I was 16 years old in the summer of 1967. After my teen trip to Israel that summer was canceled due to the likelihood of war, it was reinstated when that war only lasted six days.
Four weeks after the war, we arrived. I was excited by my first trip to Israel and by the exhilaration that Israel had not been wiped out as we had feared. And this meant that my trip would include the Old City, the Wall and other locations I never expected to see.
We were told to get to Jericho, Hebron and Bethlehem because no one knew how much longer they would be under Israeli control as they were bargaining chips for peace. And I was resigned to the idea that these areas would eventually return to Jordanian sovereignty because that might mean peace.
I followed the news, and within a number of months I began to hear about Israelis moving into the occupied territory. And I wondered to myself, “Isn’t this going to foul up the bargaining process?”
That was almost 50 years ago. I’m no longer a teenager, and I’m left with that question and many others.
So my Hanukkah present this year was hearing the news that the U.S. allowed UN Resolution 2334 to pass. In addition to calling the Palestinian Authority to confront and stop terrorism, the resolution reaffirms that the transfer of Israeli settlers into the occupied territory is not only illegal under international law, but is imperiling the viability of a two-state solution.
How is it illegal? The Geneva Convention of 1949 sought to prevent one source of military conflict by making it unacceptable to expand national territory by force. Article 49 recognized that in the course of armed conflict, occupations would happen, but these were to be temporary and were not necessarily illegal. But the occupier was forbidden to turn the occupation into a de facto acquisition by settling its civilians in the occupied land.
In 1967, the legal counsel of Israel’s foreign ministry, Theodor Meron wrote a memo for the ministry that unequivocally held that under the Geneva Convention civilians could not be legally settled into the territories taken in June of the year. His analysis was soon tossed aside.
But apart from the illegal nature of the Israeli settlements — long recognized as such by successive U.S. administrations — there is the issue of how they prevent a viable solution to the conflict. Yes, there are other factors that have acted as obstacles to peace, such as terrorism and the failure of Palestinian leadership. But none of these factors has ever necessitated any increase or expansion of the settlements deeper into the territory. The more these settlements prevent a contiguous Palestinian sovereign territory on the West Bank, the more remote the possibility of a two-state solution.
No one can realistically claim to support a two-state solution and also support building and expanding settlements. They do nothing to increase Israel’s security and nothing to further Israel as a democracy and as our Jewish homeland.