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2012-07-11

Are Israeli Settlements Legal? Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah vs. Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin

Guests

Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine. His latest piece is called "Settlements’ Legality Won’t Prevent Peace." Tobin’s columns have also regularly appeared in the Jerusalem Post and elsewhere.

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

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An Israeli government committee has affirmed the country’s self-proclaimed right to build settlements throughout the occupied West Bank and recommended the legalization of dozens of settler outposts that have not received government authorization. The International Court of Justice has already ruled that all of Israel’s West Bank settlements are illegal, but Israel has said it would only consider dismantling scattered outposts that it has not officially approved. The settlers have used the outposts to seize even more Palestinian land than has already been taken. We host a debate between Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine, and Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Israel and the Occupied Territories, an Israeli government committee has affirmed the country’s self-proclaimed right to build settlements throughout the occupied West Bank and recommended the legalization of dozens of settler outposts that have not received government authorization. The International Court of Justice has already ruled that all of Israel’s West Bank settlements are illegal, but Israel has said it would only consider dismantling scattered outposts that it has not officially approved. The settlers have used the outposts to seize even more Palestinian land than has already been taken.

Using the Jewish biblical terms for the West Bank, Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau said the panel’s findings affirmed settlers’ rights to maintain the outposts, as well.

UZI LANDAU: It’s a highly authoritative document, which not only spells out again the right of the Jews to settle all over Judea and Samaria, as was originally decided upon by the League of Nations.

AMY GOODMAN: Responding to the report by the three-member commission, the Palestinian Fatah party led by President Mahmoud Abbas said the conclusions were, quote, a "farce that mocked and defied the international community."

Well, to talk more about the significance of the commission’s report, we host a debate. In Philadelphia, we’re joined by Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine. His latest piece is called "Settlements’ Legality Won’t Prevent Peace." Tobin’s columns have also regularly appeared in the Jerusalem Post and elsewhere. In Chicago, we’re joined by Ali Abunimah, the co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Jonathan Tobin. Jonathan, your response to this Israeli government report saying that the settlements are legal?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Well, it’s reaffirming a position that Israel has long held. Obviously it’s one that’s not popular with the international community, which has, I think unfortunately, conflated the unpopularity of the settlements, or the questions about the wisdom of the settlements, with questions of illegality, because under international law—and I think Israel’s position is quite sound—the right of the Jews to live in the West Bank was guaranteed in the League of Nations mandate for Palestine, which was the last sovereign in that area that was recognized by everybody.

But I think the point here is that recognizing that they’re legal, I think, should get us onto a point of, well, how do we get to peace? Because the focus on their, quote-unquote, "illegality" has allowed the Palestinians to sort of remain in the fantasy that the Jews can be thrown out willy-nilly, that the—not only to go back to the 1949 lines, but it goes to their refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where the borders are drawn. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, let’s get your response.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Hi, Amy.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all go out and commit whatever crimes we wanted and then don a judge’s robe and declare it all to be perfectly legal and above board? Because that’s exactly what’s happened here. And Jonathan Tobin, when he talks about the settlements being unpopular, is being generous, because, in fact, these tired propaganda points in this Israeli government-commissioned report have been rejected legally time and time again, decade after decade, by every international body and every international jurist that has looked at this.

I think what’s really going on here is, Israel recognizes that its violent settler-colonial enterprise in the occupied West Bank has no international legitimacy, that the world is inching much too slowly towards actually beginning to impose a cost on Israel for this. And so, Israel is trying to manufacture legitimacy for a totally illegitimate settler-colonial enterprise, maintained through violence and a system of military tyranny and apartheid. But I can understand very well why Mr. Tobin would welcome this and want to delude himself that it provides a fig leaf of legitimacy to Israel’s war crimes under international law, which is what the settlements are.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to a statement made by Israeli President Shimon Peres. He spoke out Tuesday against settlements in the West Bank. He said, quote, "Israeli settlement in territories densely populated by an Arab population could bring about a threatening demographic change; that is, it could endanger the Jewish majority in Israel. It is doubtful that a Jewish State without a Jewish majority can remain Jewish." Jonathan Tobin, can you comment on what Israeli President Shimon Peres said?

JONATHAN TOBIN: That’s a position that many Israelis hold. But it shouldn’t be conflated with the question of their legality. The problem here is that people like the people from The Electronic Intifada don’t really recognize legitimacy of Jewish life anywhere in the country, including inside the Green Line, including the settlement Tel Aviv. The problem here is that it’s not a question of whether they’re legal or not, because if the Palestinians wish to make peace, if they wish to compromise, if they wish to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn, they can do so, and Israel has approved it will withdraw from territory, if offered peace. The problem is, the Palestinians won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, the legitimacy of Jewish life anywhere in that country. That’s why this is—the talk of war crimes, the talk of it’s criminal—Jews are not foreigners in the land of Israel.

The problem is, the Palestinians don’t wish to share. What we have here is a question of disputed territory. Both sides have rights. All the rights are not on the sides of the Palestinians. Jews have rights, too. If the Palestinians wish to have peace, if they wish to have the Palestinian—independent Palestinian state that they were offered three times and rejected three times in the last 12 years, they have to start dealing with the reality that the Jews aren’t going away. And if they do, they’ll find that Israel is willing to withdraw from most of the settlements, whether they—whether they consider them legal or not. Let’s not conflate these two issues. Peace is possible if the Palestinians are willing to make peace. It’s not possible if they focus on fantasies about throwing the Jews out. Even the Obama administration, which has been the most sympathetic to the Palestinian of any in recent—in any recent light, understood that many of the settlements are going to stay. That’s what the talk about territorial swaps was about last year. So, to focus on the illegality of things, of places that everyone knows are going to stay Israeli, and where Jews have the right to live, is just a fantasy that breeds more terrorism and more rejection of peace, which is what we get from The Electronic Intifada.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, if—

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah.

ALI ABUNIMAH: I mean, yeah, I see that Mr. Tobin studied the talking points very well this morning. Of course, let’s bring things back to basics. This isn’t a question of Jews. Jews have lived in Palestine since before the Zionist settler colony was imposed on Palestine. It’s not a question of Jews living there. It’s a question of settler colonialism, of apartheid, of the assertion that Jews have a right to superior rights than the indigenous Palestinian people and have a right to just bulldoze— literally bulldoze—their way onto Palestinian land and steal it for their own benefit. Frankly, I mean, I’m not surprised Mr. Tobin doesn’t care a jot about international law—

JONATHAN TOBIN: Jews are the indigenous people there, too. Jews are not foreigners.

ALI ABUNIMAH: —but you would think—you would think that Commentary, a conservative publication, would care at least about private property rights and the fact that vast tracts of these Jewish-only settler colonies are built on private Palestinian land, stolen by force by Israel’s Jewish sectarian militia known as the IDF.

Now, back to Shimon Peres’s statement, which was your original question, of course, his statement calling Palestinian babies a so-called demographic threat really reveals the Jim Crow-like racism at the core of this Zionist ideology that views the mere existence of Palestinian babies in their own native land as a threat to Israel. How can Palestinians ever possibly recognize or give legitimacy to an entity which views their mere reproduction as human beings as a mortal threat? It’s time for Mr. Tobin and all the fans of this apartheid, racist, Jim Crow tyranny to make good on their claimed liberal and progressive values and oppose Israeli apartheid and accept the inevitable, which is, just like in the Jim Crow South, just like in apartheid South Africa, one day there is going to be equal rights for everyone between the river and the sea, and all of this nonsense that Mr. Tobin is trying to sell us will be absolutely forgotten.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to the U.S. response to the commission’s report. The Obama administration criticized the findings of the report. Speaking Monday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, quote, "The U.S. position on settlements is clear. Obviously, we’ve seen the reports that an Israeli Government appointed panel has recommended legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts." Jonathan Tobin, can you respond to that?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Well, of course the administration isn’t going to—hasn’t recognized that position. It opposes it. But it also tacitly agrees to the fact that the Jews aren’t going away. I mean, what we heard from my colleague on the show was the Palestinian fantasy that some day Israel is going to be destroyed. All the calumnies, all the slanders about apartheid—

ALI ABUNIMAH: I never said that. I didn’t use those words.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Yes, yes. That’s what—

ALI ABUNIMAH: I said that the system of racism and apartheid is going to be ended.

JONATHAN TOBIN: That is exactly what you are talking about.

ALI ABUNIMAH: And that will happen.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is not an apartheid state. It is the only—

ALI ABUNIMAH: But don’t substitute your words with mine.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is a state where Arabs have equal rights, serve in the parliament. And that—that is exactly what they are talking about. They’re talking about the destruction of Israel, and which is why this whole discussion—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Your words, sir. And it’s your fantasy.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is your meaning. Don’t try to—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Your fantasy is the destruction of Israel.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Don’t try to—don’t try to lie your way out of it.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Was Jim Crow the destruction of Alabama and Mississippi?

JONATHAN TOBIN: You are fantasizing about the end of the Jewish state.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Tobin—Jonathan Tobin, if you could explain where Ali Abunimah talked about the destruction of Israel.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Well, he’s talking about the end of the apartheid state. He’s talking about one state. In other words, no—not what the U.N. did in 1947, which is—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Is democracy destruction? Are you against democracy, Jonathan Tobin?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Excuse me, can I answer—can I answer the question?

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Tobin, you’re saying that he’s calling for the destruction—

JONATHAN TOBIN: When you say—when you talk about one state, you’re not talking about an Israeli state, a Jewish state, and a Palestinian Arab state alongside it; you’re talking about one state where the Jews will no longer have their own—the one Jewish state in the world, but a 22nd Arab state in which Arabs—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Where they’ll no longer have superior rights.

JONATHAN TOBIN: —in which Arabs—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Are you opposed to equal rights for everyone?

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, let’s get your response. We just have 20 seconds.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Why does that offend you?

JONATHAN TOBIN: That is—that is the point here. Israel is a democracy where Arabs have the right—have the right to vote, serve in parliament—

ALI ABUNIMAH: How is it a democracy, when millions of people—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to wrap. Ali Abunimah, 10 seconds.

ALI ABUNIMAH: —are living under military occupation without basic rights? How is that democratic?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Palestinian—Israeli Arabs have rights. What you want is to deny rights to the Jews. And that is something that Israel will never accept—

ALI ABUNIMAH: How do I want to deny rights to the Jews, when I’ve said they should have equal rights just like everyone else?

JONATHAN TOBIN: —something that the United States will never accept. It will never happen.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. Jonathan Tobin and Ali Abunimah, thank you very much for being with us. Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine, Ali Abunimah of the website Electronic Intifada.

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