It seems that, over the past few years, the United Nations has made it a habit of putting forward a piece of toothless legislation meant to slap Israel in the face, only to have the American Jewish population cry out in protest. The American government has gotten quieter and quieter in their support of Israel, moving from a die-hard support of Israel to a far more tepid policy, one that says support out of the mouth, but actions that leave the question open to interpretation.
This time around, the UN has put forward a resolution in which it calls out Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, and the pattern starts all over again. The problem is, the situation appears totally devoid of context, and leaves Israel open to fundamentally unwarranted character criticism.
Let’s start with the settlements. In the early 2005, the Israeli government disengaged from Gaza, essentially forfeiting the territory to complete Palestinian rule. The Gaza Strip and West Bank proceeded to become the central hub for Palestinians living in the Middle East, and, today, is controlled by the majority party of the Palestinian authority, Fatah. It is vital to note that Fatah, in an election in 2006, turned over control to Hamas, a known terror organization with rampant hostility to the Jews and the Jewish state.
After the removal of Israelis from Gaza in the mid 2000s, Jewish settlers have since moved into the areas at the boundaries of the settlements, slowly choking off what little spaces exist in the territories to begin with. These are Jewish families who believe that Israel’s government had no right to give land away, and that they will ignore whatever anyone has to say about it: this land is Israel. Period. It is impossible to ignore the fact that cost of living in these areas is also dramatically lower, making it to one’s financial benefit to intrude on Palestinian land, rather than to live in Israel proper.
This is where today’s politics get nasty. On the one hand, the settlements are terrible for the state of Israel. In effect, these individuals are forgoing Israel’s policy on land and impeding on the land that Israel gave up. To the international community, this looks as though Israel is unwilling to follow the agreements they established a decade ago. Yet, to attack the settlers, one essentially must attack Israel for not having done enough to stop them, and thus seem to be in opposition with Israel.
Israel, of course, has an obligation to ensure that its citizens are abiding by the law and living where they are supposed to live. But, that means that Israel is guilty of being negligent, not malicious, or unable to control its people, not governmental encroachment. Israel would hardly be the only country in the world without a strong grip on their population. It’s part of the cost of a democracy, something that Israel knows in a Middle East without a peer in that regard.
To make matters worse, Fatah seems to love talking about the settlements. By continually having Jews encroaching on their land, they are able to argue that the Israelis are bullying them, that they are somehow abusing them day in and day out. It doesn’t matter what else Israel does in aid, it doesn’t matter what other humanitarian actions Israel takes. This is a constant ace-in-the-hole for the Palestinians to remind the world that the Israelis refuse to keep their people where they belong. Regardless of what Palestinians do to Jews in Israel, the fact that Jews encroach on their land is enough to play the sob story on international television.
What had once been a fairly mundane plot to make Israel look bad has now turned into a real problem, because America fell for the trick hook, line, and sinker. America has every right to be in opposition to settlements. Settlements are not only bad for Palestinians, but bad for Israel’s own work in defending itself on the world’s stage. To say that settlements are bad for peace is a relative no-brainer. The problem is, those statements need to come within the context of full support of Israel and the work that Israel is doing to create a safe homeland for Jewish people, and for the right of Israel to exist.
Where the Obama administration has failed the Jewish people isn’t in agreeing with the notion of UN’s issue with settlements. The issue is that they haven’t said anything else. They haven’t done nearly enough to establish that the settlements are an ill created by a fringe community of rogue Israelis, and that the real, true state of Israel is better than that. The President and his staff have an obligation to educate the public and create understanding regarding what role Israel has to play, and why a country with a bad situation is not inherently a bad country (a notion that a country as divided as America right now should be able to understand.)
The political situation in the Middle East right now is playing off of the ignorance of the public. The settlements are a problem for Israel, and one that, if Israel was smart, they would get control over immediately. But by the United Nations taking cheap-shots at Israel for their treatment of the Palestinians, it helps to establish a global distrust and animosity toward the Jewish state that it does not deserve. By stripping the situation of its context, the Jews and the Israelis are left completely open to criticism and critique, and need the help of the American people and the American government to stand up for them.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry have been working hard to try to create an environment for peace in the Middle East. Along the way, they have tried to get the Israelis to play nice while they are chastised and ridiculed in front of the world, while the Palestinians continue to refuse to come to the negotiating table. Why would they come to the table when the world will create bad press and hatred toward the Jews for them? It’s time that the American government stop holding different standards for the Israelis and the Palestinians, and demand that the Arabs meet the same level of scrutiny, something that has been woefully absent in the discussion.
Settlements are a problem for Israel, and should be dealt with. On their own, a criticism of the settlements is perfectly reasonable. But without the proper context, a political attack on Israel of this nature could have catastrophic repercussions not only for Israel, but for the relationship with the United States.