The Palestinian Authority (PA) attempted to circumvent the peace process last week by winning observer status in the United Nations. Within days, Israel approved settlement expansion across the disputed West Bank. This decision hardly qualifies as a punishment for the PA’s ill-advised actions, despite the protestations of some. Here's why:
1. Settlement construction is not a departure from the norm. Israel continues to grow in both population and economic output. Although the West Bank has not yet been annexed by Israel, Israel for decades has encouraged commercial and residential development in the West Bank. Keep in mind that some of the 3,000 homes approved will be located within communities already under Israeli control. Yet, the PA opposes even those units from being built. Additional plans for settlement construction focus on east Jerusalem, another legitimate area for Jewish growth. Such hostility towards normal community growth is irrational. The new settlements constitute healthy growth, not punishment.
2. Some of the approved units will alleviate serious Israeli security concerns. Development of the E1 area east of Jerusalem will be a link between Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and the Dead Sea. Currently, much of this space is open, leaving communities isolated from each other. Self- defense is not a punishment on aggressors. It’s a rational response to the PA, whose recent actions show irrational hostility towards Israel.
3. The newly approved settlements do not violate international law. In fact, UN resolution 242 was crafted to allow Israeli development and control over portions of the West Bank. Israel continues to abide within the constraints of this resolution as the PA also continues to develop portions of this land as well. Such legitimate developments are within the bounds of international law, not a punishment in violation of this law.
4. Building on one’s own property is not punishment to one’s neighbors. And don’t be fooled — the settlements are being constructed on land that is an integral part of Israel’s history. Indeed, both ancient writings and archaeology bear testament to Israel’s connection to the West Bank. Banning Jewish people in the 21st century from living on this important portion of their ancient homeland is unwarranted. International law, ancient history, and modern history all support Israel’s claim to at least portions of the West Bank.
5. The settlement construction does not adversely affect land under current Palestinian Authority control. Although the protests and clamor within the UN make it appear as if Israel is exercising control over an ever-widening portion of the West Bank, a look at the map shows otherwise. The PA enjoys control over large swaths of the West Bank. Israeli development of empty countryside in the remaining areas of the West Bank does not eliminate the ability of Palestinians to grow as well. The construction is not a punishment, as it does not seize land currently under PA control.
Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority exercise control over different areas of the West Bank. The fact that Israel relinquished control over vast portions of this land is already a significant compromise — one not morally required of Israel. Yet, Israel’s efforts to expand in areas of the West Bank not controlled by the PA are deemed improper. Israel should be encouraged, supported, and commended in her efforts to develop and settle the West Bank. Room exists for both Israel and the Palestinians.