ME.

    To tell you the truth, after looking at the populations of Israel and Iran, I am starting to really wonder how Israel can stop Iran’s nuclear program. Everyone takes for granted that Israel has “military superiority”. But in light of the actual population of your country, I have realized that the IDF is doing a remarkable job. Even when the world criticizes Israel today, people still ASSUME that Israel can do great things with its military strikes. It’s quite a big expectation, when you look at the “numbers game” for Israel’s population.

    I am nit sure why people do not realize the population and comparative size of Israel. But I really think it has to do with the “modern TV camera”. If you stop to think about it – most people perceive Israel from what they see on news channels line CNN. So the “birds eyes view” through the lens of the TV camera from the CNN reporter – is exactly what people see., TV cameras really distort the persepective of a scene … things can look close up, they are often magnified. Isreal just looks “BIGGER” !!! Hahahaha! It’s true. And probably that is why everyone assumes that lots of people live in Israel.

    Pete, USA

  4. Pingback: The legal case for Judea and Samaria | Anne's Opinions

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