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Middle East Issues





The JTA Gets it Wrong on Settlements


A recent Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) news brief about New York City's mayoral contest quoted Christine Quinn's campaign as saying that she "believes the West Bank is a disputed territory and that the Israelis and Palestinians must sit down and negotiate a solution." According to the JTA, "Quinn's position runs counter to that of the U.S. government, which considers the West Bank Israeli-occupied territory."
 
Actually, Quinn was restating a long-held U.S. position. If the status of the territories weren't legitimately disputed, there would be nothing to negotiate.
 
No Arab entity held clear title and exercised peaceful sovereignty over the territory prior to the 1967 Six-Day War. If one had, Israel's conquest would have been an act of aggression and it would have been obligated to clear out decades ago.
 
But the '67 War was one of Israeli self-defense. The territory known as Judea and Samaria during the British Mandate had been illegally occupied by Jordan during Israel's 1948-1949 War of Independence, renamed the West Bank and used to attack Israel. Hence the wording of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, written by American and British diplomats not long after the Six-Day War.
 
U.S. Undersecretary of State Eugene Rostow, one of Resolution 242's drafters, explained that Washington's position "was sharply drawn, and rested on a critical provision of the Armistice Agreements of 1949. Those agreements provided in each case that the Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary, and is delineated without prejudice to rights, claims or positions of either party to the Armistice as regards ultimate settlement of the Palestine question."
 
That means the status of the territories, until resolved through negotiations, is disputed. Later Arab-Israeli diplomacy, including Israeli-Palestinian agreements reached in the 1990s as part of the Oslo process, and the 2003 "road map" advanced by the "quartet" of the United States, Russia, the U.N., and European Union, takes 242 as a reference point.
 
That "the U.S. government ... considers the West Bank Israel-occupied territory," as JTA reports, doesn't put candidate Quinn into conflict with Washington either. The United States doesn't consider the Israeli occupation illegal any more than post-World War II Allied occupation of Germany was illegal. Having gained the territories in self-defense, Israel is the legitimate military occupational authority. Among other things, it is obligated to see to the basic health and welfare of the residents until the lands' disputed status is resolved through the required diplomacy. Those responsibilities are now administered primarily by the Palestinian Authority -- as a result of previous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
 
The JTA also claimed that "successive U.S. administrations have opposed Israeli Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank as unlawful and obstructive to a two-state solution." Successive U.S. administrations have claimed that construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank obstructs a negotiated conclusion. But only the Ford and Carter administrations, reversed by the Reagan White House, declared building illegal. The Obama administration's formulation deems continued settlement activity illegitimate.
 
International law supports the settlements, anti-Israeli propaganda and the latest European Union sanctions against them notwithstanding. As CAMERA has noted previously, the San Remo Treaty of 1920, in which the victorious World War I allies dealt with the remnants of the defeated Ottoman Turkish Empire, created an entity called Palestine along both sides of the Jordan River. The powers intended it as the land on which Great Britain would turn its 1917 Balfour Declaration from aspiration to reality, assisting the Zionist movement in re-establishing the Jewish national home.
 
The Franco-British Boundary Convention of 1920 demarcated the French mandate for what would become Syria and Lebanon from that of the British in Palestine. This was in part to prepare for the Jewish state. Article 6 of the League of Nations' Palestine Mandate encouraged "close Jewish settlement" on the land west of the Jordan River. Only west of the river because Great Britain, in the same year, unilaterally severed Transjordan (Jordan) from Palestine.
 
In 1924, the Anglo-American Convention saw the United States endorse British administration of the remaining Mandate lands, so long as London helped bring a Jewish state into being. The 1945 U.N. Charter, Chapter XII, Article 80, continues Jewish rights recognized under the Mandate. It protects "the rights whatsoever of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments."
 
The Obama Administration has objected to what it terms the "illegitimate" nature of "continued settlement activity." That is new language, not the words of "successive U.S. administrations."
 
The New York City mayor's race will sort itself out. One hopes the same happens with JTA's reporting of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.
 
Eric Rozenman is Washington director of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

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