Obama Gets It Wrong on Israeli ‘Settlements’

In remarks made before New York City’s Temple Emanu-El on Jan. 24, 2018, former President Barack Obama defended his administration’s decision not to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 2334, which asserted that Israeli settlements have “no legal validity,” violate “international law” and are a “major obstacle” to achieving a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama told the audience that he allowed UNSC 2334 to pass because “the pace of [Israeli] settlement construction skyrocketed making it almost impossible to make any kind of Palestinian state.”

To be “a true friend of Israel, it is important to be honest about it, and the politics of this country sometimes do not allow for it,” Obama claimed. His comments were uncritically repeated by many major news outlets.
True friends do indeed tell the truth. And the former President is incorrect.

Research available — both at the time of the Dec. 23, 2016 UNSC vote and since — clearly illustrate that settlement construction was not, and is not, an impediment to a two-state solution. Rather, Palestinian intransigence and anti-Semitism are the chief culprits.

In contrast to the U.N.’s claims, settlements are not illegal. The League of Nations Palestine Mandate, Article 6, calls for “close Jewish settlement” on the land west of the Jordan River. The mandate, including Article 6, is upheld by the U.N. Charter, Chapter XII, Article 80.

Nor is settlement construction skyrocketing.

A Dec. 29, 2016 Washington Post editorial surveyed settlement construction over the course of the Obama presidency:

“In eight years, 20,000 people have been added to communities in territory likely to become part of Palestine—an area where 2.75 million Arabs now live. That growth of about 3 percent per annum…means that the Jewish population outside Israel’s West Bank fence may have decreased as a percentage of the overall population even as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry have made it the focal point of U.S. policy [emphasis added].”

Further, The Post noted that 80 percent of the growth in “settlements” in the last eight years was “in areas that Israel would likely annex” in a future agreement.

And most of that population growth is the result of high birth rates and not from new arrivals. Peace Now, an anti-settlements organization, inadvertently acknowledged in a June 2016 Ha’aretzOp-Ed—six months before UNSC 2334 passed—“In 2015, as in the preceding five years, almost 90 percent of the 15, 523 individuals who joined the population of Judea and Samaria were the result of natural population growth.”

David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former member of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s staff tasked with Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, published a November 2017 report entitled “Settlements and Solutions: Is it Too Late for Two States?” Using interactive high tech tools to map out where settlers live, Makovsky and WINEP found that “only a minority of settlers lives in the 92 per cent of the West Bank that is east of the security barrier.” The project concluded that a “two-state” solution is still possible.

However, that’s not the solution that Palestinian rulers want.

Palestinian Arab leaders have rejected numerous U.S. and Israeli offers for statehood in exchange for peace with the Jewish state in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference, among other instances. The latter opportunity would have established a Palestinian state with its capital in eastern Jerusalem, and given 93 percent of the West Bank with land swaps for the difference. Yet, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas rejected it—refusing to so much as submit a counteroffer or to even call U.S. and Israeli negotiators back.

On March 9, 2016 Abbas rejected a peace proposal presented in person by then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. A similar attempt in March 2014 by Secretary Kerry was also spurned by the PA, which, instead, chose to form a short-lived unity government with Hamas, the U.S.-designated terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, the very next month.

This rejectionism is at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel has repeatedly shown a willingness to give up land for peace: In the 1980s Israel disengaged from the Sinai Peninsula per the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, as part of the 1990s Oslo process Israel withdrew from much of the West Bank, in 2000 Israel left southern Lebanon, and in 2005 the Jewish state unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip. In the last three of these instances, Israel was rewarded with more terrorist attacks.

Palestinian leadership has been consistent, as well. Not content with rejecting peace, the PA, on a daily basis, promotes terror and denies Israel’s legitimacy — violating the Oslo accords that created the authority and which remains its basis for funding.

Indeed, 10 days before Obama’s remarks at Temple Emanu-El, Abbas gave a two-hour speech at the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council calling Israel a “colonialist project” and denying the Jewish peoples connection to their ancestral homeland. This mirrors official PA media, which often refers to all of Israel as a “settlement” and frequently displays maps in which the Jewish state is vanquished.

This objective was aided by the very UN resolution that Obama defended and allowed to pass; UNSC 2334, which labeled the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and Jewish holy sites, such as the Western Wall and the Kotel, “occupied.” Friend to friend, that’s no way to achieve peace.

(Note: A version of this column appeared as an Op-Ed in The Daily Caller on Feb. 1, 2018)