Are Israeli Settlements the Barrier to Peace?





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Published on Jan 12, 2015

Is Israel's policy of building civilian communities in the West Bank the reason there's no peace agreement with the Palestinians? Or would there still be no peace even if Israel removed all of its settlements and evicted Israeli settlers, as it did in Gaza in 2005? Renowned Harvard professor and legal scholar Alan Dershowitz explains.
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Is Israel's policy of building civilian communities in the area known as the West Bank the reason there is no permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians?

The answer to that question, despite all the sound and fury regarding the so-called settlement issue, is no.

The Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not the major barrier to a peace agreement.

A little historical context will make this clear.

For two decades before June of 1967, the West Bank, including much of Jerusalem, was controlled by Jordan. During that time -- a time when Israel did not have a single settlement -- there were numerous Palestinian terror attacks against the nation state of the Jewish people. In other words, Palestinians committed terror attacks against Israel when there were no settlements and they committed terror attacks against Israel when there were settlements.

If Israel were to pull out of every single settlement in the West Bank tomorrow, it's unlikely that anything much would change. In fact, if history is any indicator, Israel could be worse off.

In 2005, Israel abandoned every single community, every house, every farm, every structure it had built in the Gaza Strip. How did the Palestinians of Gaza react? They launched thousands of rockets and numerous other terror attacks against the nation state of the Jewish people. The attacks continue to this very day. And every year the range of these rockets get longer and their payloads more lethal. Only a very sophisticated Israeli anti-missile defense keeps the country secure. Can you blame Israel for not wanting to risk a two-front rocket war?

But Israel has no right to be in the West Bank at all, many say. So, permit me, a law professor at Harvard, to say that on the basis of international law this position is incorrect.

Military occupations are clearly permitted under international law following an aggressive attack by a neighboring state. Jordan, Israel's neighbor to the East, attacked Israel in 1967, despite Israel's repeated efforts to keep Jordan out of the Six Day War.

In defending itself against Jordan, Israel captured the West Bank and the eastern part of Jerusalem. Under international law, until a meaningful peace is achieved and all terrorism against it ceases, Israel has every right to retain military control over this area. Since no peace treaty has been reached and the terrorism continues with new attacks threatened almost daily, Israel is under no legal obligation to leave. Given the danger that Israel would be putting itself in if it did leave the West Bank -- exposing its major cities and international airport to rocket attacks -- it would be irresponsible to do so, which is why Israel is still there.

Nevertheless I fully acknowledge that a military occupation is significantly different, both as a matter of law and politics, from building civilian settlements even in a territory that is legitimately subject to a military occupation. That's why I have long opposed the building of settlements in the West Bank. I believe it has caused resentment and has given enemies of Israel an excuse to attack the legitimacy of the occupation in general.

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