Settlement Debate Flares Again in Israel
Isabel Kershner reports in the NY Times:
Israel’s long-smoldering debate over Jewish settlement in the West Bank reignited on Sunday with a fierce exchange between the government and a human rights organization that touched on broader arguments over definitions of patriotism and the very character of the country.
The latest cross-fire of accusations began after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced late Saturday that he would push for legislation to bar Israelis from volunteering for national service with B’Tselem, an organization that focuses on allegations of human rights violations againstPalestinians in Israeli-occupied territories.
On Friday, Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem, addressed a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council devoted to a discussion titled “The Settlements as the Obstacle to Peace and the Two-State Solution,” referring to the internationally endorsed goal of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The session was initiated by the Palestinians and requested by five countries, including Egypt, a regional ally with which Israel signed a peace treaty in the late 1970s.
Most of the world considers Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories that were conquered from Jordan in the 1967 war, to be a violation of international law. The Palestinians demand those areas as the heart of a future independent state, and continued Israeli building there has been a constant source of tension between Israel and the United States.
Mr. Netanyahu’s pronouncement was largely symbolic: Only three volunteers from a program for 18-year-olds exempted from compulsory military service on ideological, religious, health or other grounds have applied to perform national service at B’Tselem in the last seven years. Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for B’Tselem, said no other volunteers were in the pipeline. He described Mr. Netanyahu’s ban as “spin” and “a distraction from the actual issues.”
Yet it underscores the rawness of the political divide in Israel over the fate of the territories it seized nearly 50 years ago, the work of nongovernmental organizations that oppose the occupation, and the wedge that Jewish settlement there drives between Israel and the rest of the world.
“Anything short of decisive international action will achieve nothing but ushering in the second half of the first century of the occupation,” Mr. El-Ad told the Security Council. Living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank, he said, “mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily violence.”
Israel officially considers the West Bank disputed, not occupied, and it annexed East Jerusalem in a move that was never internationally recognized.
Mr. Netanyahu denounced B’Tselem and Americans for Peace Now, a sister organization of the leftist Israeli Peace Now group, on Facebook. He said they had “joined the chorus of besmirching Israel” and had repeated “the mendacious claim that ‘the occupation and settlements’ are the cause” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. . .