To hear the news media tell it, Israel’s Knesset has approved extreme right-wing legislation that will steal Palestinian land by legalizing illegal outposts and thereby demolish the last hopes for Middle East peace.
The truth, of course, is very different.
The Israeli government has not authorized the establishment of a new Jewish community in Judea and Samaria since 1992. That was the policy decreed by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and followed by his successors, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But the 1993 Oslo Accords did not resolve the status of empty land in those territories. And there is a lot of empty land out there—as anybody who has ever traveled in the territories knows.
In 1998, then-Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon became concerned that a combination of Palestinian encroachment and international pressure would result in the Palestinian Authority (PA) taking de-facto control of those disputed regions. He was particularly worried about hilltops in the vicinity of existing communities, because if they fell into Palestinian hands, they would pose a grave strategic threat to the nearby Jewish residents.
Speaking on Israel Radio in November 1998, Sharon declared, “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the [Jewish] settlements because everything we take now will stay ours...Everything we don't grab will go to them.”
Over the course of the past 19 years, about 100 such hilltop outposts have been established. Many of them have just a handful of residents. A few of the outposts have been torn down by the government; a few were retroactively recognized as neighborhoods of existing communities.
In 2012, the government established a commission, headed by former Israeli Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy, to examine the status of the outposts. The commission recommended that the outposts be legalized. The new legislation follows from that recommendation.
Obviously, the legislation is a political hot potato. The Israeli left is vehemently against it. Various governments have denounced it. The world news media are portraying it in the gravest terms. But when one cuts through all the name-calling and media distortions, certain basic facts emerge.
First: The right of Jews to build throughout the land of Israel has always been a basic principle of the Zionist movement. The state of Israel would not exist if decisions had been made on the basis of “Will it make the world angry?” or “Are there Arabs living in the general vicinity?”
Second: The outposts have not displaced any Palestinians. They were set up on empty hilltops. Nobody has been harmed by the creation of the outposts.
Third: The land in question is not “private Palestinian land,” as Israel’s critics constantly claim. Prof. Eugene Kontorovich of the Northwestern University School of Law points out, “In the overwhelming majority of cases, no individual Palestinians have come forward to claim the lands. Indeed, in most cases, no property claimants asserted their interests for decades after houses were built.” In some cases, including the controversial Amona community, “the lands claimed by the Palestinian petitioners only slightly overlap with those on which the Israeli homes stand,” Kontorovich explains.
Fourth: The Jewish claim to the land in question is much stronger than the Arab claim. The Jews’ right is firmly anchored in the Bible, history (a Jewish presence dating back 3,000 years), and international law (the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations mandate).
The Palestinians who have made claims, however, are basing their ownership on “broad give-aways of state land by the King of Jordan during the Hashemite occupation (1949-1967).”
That, of course, raises a fascinating question: Did the King of Jordan have a right to nullify the Jewish claim to the land of Israel?
For those who forget King Hussein’s record, I should mention that he was the king who decreed that all 57 synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem should be destroyed; that Jewish gravestones from the Mount of Olives cemetery should be used for latrines in Jordanian army barracks; that all Jews should be barred from visiting the Western Wall during the years his regime occupied it.
So the dictator who desecrated Jewish holy sites, demolished synagogues, and banned Jews from their holy places decided to “give away state land” in Judea and Samaria to local Palestinian Arabs. Who gave him the right to do that? And why should his illegal dissection of the Jewish homeland be considered valid?
Israel’s leaders will have to decide how to address the political and diplomatic complications stemming from the new legislation. But let’s be clear about the bottom line: King Hussein had no right to give away the Jewish homeland, and Jews have no obligation to consider his actions valid or binding in any way.
Stephen M. Flatow, a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, is an attorney in New Jersey. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.