Richard Greener on Israeli Settlements

This is a cross-post by Zach of The Brothers of Judea, a blog that tracks antisemitism at the Huffington Post
Richard Greener is a Huffington Post blogger who is relatively new to the Israeli/Palestinian situation. He has recently arrived in the “World” section with an essay entitled, “Israeli Settlements: What Are They Really?” As you might expect from the Huffington Post, he has a negative view of the settlements, and there is nothing redeemable about them. Some of Greener’s facts, however, seem to be a bit off. I thought I’d take a minute to take a look at his work.
What immediately jumps to mind is Greener’s now expected use of the legal argument to declare all the settlements illegitimate. Here is the critical quote:

“Article 49 is simple, clear and is not a subject of controversy. It forbids an occupying power from moving its own civilian population onto occupied lands as permanent residents. Despite this prohibition Israel has constructed settlements outside and beyond its borders for more than 40 years.”

“Moving” the civilian population? No, Mr. Greener, the Geneva Convention doesn’t say that. What it actually says is the following:

“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”

The key word there is “forcible.” Israel is not forcing the settlers to move to the West Bank by any stretch of the imagination. They are choosing to move of their own free will. This might be illegal or prohibited anyway, I do not know the Geneva Conventions well enough. But the fact that Greener intentionally misrepresented what the Geneva Conventions said is very telling. I find it difficult to believe that he simply got it wrong. Why did he not begin his article with the truth? Could it be because doing so would mean acknowledging that the settlements are not in fact illegal?
Mr. Greener continues with pointing out that the Israeli settlers are considered to be citizens of Israel and gain all the benefits thereof, even though they do not live in Israel. This is true, but more importantly is that he continues to write that the settlements “are not part of Israel.” He implies in his first paragraph, if you care to read it, that the settlements are on land that belongs to the Palestinians, though he does not come right out and say it.
He seems to forget that United Nations Resolution 242 was written with the understanding that the nations involved would decide on the boundaries of their nations together, with mutual cooperation. Therefore, it is not so much that the settlements are on land that is not part of Israel (though that is the case right now), but more that the settlements are on land that could one day be part of Israel. That is what the settlers are hoping for, after all. But Mr. Greener does not consider this to even be a possibility. What a surprise.
Then Mr. Greener resorts to a favorite debating tactic, the misplaced metaphor:

“Imagine, if you can, that 8.84% of us, or 26,878,900 citizens of the United States, decided to move and go live in housing projects built in Canada, on Canadian land seized by US military forces, against the wishes of the Canadians. Then imagine the US government taking the position that all or nearly all of those 27 million settlers should remain in Canada – forever – not as new Canadians, never to become citizens of Canada – but as citizens of the United States. How would you feel about that? And how would you feel if you were a Canadian?”

It would probably require a whole new post to point out all the things wrong with this metaphor. But it might be simply stated that Mr. Greener is making a key fallacy in which he assumes that the situation as it currently stands is the way it always has been. When the settlements first started there really wasn’t a Palestinian nation the way there is now. The PLO did not consider the territories to be “Palestinian land,” in fact no one did. The Palestinians did not have the nationalism or the attachment to the territories in 1967 that they do today. There is no comparison with Canada.
Mr. Greener also seems to think that all those settlers just showed up one day and set up camp over the heads of the Palestinians. In fact for most of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations the PA did not mind the presence of settlements, they weren’t even discussed during the Oslo Accords. Now the settlements are becoming more and more of an obstacle to peace, I won’t deny that. But they weren’t always an obstacle, and it would behoove Mr. Greener to have pointed that out.
There is more to be discussed in Mr. Greener’s work but I’ll finish up with his final paragraph:

“There can never be a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem so long as any Israeli civilian population continues to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The answer must be to let Israel be Israel; let Israel be safe and secure. But also let Palestine not be Israel too.”

In other words, unless hundreds of thousands of people are forcibly evicted from their homes and ethnically cleansed from the West Bank, there will never be peace. That is quite the line in the sand, and I can only hope that Mr. Greener did not realize the implications of what he is saying. To call for entire cities worth of people to be forcibly thrown out of their homes (some of whom have been there for generations) does not strike me as a peaceful route to take.
Further, he doesn’t seem to be aware that the vast majority of the settlements are within 3% of the Green Line, and that simply redrawing the border would accommodate most of them. This is why redrawing the borders from the Green Line was a key part of the Barak peace offer in 2000, and land swaps were a part of the Olmert offer in 2009. Not even Jimmy Carter thinks that all the settlements need to go. But Mr. Greener does.
Part of seeking peace is finding a compromise. No one is expecting Israeli settlers to “occupy” the territories after a peace agreement has been signed. But at the same time, only the hardliners among the Palestinians realistically expect all of the settlers to get up and move. There are too many of them. And if the Palestinians (and Mr. Greener) choose this particular issue as their hill to die on, then the peace process will truly die there. Hopefully the Palestinian leadership will come to be more flexible than the Mr. Greener, for the sake of everyone involved. 

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