By ALAN SMASON
While I have always stopped short of using the Israeli designation of Judea and Samaria to refer to the West Bank, this week’s decision by the Trump administration to no longer consider settlements as illegal might present a cogent argument to consider a change in attitude.
The fact is Israel controlled the Sinai, Gaza and the West Bank since the 1967 Six Day War. These were the spoils of war, a war in which they felt compelled to launch a preemptive strike as armies of several nations massed about their borders. Israel has maintained military superiority in the interim, but the nation had gambled on several occasions that a trade of land might result in peace with its neighbors.
In the furtherance of peace, therefore, Israel relinquished control of the oil-rich Sinai and ceded it back to Egyptian control in 1982, following the signing of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty in 1979. While they “occupy” the territory of the West Bank in the language of the Palestinians, Israelis claim the lands are “disputed,” but have granted the Palestinian Authority the right to control much of that region’s destiny.
In 2005, under the leadership of Ariel Sharon, Israel fought its own settlers and and dismantled houses in order to give Gaza to the Palestinians in the hope the land grant would spark peace. Instead, the Palestinians in Gaza voted in the Hamas terrorist organization as their leaders and the first of hundreds of missile attacks ensued and continue to today.
Because the Golan Heights are so strategically important to Israel’s sovereignty and security, there is no way any Israeli government will ever cede them back to Jordan or leave them unprotected, especially now that Hezbollah is encamped in nearby Lebanon and Syria is such a hotbed of political unrest.
Also, while East Jerusalem was the official capital of the Palestinians on paper, it has ceased to be regarded as such by the Israeli government. With the U. S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv last year and no movement in the peace process between the two sides, there is a feeling that U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital will eventually squeeze out the Palestinians claim to half of the capital as their own capital.
In reality, though, the U.S. change in designation does very little to jump start talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, who will continue to hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refer to Jerusalem as “the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”
The U.S. continues to follow an official two-state policy, but in practice it is giving Israel the virtual rope it needs to tie up the Palestinians and declare them as insincere and lacking in good faith in their negotiations.
It really doesn’t matter whether Washington considers the settlements as illegal or legal, because it will be Israel and the Palestinians through their own actions which will define them. Nevertheless, by dragging their heels and refusing to come to the table, the Palestinians have given others the right to speak up or be mute as to their claims.
In the end, because of this Palestinian inertia, at least one American journalist seems closer than ever to calling the West Bank by the names Judea and Samaria.