Opinion

The U.S. Believes Israel Is Allowed to Rule Here. But What About Us?

The Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron in the West Bank, November 19, 2019.
HAZEM BADER / AFP

The U.S. policy change is encouraging – for years we’ve been hearing from anti-Israel officials – Jews and non-Jews – that the settlements aren’t legal according to international law. But there are different legal interpretations regarding the legal status of the settlements.

For example, early this decade, former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy didn’t invent the wheel when headed a special committee on land ownership in the West Bank – he based his report on major jurists’ work and international law. But the Americans’ declaration last week won’t be worth a lot if Israel doesn’t use it to create facts on the ground.

Some people said immediately after the announcement that it was worthless. These are the same people who said in the past that if according to the United States the settlements aren’t legal, we’d better come to terms with it because this is “our greatest friend.” But lo, our greatest friend has changed its position and now the same people say the move is unimportant.

There is pessimism on the right, and for good reason: Israel has a tendency to be its own greatest obstacle. There’s no certainty the U.S. Embassy would have been moved to Jerusalem had the issue depended only on Israel, because we don’t apply enough pressure. Jews aren’t allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. There isn’t enough construction in Judea and Samaria because we don’t build enough. The European Union interferes with events in the West Bank’s Area C, where Israel supposedly has exclusive control, because Israel lets it. Israel is a power, but sometimes it seems it doesn’t know how to behave like one.

It’s important to understand: A Palestinian state will be established, it’s a matter of time. The moment a weak prime minister is elected and tremendous international pressure is put on them, it will happen. The Palestinian state may not last long – amid internal intrigue, identity problems and struggles over dependence on the Jewish state – but it will arise.

Until that happens, Israel must improve its positions on every possible front. It needs every territory where it can rule and quality foreign relations – and the nation in Zion must believe in the rightness of its cause and the moral justification of its presence here. The American declaration marks a check in all those boxes.

Recently I met with representatives of the European Union in Israel; they said they weren’t permitted to cross the Green Line into the West Bank. I asked them, if they’re not allowed to cross the Green Line, how come they’re building in Area C? They said this was being done under international law and the area doesn’t belong to Israel. Their international law, of course, the crumbling European Union’s.

Now the United States is disputing that international law. To a certain extent, the declaration can also be seen as a response to the European Union’s decision to mark products from the West Bank.

But although the U.S. announcement is encouraging, there’s no need to gloat or celebrate. It’s better for things to be done quietly, for us to deepen our hold on the land, one more dunam at a time, without flaunting it. Israel must renew its belief in its moral justification and legitimacy to rule here and act accordingly. If the Americans believe it, why shouldn’t we?