To whom does the land belong?

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations. – Charter of the United Nations, chap. 1, art. 2, p. 4

In May 1948, with the end of the British Mandate, various Arab nations invaded Palestine with the encouragement of their patron, Britain, with the intention of seizing the territory for themselves. In particular, Jordan (then called Transjordan) occupied Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, killing or driving out the Jewish population of these areas.

The Mandate, which was established for the benefit of the Jewish people and which called for settlement of Jews in what was then called Palestine, echoed the language of the Balfour declaration, which referred to a “national home” for the Jewish people. The Zionist leadership of the yishuv (the pre-state entity in the land of Israel) quite reasonably interpreted this as a sovereign state. But the British preferred to see it become part of its Arab client states or at least ruled by Arabs.  They had gotten used to “Palestine” as part of their empire, and didn’t trust the Zionists. They also feared Soviet influence over a Jewish state, since the leadership of the yishuv represented the left wing of Zionism. And of course the usual anti-Jewish attitudes played a role.

So Britain subverted the Mandate by being partial to the Arabs throughout its existence, encouraged Arabs from the region to immigrate to Palestine, fought against Jewish immigration – even for Jews fleeing the Holocaust – tried to prevent the declaration of the Jewish state in 1948, and supported the Arab invaders with arms and even British officers.

In 1949, the new state of Israel and Jordan signed a ceasefire agreement which delineated the boundary between the Israeli- and Jordanian-controlled areas. Moshe Dayan drew a line on a map with a green pencil, and this boundary henceforth was called the Green Line. The cease-fire agreement very clearly stated that the Green Line was not a border; it had no political significance and only marked the locations of the opposing forces at the time of their disengagement. The Jordanians were adamant about this, because they viewed the situation as unsatisfactory and temporary: they did not accept the existence of any Jewish state in “Palestine” and intended to eliminate it in the future. In 1950, Jordan violated the UN Charter and annexed the territory it had acquired by aggression, calling it the “West Bank.” Only Britain and its client Pakistan recognized the annexation.

In 1967, Jordan again attacked Israel, and as a result Israel conquered the area that Jordan had been illegally occupying.

To whom does this land belong?

Israel, the state of the Jewish people who were the intended beneficiary of the Mandate, would seem to have the strongest claim. But at this point another claimant arose, the PLO. The PLO, with Soviet help, jumped on the bandwagon of decolonization and fraudulently claimed to represent an indigenous “Palestinian people” that had been dispossessed by Jewish colonists. It received great support at the UN and throughout the “international community” as a result of the influence of Arab oil-producers, by terrorist blackmail of European nations, and again because of anti-Jewish attitudes. Its narrative fit in quite well with fashionable “third-worldism” and anti-racism (despite the fact that its own ideology was itself highly racist).

During the period of 1967-1988, Jordan maintained significant influence in the territories, paying salaries and pensions to civil servants and providing other benefits to inhabitants. Israel did not object to this and allowed the continuation of Jordanian law for such things as land transfers. Israel acted as a military occupier even though the land she was “occupying” did not belong to any other state. But she hoped that at some point there would be a peace agreement in which part of the territory would be given to Jordan and the rest annexed to Israel.

In hindsight this was a bad idea, since it weakened Israel’s claim to having liberated land that originally belonged to her. It made room for the unsound Geneva Convention arguments for the illegality of Jewish settlements.

In 1988, Jordan renounced all claims to Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem in favor of the PLO. It should be obvious that King Hussein did not have the right to give away what he did not own – not the parcels of land that he had used to bribe local sheikhs prior to 1967 and which so bedevil Israel’s settlement enterprise today, and not the totality of Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem to the PLO.

In 1993, Israel made a further mistake, this one disastrous for the prospect of peace and Israel’s security, when she signed Oslo I and recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the “Palestinian people.” This validated the fraud which elevated the descendants of recent Arab migrants to a “people” with an equal or greater claim on the land than the Jews, and which gave new life to the moribund PLO – which was and still is a corrupt band of gangsters and terrorists who extort and exploit the Arabs under its control, while it indoctrinates them to extreme hatred and incites murder.

But after all this, the question remains: to whom does the land belong?

The American position on this has evolved over the years, in my opinion in the wrong direction. UNSC resolution 242 was passed after the 1967 war, and it was interpreted by the West (but not by the Soviets or Arabs) to mean that Israel would return some of the territory it had conquered to Jordan, Egypt and Syria in return for agreements to end the conflict. How much and which land would be returned would depend on what was needed for “secure and recognized boundaries.” There was no suggestion that Israel had to compensate anyone if she did not return 100% of the territory. There was no implication that the land across the Green Line was prima facie the property of the Arabs.

In discussions between Israel and the PLO during the 1990s, the idea of land swaps was raised. After all, Israel had given Egypt 100% of the Sinai in return for peace; weren’t the Palestinians also entitled to 100%? And if Israel kept settlement blocs, then shouldn’t she give the Palestinians an equal amount of land from somewhere else so they wouldn’t be “cheated?” Land swaps were discussed in President Clinton’s negotiations in 2000-1, and also proposed by Ehud Olmert in 2008, but in both cases no agreement was reached. The swap idea was just a proposal to make the deal more attractive.

President Obama, however, introduced the idea of “1967 lines with mutually-agreed swaps” as a firm basis for negotiation in 2011. This represents a significant shift away from UNSC 242, by requiring compensation for land across the Green Line that becomes part of Israel. It implies that the PLO has title to this land now, and must be paid for whatever Israel takes. But this is sheer nonsense: Jordan could not bequeath to the PLO what it didn’t possess, either de facto or de jure.

Obama, unfortunately, is not a student of history but an ideologue; and the ideology that appeals to him is that of the “plight of the Palestinian people,” about which he has been talking since his Cairo speech in 2009. And he has chosen to take action in the last days of his administration to make the diplomatic landscape fit that ideology.

The position that all land across the Green Line is “Palestinian land” has now been formalized in UNSC resolution 2334, passed in December when the US did not veto it, and which the Israeli government believes was actually “created” by the Obama Administration. Note that while the resolution affirms UNSC 242, it goes on to contradict the long-held Western interpretation of it.

Much of the erosion of Israel’s position can be laid at her own feet. She should have been more aggressive about claiming her rights early on. But I think that today – before the second shoe of the pair that includes UNSC 2334 drops – Israel should make a clear statement of her rights to the land, something like this:

Israel believes that her claim to Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, based on the Mandate for Palestine and her historical claim of aboriginal rights [explicated here by Allen Hertz] to the Land of Israel, is stronger than that of any other claimant. Israel would be within her rights to annex these areas today.

Israel categorically rejects UNSC 2334 and the idea that she does not hold title to all of the land in question.

Nevertheless, Israel has on several occasions been willing to cede some of the land in return for a real peace agreement that ends the conflict and cancels all Arab claims (including right of return) against Israel.

However, any such agreement must, in the words of UNSC 242, provide for “secure and recognized boundaries,” which include continued Israeli possession of certain strategic areas like the Jordan Valley and the hill country adjacent to Israel’s population centers.

Israel’s security is also not consistent with a fully sovereign Palestinian entity. Such an entity must be demilitarized and Israel must retain control of airspace and other strategic features of the territory.

The PLO would never agree, since this directly contradicts its narrative. But it’s the truth.

Go for it, Bibi.

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