West Bank controversy

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In his defense of the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Stephen Snow (December 2019) parrots Israeli government talking points.  Snow is entitled to share the Israeli government’s legal opinion, but readers should know that it is a minority viewpoint embraced mainly by Israeli lawyers and others who defend the occupation. 

Every government in the world, except Israel, considers the Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank illegal because they violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits a country from transferring its own population into territory it holds through military occupation. The UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice, and the 195 parties to the Geneva Conventions have all affirmed that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to Israeli settlements.  The U.S. government, up until Trump, shared these views.

And why is Israel all by itself on this issue?  Because its legal argument is thin. Israel argues that the Fourth Geneva Convention doesn’t apply to the occupied West Bank because, well, it’s not really an occupation since the territory is “disputed.” The rest of the world, which has watched the settlements grow to 400,000 Jewish settlers on territory intended to be a Palestinian state, rejects this strained legal interpretation.

In fact, from 1967 to 1981, Israel administered the West Bank under a Military Governorate, which exercised military rule on the basis of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In 1981, after the Egypt-Israel peace agreement, and after Likud had come to power, Israel dissolved the Military Governorate and created the Israeli Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli army. At that point, the Fourth Geneva Convention became an obstacle to Israeli settlement of the West Bank. The Israeli government – like the Trump administration recently – changed its legal views and held that the Fourth Geneva Convention no longer applied and therefore the settlements weren’t illegal.

Snow appears eager to defend an immoral 52-year occupation in which Jews are denying another people their civil and political rights. No legal gymnastics can cover up that reality.

Nina Tannenwald

Providence, R.I.