A Palestinian stands on his property overlooking the Israeli settlement Har Homa, West Bank, February 18, 2011. UPI/Debbie Hill

Israeli Settlements: More than just ‘Obstacles to Peace’

By Robert Fantina/

With the election of businessman and erstwhile reality TV star Donald Trump to the presidency, all conventional political ‘wisdom’ was upended. This, in and of itself, may not be a bad thing, and if that was the only concern wrought by this election, the situation wouldn’t be too bad. However, Mr. Trump has, apparently, made the United States once again safe for racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and xenophobia.

Now, let us hasten to say that the U.S. was hardly ever a bastion of freedom from those ugly vices; racism and homophobia were enshrined as law for generations, and even today, while regulations are supposed to prevent them, they haven’t been very far from the surface. But with Mr. Trump ‘punching’ people dressed as stereotypical Mexicans (huge sombreros; ponchos) at his rallies, his call for banning Muslims from entering the country, and his unqualified support for the police over their black victims, many U.S. citizens who attempted to hide their various irrational prejudices are now free to come out of the closet (a term that would mightily offend them), and spew their hatred hither and yon about the country.

One among the many of the president-elect’s bizarre opinions is that the construction of settlements by Israel on Palestinian land is not an obstacle to peace. Let’s be sure we all understand exactly what he is talking about. Palestinians own land; it is part of Palestine and, like U.S. citizens who purchase a piece of property within the United States of America and construct a house on it, this same situation is true in Palestine. Palestinians live there, subject to the laws and regulations of Palestine.

Along come Israeli bulldozers, accompanied by soldiers. The soldiers advise the Palestinian homeowner that he or she must vacate, along with their family, sometimes immediately, because their house is going to be demolished, to make room for new housing that only Israelis can live in. This happens thousands of times a year, and has for decades. The homeowner grabs his or her family, and whatever possessions they can all carry, and runs from the home, as demolition begins.

Does this not seem like something that might discourage Palestinians from sitting down with the Israelis to negotiate anything?

Yet this goes beyond a conflict between two nations; it is a violation of international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention states the following, in part:

  • “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.” Article 49.  At least hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been forcibly transferred from the occupied territory.
  • The occupying power “…may not transfer parts of its own civilian population into occupied territory.” Articles 47 and 48. Israel has transferred over 500,000 members of its ‘civilian population’ onto Palestinian land.

This just concerns the settlements; additional violations of international law, not to mention human rights and common decency, will not be discussed here. What is of concern is the way the settlements are referred to in the United States. During the administration of outgoing President Barack Obama, they were referred to as obstacles to peace. Indeed they are, but why has political rhetoric in the U.S. dropped the words ‘violation of international law’? Multiple United Nations resolutions so describe them, and the U.S. has only in the last decade or so begun vetoing such resolutions.

During her campaign for the presidency, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this about Israel:  “Israel is more than a country — it’s a dream nurtured for generations and made real by men and women who refused to bow to the toughest odds.” This writer fights nausea when seeing that statement.

Things improved just a tad during former senator John Kerry’s term as Secretary of State. Hardly a man of great courage (he apparently used up his quota of bravery decades ago when opposing the war in Vietnam, after having been stationed there), he did criticize the settlements, without uttering the idea about them violating international law. And, of course, he strongly supported the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in 2014. Again, no mention of the violation of any international law, such as those forbidding the bombing of residences, hospitals, schools, press vehicles and offices, houses of worship and United Nations refugee centers. Israel probably shouldn’t have done some of those things, he intimated, but never said they violated international law. A State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. was ‘appalled’ by the Israeli bombing of a refugee center. Yet the words, ‘violation of international law’ never escaped her lips.

Now, we all know that everything that happens in the world that Israel doesn’t like it calls an existential threat. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, U.N resolutions criticizing any Israeli behaviors: the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement; tepid criticism from the U.S. about anything; the International Criminal Court investigation of possible Israeli war crimes; the international soccer association looking into Israeli violations of its rules. Each of these, and many more things, apparently brings Israel just a step away from imminent extinction.

And now President-elect Trump does not see illegal settlements as obstacles to peace. Palestine, he believes, should negotiate with Israel for a final resolution to their decades-old ‘conflict’.

This writer knows he risks boring the reader by repeating, once again, and for the edification of Mr. Trump (who won’t read this; he is certainly unaware of the existence of this writer, or any other member of the 99%), that negotiations can only occur when each party has something the other wants, that can only be obtained by surrendering something it has. Israel takes whatever it wants from Palestine (land, water, etc.) with complete international impunity. Palestine has nothing to negotiate, because the global community allows Israel’s ongoing crimes.

So what is the solution? Allow this writer to suggest a novel idea: force Israel to abide by international law. There; it has been said. But, certainly, Israel would see this as an existential threat. It would require vacating the settlements, withdrawing to the pre-1967 borders, ending the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and dismantling all checkpoints within the West Bank. It would mean the removal of all Israeli soldiers (read: terrorists) from the West Bank.

It is said the at one point during the worthless, meaningless negotiations that went on for decades, that the U.S. offered to provide soldiers to ‘protect’ Israel’s borders. Israeli leaders dismissed this idea, saying that only Israelis could protect its borders. What was left unsaid was that Israeli soldiers, unlike U.S. soldiers, could be relied upon to change those borders, constantly encroaching more and more on Palestinian land. Preventing this, of course, could not be countenanced.

With Mr. Trump now measuring the Oval Office for new drapes, the concept of law, international or otherwise, will take a severe beating.  Young black men, whose lives are in great jeopardy anyway, are in for a far worse time. Muslims, gays, women, the poor, the unemployed, etc. all are at greater risk now.

As for Palestine, it is to be hoped that, with Mr. Trump as president, the rest of the world will awaken, and realized that it can no longer leave it to the U.S. to attempt to facilitate ‘negotiations’. The world must act for Palestine. International law, human rights and common human decency demand it.