Last week, the United States vetoed a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements as illegal, and rightly so. Israeli settlements in the West Bank are by no means the main obstacle to peace, and peace can only be achieved as soon as a genuine and willing partner takes Israel’s outstretched hand. It is important that the Obama administration continues to correctly pursue a foreign policy that allows Israel to negotiate a peace agreement for herself.
No Palestinian-Arab state ever existed in what was coined the “West Bank” by Jordan in 1950. For thousands of years the area was widely known as Judea and Samaria, and is not separated from Israel by any internationally recognized border. Although not given entirely to Israel as part of the 1947 Partition Plan, Israel came to acquire the West Bank from Jordan while fighting in self-defense during the war of 1967. The “Six Day War” began after Nasser took aggressive action against Israel by amassing troops on Israel’s border and closing the Straits of Tiran, and the West Bank ended up in Israel’s possession as a result of swift military victory. Today, Israeli settlements are only built on 1.7 percent of the land in the West Bank, and 98 percent of Palestinians living there are under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, not Israel’s.
The term “settlement” itself is misleading, as it connotes makeshift huts and dilapidated tents. On the contrary, many Israeli towns in the West Bank, such as Ma’ale Adumim, have a population upwards of 30,000. The number of authorized Israeli neighborhoods in the West Bank has not increased since the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, although their population has naturally grown over time.
What the United States and the global community needs to appreciate is that Israeli communities in the West Bank are not the obstacle to peace, as can be seen repeatedly throughout history. For instance, settlements were not even a conceivable issue when five Arab armies attacked the newborn state of Israel in 1948, and Hamas still showers Israel indiscriminately with thousands of rockets despite Israel’s pullout from Gaza in 2005. On the other hand, Jordan and Israel were able to reach a peace agreement in 1994, despite ongoing settlement construction. Clearly, peace is not contingent on settlements, and should therefore not be made into a negotiating condition.
The international community must stop using Israeli towns in the West Bank — land that everyone seems to have forgotten was won by Israel in a defensive war — as the primary gauge for peace. In order for long-lasting and meaningful peace to occur, Israel’s neighbors need to recognize her right to exist and not see Israel as a temporary problem to be done away with. The West Bank is currently in a period of growth and success, and Israel would like nothing more than to help facilitate Palestinian prosperity. However, Israel must ensure that her security needs are met and that her kindergartens are not at risk of mortar attack; the only way to guarantee this is to allow Israel to make peace as an independent and sovereign country and to not impose arbitrary negotiating conditions upon her.
Rachel Bandler is President of MIT Students for Israel and a member of the Class of 2013.