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Israel must overcome the logic of 'formative territory'

A recent op-ed by a former cabinet member shines light on the right wing’s approach to the West Bank, or what it calls the ‘formative territory’ of the Land of Israel. However, according to the right’s logic, Israel doesn’t have a right to a good chunk of the land currently under its control. Lorenzo Kamel unpacks the contradictions.

By Lorenzo Kamel

Maale Adumim settlement near east of Jerusalem (Activestills.org)

In a recent article published on Al-Monitor, Israeli lawyer and former cabinet secretary in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government Zvi Hauser claims that the “territory intended for the Palestinian state was the ‘formative territory’ of the Jewish people, where the Jewish civilization took shape,” and that the “two-state” vision of Palestinian diplomacy consists of a Palestinian national state free of any Jewish presence.

This opinion reasserts the position included in a working paper published on the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s website, which claims that Palestinians “are demanding that every Jew leave the West Bank, a form of ethnic cleansing. By contrast, within Israel, Arabs and Jews live side-by-side.” In order to further strengthen this position, it is often claimed that “Judea and Samaria,” as Netanyahu once remarked, “cannot be Judenrein” and that the Palestinian Authority, following a pre-1967 Jordanian policy, has a law banning the sale of property to Jews.

The Jordanian law banned land sales to Israeli citizens, not to Jews. The law was passed in 1973, when Israel and Jordan were still technically in a state of war. Although morally objectionable, it is hardly surprising that a state is committed to ban land transfers to citizens of an enemy country in wartime.

Many intellectuals and Palestinian leaders in the West Bank have clarified on several occasions that any Jew who wants to live in their community must be free to do so. To this, Nazmi Jubeh, an internationally-renowned Palestinian archaeologist, added, “when Israel was created, the Palestinians were already here and accounted for the vast majority of the local population. This is why there are now over one million Palestinians in Israel. In contrast, Israeli settlers arrived in the Palestinian territories through violence and incentives received in recent years from Israeli governments. Equating the former to the latter is not only simplistic, but also morally reprehensible.”

If settlers should be entitled to see their actions justified ipso facto because the “territory intended for the Palestinian state was the ‘formative territory’ of the Jewish people,” then the same consistent approach must be applied to the entire history of the region.

Using the “formative territory” logic consistently would mean that Israel should give up the coast between Ashdod and Ashkelon, which was never a part of the ancient Israelite kingdoms. The numerous archaeological expeditions carried out over decades in Ashkelon – one of five ancient Philistine cities that today encompasses what was, until 1948, the Palestinian village of al-Majdal – have shown that it was never conquered by the ancient Israelites. And even if one assumes that there was a conquest, the occupation of an area for a few years does not mean that it represented part of the a “formative territory.” Otherwise, the many Philistine raids and occupations of Israelite towns as far east as the Jordan Valley would also make these areas “less” Israelite.

The same logic must apply to international consensus. A good example is provided by the Palestinian village of Umm Rashrash, present-day Eilat. It was taken by the Negev and Golani Brigades on March 10, 1949, eight months after the United Nations Security Council’s resolution No. 54 called for a ceasefire, forbidding any acquisition of territory from that date on.

It is only thanks to an established international consensus – expressed by 160 countries – that Eilat is today legitimately part of the State of Israel. The same international consensus that established the illegality of settlements. It is not possible to invoke international consensus over Eilat (and other areas), while disregarding it for the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The tendency to overlook the selective use of the “formative territory” logic and international consensus, while reducing every discussion to security, doesn’t fully take into account the complexity of the issue.

This is even more so the case when considering the fact that Israel’s admission to the United Nations was not unconditional, but bound to its compliance with its assurances regarding the implementation of the UN’s Charter and other resolutions (Israel’s original application for admission was, not by chance, rejected by the UNSC).

Furthermore, before the establishment of the UN, the right granted to the Jewish people to settle in the mandated territories was neither exclusive nor unlimited, but explicitly subordinated to the protection of the “rights and position of other sections of the population.” Those very same rights are currently being violated by the continuous funding allotted to new settlements and through the exploitation of local natural resources, a policy specifically prohibited by the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907.

Although Israel/Palestine has two peoples with two different deeply rooted rights, there is only one international consensus. Peace starts from there.

Lorenzo Kamel is an historian at Bologna University.

Read more:
Housing Ministry publishes massive settlement plan, Netanyahu orders review
Israeli exceptionalism at the United Nations

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    1. Mike

      i fully agree with the content.international consensus is the only recipe for a lasting
      Peace.first,however,we have to deconstruct both narratives.

      Reply to Comment
      • Palestinian

        The Zionists came to us from Europe and Russia to establish a Jewish state in our homeland,is that a “narrative” ?

        Reply to Comment
        • CigarButNoNice

          Jews are Jews wherever thry come from, and their roots are in the Land of Israel no matter where they were born. That’s not a narrative, that’s the truth to counter your racist, DNA-based, revisionist Arab imperialist Big Lie.

          Arab colonists, get out of the Jewish nation’s homeland! No justice, no peace! All Arab settlements on Jewish land are illegal!

          Reply to Comment
          • Mary

            Cigar&palestinian: the two of you remind us why we are where we are. this is a lose-lose situation. you dont have to love your “enemy”, but to learn to respect her/him. Btw, this is a superarticle.

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinian

            Myths are myths and delusions are delusions.Have you read the latest genetic study ? 4 European women (who probably didn’t carry the holy magical chosen genes) founded 40% of the Jewish European population.

            Yalla khabibi pack your bags and book a one-way ticket nach Europa.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Tomer

      Re: before the establishment of the UN, the right granted to the Jewish people to settle in the mandated territories was neither exclusive nor unlimited, but explicitly subordinated to the protection of the “rights and position of other sections of the population.”

      The Jews were on this Land thousands of years before the Versailles Settlement of WW1 was agreed. When Versailles itself was inhabited by stone aged hunter-gatherers, we were discussing laws on humanity in the Temple in Yerushalyim. Because of these reasons, the UN, League of Nations, Versailles etc etc has no right to tell us anything!

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        “When Versailles itself was inhabited by stone aged hunter-gatherers, we were discussing laws on humanity in the Temple in Yerushalyim”

        By ‘we’, I take it you mean you, Bibi, King David and Elijah the prophet?

        Also – FYI Yerushalayim was a Philistine city before it was an Israelite one. It was never Jewish, until about 65 years ago.

        Reply to Comment
        • rose

          “It was never Jewish, until about 65 years ago”. Danny, are you serious? Respect the other if you want to be respected: this applies to Palestinians and Israelis alike.

          Reply to Comment
          • CigarButNoNice

            “Respect the other if you want to be respected”

            That has never been the Arab imperialists’ intention. Not now, not 120 years ago when Jews started throwing off the yoke of Islamic apartheid (that, not Jewish aliyah in and of itself, was what they hated about Zionism when they became aware of it in the late 19th century. Jews must “know their place.”)

            “this applies to Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

            The whole point of calling the Arab settlers on the Land of Israel “Palestinians” is to negate the Jewish right to the land by positing the Arabs as “indigenous,” which by dint of logic makes it as if the Jews were “colonists.” Historical falsification and turning reality on its head. The lack of respect begins from the very onset, with the terminology employed.

            I don’t respect those who deny 3000 years of Jewish history any more than I do those who deny what happened 70 years ago.

            Reply to Comment
          • tod

            There is nothing like “Arab imperialists’ intention”. And your claim “of calling the Arab settlers on the Land of Israel “Palestinians”” shows utter ignorance.

            In Maxime Rodinson words:
            “The Arab population of Palestine were native in all the usual senses of that word. Ignorance, sometimes backed up by hypocritical propaganda, has spread a number of misconceptions on this subject, unfortunately very widely held. It has been said that since the Arabs took the country by military conquest in the seventh century, they are occupiers like any other, like the Romans, the Crusaders and the Turks. Why therefore should they be regarded as any more native than the others, and in particular than the Jews, who were native to that country in ancient times, or at least occupiers of longer standing? To the historian the answer is obvious. A small contingent of Arabs from Arabia did indeed conquer the country in the seventh century. But as a result of factors which were briefly outlined in the first chapter of this book, the Palestinian population soon became Arabized under Arab domination, just as earlier it had been Hebraicized, Aramaicized, to some degree even Hellenized. It became Arab in a way that it was never to become Latinized or Ottomanized. The invaded melted with the invaders. It is ridiculous to call the English of today invaders and occupiers, on the grounds that England was conquered from Celtic peoples by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in the fifth and sixth centuries. The population was “Anglicized” and nobody suggests that the peoples which have more or less preserved the Celtic tongues – the Irish, the Welsh or the Bretons – should be regarded as the true natives of Kent or Suffolk, with greater titles to these territories than the English who live in those counties.”

            Reply to Comment
      • rose

        ‘The Jews were on this Land thousands of years before the Versailles Settlement’: Who claimed the contrary?

        ‘When Versailles itself was inhabited by stone aged hunter-gatherers, we were discussing laws on humanity in the Temple in Yerushalyim’:
        The land between the Jordan and the Med Sea was never inhabited by 1 single people in its entire history. Furthermore, Yerushalyim was known as Uru-Shalem in the Egyptian Execration texts, much before King David. History doesn’t start from where you wish.

        “Because of these reasons, the UN, League of Nations, Versailles etc etc has no right to tell us anything!”:
        To write that you are allowed to occupy the Palestinian Territories and to do whatever you want because of what you claim is problematic.

        Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        Before the beginning of the world (i.e. 3777 BCE?) there were hunter gatherers in France who left exquisite paintings in the caves. After the beginning of the world, France was agricultural and the French were busy making nice rows of standing stones.

        Some three thousand years later the sages in Yerushalaim were debating if shrimp are OK to eat or not.

        Reply to Comment
    3. It is hard to argue with Yahweh, fountain of all Being, even that of the promised obliterated. The command was to conquer; winning might take a while.

      While nascent Israel agreed to the UN boundaries of Statehood, and agreed to form a constitution delineating certain rights, neither of which held, wars alter territorial boundaries, and a State may change its internal structure. I believe that the Israeli Declaration of Independence has potential power within Israeli jurisprudence but not exterior to the State; its up to them to decide what their history has done to them. Otherwise, history seems to be employed to mask the loss of human life and potential which occurs in the West Bank. Each historical point against Israel is met by one for Israel, and incremental expansion into the Bank continues.

      Harm done now is the only key I see, coupled with how that influence what Israeli law becomes. It is a long struggle which presently offers little if any immediate gain to resident Bank Palestinians. But there is no viable alternative.

      Reply to Comment