New York, September 5, 2014: The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has expressed support for Israel designating 988 acres of land in the Etzion bloc, just south of Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, as state land. The ZOA believes that it is only right that, after an exhaustive process of investigation leaning to the conclusion that no private property claims conflict with such a designation, that the designation be made.
The Israeli designation has been criticized by the Obama Administration, a State Department spokesman saying, “This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue, is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians. We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision” (Rachel Levy, ‘Obama White House Condemns Designation of Gush Etzion Lot as ‘State Land’,’ Jewish Press [New York], September 2, 2014). The Obama Administration is wrong –– this announcement in no way, shape or form harms any potential final resolution of conflict, because the land in question would remain under Israeli control under any conceivable final resolution, nor will it impinge on any final resolution.
Moreover, the area in question falls entirely within Area C –– territory earmarked under signed Israeli/Palestinian Oslo agreements within which Israel is to exercise sole control pending the conclusion of a peace settlement. Additionally, President George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon specifically envisaged Israel retaining territory with large Jewish populations, such as the Etzion bloc, of which this uninhabited area is a part. So too, as the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has pointed out, did “the statements made by President Obama in 2011 about demographic changes on the ground and changes in the 1967 lines.”
The ZOA has also repudiated false, anti-Israel claims, by the fake pro-Israel group J Street, that predictably misrepresented this designation, “by Prime Minister Netanyahu … an outrageous blow to the idea of two states for two peoples: the Israeli government is seizing nearly 1,000 acres of West Bank land for another massive settlement project.” In fact, no tenders have been offered for construction; the land has simply been designated state land, as befits uncultivated land devoid of private property holdings; and there has been no “seizure.”
This is all J State agitprop designed to isolate and increase pressure on Israel. Indeed, J Street sent out an action alert urging its members to urge President Obama, who has refused to call Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria “illegal” (though he attempted have the U.N. Security Council baselessly call them “illegitimate”) to start calling these Jewish communities “illegal.” Apparently, falsely and maliciously calling Israel a violator of international law is, in the view of J Street, the act of a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group, as J Street endlessly and falsely seeks to describe itself.
As Professor Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, focussing on constitutional and international law, and a senior fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem has observed:
“A determination that land is ‘state land’ is a factual, administrative finding that does not change the ownership of land … An ‘appropriation’ involves taking something that is someone’s. A designation of land as ‘state land’ requires a determination, based on extensive investigation, that it does not have a private owner. The determination can be challenged administratively and judicially, as Palestinian claimants often do, and sometimes prevail. In other words, nothing has been taken from anyone, or given to anyone … Authorizing a new residential community would require a vast number of additional administrative and political permissions, none of which appear to be remotely forthcoming. Indeed, those who object to Israel’s recent action also object Jews living or even studying on undisputedly private Jewish-owned land in the West Bank. The hysteria over this announcement illustrates several points. First, it reflects how detached discussions of “illegal settlements” are from international law. The entire legal argument against settlements rests on one sentence of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an ‘occupying power’ to ‘deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population’ into the territory it occupies. Assume the treaty even applies to this situation–and there is good reason to think it does not. Further assume that Israelis moving across the Green Line can be considered a ‘deportation or transfer’ committed by the Israeli government, though it does not appear the government is moving anyone. None of that has anything to do with the occupying power determining the ownership status of the land, an action which does not transfer or help transfer, and indeed, has nothing to do with the movement of people. On the other hand, Israel also announced this week the construction of thousands of housing units in eastern Jerusalem for Arab Israelis. If the Geneva Convention indeed forbids building apartments in occupied territory for one’s nationals, it does so without any ethnic discrimination. The question would not be whether the ‘settlers’ are Jews or Arabs, but whether they are part of Israel’s ‘civilian population.’ Yet on this action, the international community was entirely silent. The outrage over Israel’s “settlement” actions has no basis in law. Moving people is settlement activity, but only when done by Jews. Not moving people is also settlement activity. ‘Settlement activity’ has just become a term of opprobrium with legal pretensions” (Eugene Kontorovich, ‘Defining Settlements Down: the False “Appropriation” Hysteria,’ Commentary, September 4, 2014).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “The ZOA supports the recent decision by the Israeli government to designate 988 acres of land in Judea as state land.
“The land in question is vacant, as with state lands, and there are therefore no residents who might be adversely affected by such designation.
“Since the days of the British Palestine Mandate, the land in question has always been classed as public land. Its new designation as state land merely reaffirms this, following exhaustive investigation to ascertain that such a designation was not in conflict with any private property rights that might be have existed there. Having taken that precaution, there is no reasonable quibble to be made with an official reiteration of the status of this particular territory as being state lands, especially when there is provision in the designation for appeal by any private property holders who wish to assert claims to any part of it.
“The land in question is situated in the Eztion bloc, which was home to a substantial Jewish communities even before Israel was created, a presence that was ended by Jordanian and other Arab militias during the 1948-9 war, but which was re-established after 1967. It is an area which is widely accepted to be politically incorporated into Israel in any feasible peace treaty, should one emerge one day.
“This designation would be right and proper even if tenders for Jewish construction and development were being offered for this territory –– which it is not. In fact, the Netanyahu government has, wrongly in our view, placed in informal six-month moratorium on Jewish construction. J Street, which favors such acts is nonetheless attacking Israel for ‘seizing’ land, showing just how hostile to Israel it is. It won’t even give credit to Israel when the Israeli government does things it wants, preferring to misrepresent other actions for the purpose of whipping up pressure on Israel.
“Even a viciously anti-Israel partisan like former President Jimmy Carter has publicly stated regarding the Jewish communities in the Etzion bloc that, ‘This particular settlement area is not one I ever envision being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory.’
“The registration –– not ‘seizure’ or ‘annexation’ –– of the 988 acres in question is an entirely appropriate act that in no way diminishes the prospects of peace. Peace is presently impossible due to continuing Palestinian Arab refusal to accept the permanence and legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel and all the acts of terrorism, aggression and incitement to hatred and murder against Jews and Israel that flows from this –– not due to Israel correctly designating state lands.
“Whether one favors or disfavors Jews living in Judea/Samaria, no one should falsify the law in order to indict Israel as a violator of law. This is not the act of a genuine pro-Israel organization. The entire pro-Israel community in America should roundly condemn J Street for urging President Obama to falsely label Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria ‘illegal.’”