By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

The Wild East


The concept is vague and messy in a number of ways. Where does the Wild East begin? On the eastern border of what was Israel prior to the 1967 war? With or without the expansion of Jerusalem legislated by Israel but not recognized by other countries?

Another vagueness is how many Israelis have moved beyond those lines in the first and second of those conceptions.

Estimates range up to 800,000, with about half in the parts of Jerusalem defined as especially unkosher by the friendly part of the international community, Officially, those countries consider all of Jerusalem to be something other than an Israeli city, but they are especially annoyed by the expansion that Israel declared in 1967.

Official documents issued by the Jerusalem Consulate of the United States indicate that they come from “Jerusalem.” Note the absence of “Israel.” The Tel Aviv Embassy issues documents in “Tel Aviv, Israel.”

In practical if not legal terms, the U.S. and other friendly countries accept that Jerusalem is an Israeli city. They won’t call it Israel’s capital, but they treat it as Israel’s capital, with national leaders coming to Jerusalem to meet with Israeli officials. Some even go to the Western Wall, even though it is beyond the lines of 1967.

There seems to be three levels of the Wild East who are of varying sensitivity. There’s nothing official in this reckoning, only an assessment of what brings forth greater or lesser squawks and counter pressures.

Most offensive is what even some Israeli officials consider to be “illegal” settlements. These are tiny places, typically with trailers and expansions on hilltops throughout the West Best, often with less than a couple of hundred settlers. Most of these settlers came as singles or young couples, are intensely religious and nationalist, convinced that they are doing the Lord’s work by occupying the Promised Land.

Although not officially recognized, these settlements benefit from service provided by Israeli government units dealing with electricity and water, and they are protected by Israeli security personnel. Some of these settlements have existed for decades, and are viewed as kosher, permanent, and admirable by politicians and activists with power in the Knesset and Cabinet.

Less objectionable are the “major settlement blocks,” which have been around for decades, some with tens of thousands of residents, and rendered partly kosher by comments of Palestinian negotiators that they could be transferred to Israel in exchange for equivalent territorial compensation. The administration of GW Bush came close to recognizing them as almost Israeli, but the Obama administration backtracked.  

Israeli centrists tend to consider these settlement blocks permanent features of Israel, but serious leftists will neither reside in or even visit them. Intellectuals and performers have declared their boycott of the university in Ariel.

What qualifies as a major settlement block and what is outside the conception is its own fuzziness. Locales and approximate populations generally thought of as in the concept are Maale Adumim (40,000), Ariel (20,000), Efrat (8,000), Gush Ezion (20,000), Beitar Ilit (40,000), and Modiin Illit (46,000), but not so certain is the status of Beit El and its 6,000 residents.

Also providing a modicum of permanence is the security wall that Israel constructed through much of the West Bank in response to the violence of the Second Intifada that began in 2000. Yet a number of locales outside the wall are generally thought of as places that Israel will resist giving up.

The U.S., EU, and UN tend to object whenever Israel issues building permits for areas of Jerusalem annexed in 1967, but there are also levels of opposition depending where the construction is about to occur. Especially problematic are areas planned for hundreds of housing units that abut Palestinian communities or would hinder the easy movement of Palestinians between their towns or between the northern and southern areas of the West Bank.

Especially messy is a current squabble provoked by the Supreme Court’s declaration of the end to its patience, its rejection of a proposed delay, and its insistence that the settlement of Amona be vacated by December 25th.

Amona’s principal defenders in the Cabinet and Knesset have been Naftali Bennett and his colleagues in Jewish Home. In the air were threats of leaving of the coalition, causing a government crisis and election if something was not done. The matter is still not finalized, but Bennett et al have retreated from an absolute protection of Amona where it is to accepting a proposal that has passed through some but not all Cabinet and Knesset approvals, but still has the Attorney General saying that he cannot defend it when it will come before the Supreme Court.

Details include the creation of a new Amona elsewhere, composed of trailers supplied by authorities. There’s talk of asking the Supreme Court for an extension of 30 days to facilitate the move, but the justices may laugh that idea out of court. Moreover, the move will not come without resistance, with moderate violence, by residents and their supporters who feel themselves betrayed by Bennett and Jewish Home.

Legal protection provided to some 4,000 housing units built on land claimed as owned by individual Palestinians, with financial compensation made available to those Palestinians who can convince a court that they are the proper owners.

Likud MK Benny Begin voted against this proposal, and was punished by a suspension of certain Knesset rights for breaking party discipline. 

Begin, along with the attorney general, is among those who see the proposal as likely to cause more problems for Israel on the international scene.

Optimists see support coming from Donald Trump. Pessimists fear that Donald Trump will not be as friendly as president as he was as campaigner.

Palestinian claims of ownership and counter claims by Jewish residents are among the messy elements of the Wild East. Experts quarrel about documentation of land registration and the papers ostensibly signed by owners giving over the land to developers who then subdivided it for sale to individual families.

Also in the air are disputes among Israeli activists and officials about the propriety of any settlement beyond what was Israeli prior to 1967. The conventional international view, accepted by a number of Israeli activists and attorneys is that any construction over the 1967 lines violates international law. Yet another view is that international law is muddied by the sequence of the Ottoman Empire, British Mandate, UN decisions, the 1948 war, and Jordanian occupation. Such people view the area as “disputed” rather “Palestinian land occupied by Israel,” and say that it is open to Israeli settlement.

Reinforcing the pro-settlement view is the rejection by Palestinians of several proposals to compromise, offered by Israeli officials and reinforced by foreign mediators. They’ve had their chance is a summary of this view, with Israeli activists feeling that history can neither be turned back nor frozen.

Comments welcome, including proposals old and new, assuming that there might be ideas for these aged issues that we have yet to consider.


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