Maybe he should have just said 'Judenrein'?A reminder once again that I am in Boston where the local time as I begin this post is 4:29 pm. It is still more than two hours before the Sabbath starts, although it started in Israel quite some time ago.
I'm sure that many of you heard Prime Minister Netanyahu's 'ethnic cleansing' remarks last week. For those who did not, let's go to the videotape.
Netanyahu's speech brought outrage from President Obama, from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and from Anti-Defamation League director Jonathan Greenblatt.
But as Northwestern University Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich points out, Netanyahu is right. The demand that 'settlers' (in this case another way of saying 'Jews') be removed from a territory as part of ending an 'occupation' is unprecedented.
When pressed, defenders of the Palestinian position characterize the demand as no settlers rather than the uglier-sounding no Jews. The claim is hard to take at face value, as the Palestinians have never objected to Israeli Arabs settling across the Green Line, as they have in significant numbers. But, granting its sincerity, what does international law say about the demand to remove settlers as part of a solution to a territorial conflict? To answer this question, as part of a larger research study on settlements, I examined the fate of settlers in every occupation since the adoption of the Geneva Conventions—eight major situations in total. The results highlight how extraordinary the Palestinian demand is.
There is simply no support in international practice for the expulsion of settlers from occupied territories. In the many situations involving settlers around the world, the international community has never supported expulsion, and consistently backed plans allowing the settlers to remain in a new state.
Settlement activity is the rule rather than the exception in situations of belligerent occupation around the world. In places like Western Sahara and northern Cyprus, the settlers now make up a majority of the population. In most other places, they account for a much higher percentage of the territory’s population than Jews would in a potential Palestinian state. In all these cases, the arrival of the settlers was accompanied with the familiar claims of seizure of land and property, and serious human rights abuses. Unlike the Israeli situation, it was also accompanied with a large-scale expulsion of the prior inhabitants from the territory.
In internationally-brokered efforts to resolve these conflicts, the question of the fate of the settlers naturally arose. The answer, across all these very different situations, has always been the same: the settlers stay. Indeed, the only point of dispute has typically been what proportion of settlers receive automatic citizenship in any newly-created state and what proportion merely gets residence status. Thus, when East Timor, for example, received independence in an internationally-approved process, none of the Indonesian settlers were required to leave. The current U.N.-mediated peace plan for Western Sahara and Cyprus not only presupposes the demographically dominant settler population can remain, it also gives it a right to vote in referenda on potential deal.
This is not because these settlers are beloved by the surrounding population. The opposite is true. In the Paris peace talks to end the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, representatives of the latter tried to raise the possibility of expelling the nearly million Vietnamese settlers. Their arguments were familiar: the settlers remind them of the occupation, rekindle ancient hatreds, and destabilize the peace. Yet the Cambodian demand for the mass removal of ethnic Vietnamese was rejected outright by diplomats: One simply cannot ask for such things.
Indeed, uniform international practice shows that the removal of settlers is an obstacle to peace. In those occupations that have been resolved—East Timor, Cambodia, Lebanon—such demands would have been a complete deal-breaker. And those still subject to international diplomacy, however slim the chances of resolution, there would not even be a pretense of negotiation had demands similar to the Palestinians been made.
In short, the Palestinians couching their objection as one about removing “settlers” rather than Jews does not change the harsh reality. There is simply no precedent in international practice for the demand. Whatever term one uses for such a demand, Netanyahu was clearly right to call attention to the extraordinary nature of the demand. It is also disappointing that, instead of exercising moral leadership on this issue, the ADL went against its mission by seemingly excusing singular treatment for Jews.Perhaps, instead of referring to a 'Palestinian' demand for 'ethnic cleansing,' Netanyahu should have spoken about a 'Palestinian' demand for a Judenrein state. That would have put the 'Palestinian' demand into its proper context.
Read it all.