Prof. David Phillips tries to prove settlements are legal, but ultimately leads to the question of Apartheid

Posted: December 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »
West Bank Archipelago

West Bank Archipelago

The neo-con Jewish magazine Commentary features an article by law professor David Phillips, under the title The Illegal-Settlements Myth. Basically, it argues against the commonly accepted view, that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate international law, and most notably, the 4th Geneva Convention.

Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention forbids an occupying force from transferring his own population to the occupied territory. Prof. Phillips claim that (a) it is not clear whether the West Bank can be seen as “occupied land”, and (b) “transfer” only refers to the active, even forceful, move of civilians, which is not the case with the settlements.

I’m not a big fan of legalism when it comes to international relations. I think that legal debates, more often than not, tend to miss the point, and I believe the tendency of lawyers to cherry pick the cases that suit their claim can be very harmful when it comes to questions of power and justice, as most issues in international politics are. A good example of legalistic cherry-picking was Lawrence Siskinds attack on the Goldstone report which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Prof. Phillips’ article – which has been since quoted by several bloggers and referred to in the Examiner – is even worse: it presents a new reading of the Forth Geneva Convention, but then it fails to follow through with its own logic. I will try to show here how. I won’t however go into the historical “facts” Prof. Phillips presents – many of them debatable at best – except when it is necessary to make my point. Here is such a case:

Phillips’ theory is based on the unique position of the West Bank as “unallocated territory,” i.e. land that was never recognized as belonging to a sovereign state. While describing the historical development that led to this state of affairs, Prof. Phillips casually notes that:

Over the course of the years to come, there was little dispute about Egypt’s sovereign right to the Sinai, and it was eventually returned after Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat broke the Arab consensus and made peace with Israel. Though the rulers of Syria have, to date, preferred the continuance of belligerency to a similar decision to end the conflict, the question of their right to the return of the Golan in the event of peace seems to hinge more on the nature of the regime in Damascus than any dispute about the provenance of Syria’s title to the land.

Really? “The rulers of Syria have, to date, preferred the continuance of belligerency?” If there is something which is not disputed, it’s the fact that since the mid 90′s, the Syrians have been offering peace in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan – a deal that no Israeli PM was willing to accept. They are offering it right now by the way, but like his predecessors, PM Netanyahu promised, just before the elections, that Israel will not leave the Golan.

But even if you don’t believe all this, how could a legal scholar such as Prof. Phillips miss the simple fact that Israel annexed the occupied Golan in December 1981? So much for the “provenance of Syria’s title to the land.” Was it his rush to blame everything on Arab rejectionism that led him to state that “the question of their right to the return of the Golan in the event of peace seems to hinge more on the nature of the regime in Damascus?”

Than Prof. Phillips gets to his main point, the ownerless statues of the West bank. He notes that since the 80′s, settlements haven’t been built on private Arab land:

After the Elon Moreh case [a famous Supreme Court ruling from 1979], all Israeli settlements legally authorized by the Israeli Military Administration (a category that, by definition, excludes “illegal outposts” constructed without prior authorization or subsequent acceptance) have been constructed either on lands that Israel characterizes as state-owned or “public” or, in a small minority of cases, on land purchased by Jews from Arabs after 1967.

Later he adds that:

Even settlement opponents concede that many settlements closest to Palestinian population areas, on the central mountain range of the West Bank, were built without government permission and often contrary to governmental policy; their continued existence forced the government to recognize the settlement as an existing fact. Given this history, it is questionable to claim that Israel “transferred” those settlers.

This is where I’m starting to get confused. If the settlements are “legally authorized”, and properly built on public land, how come they are, at the same time, “without permission” and “contrary to governmental policy?” could the settlers have colonized the West Bank only on locations authorized by the state to begin with, and at the same time, act against its policy?

The answer is: they couldn’t. Read the rest of this entry »


Israeli justice: Army West Bank judge reveals extreme view

Posted: October 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Settlements | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments »

In a very rare interview, Major Adrian Agassi, who serves as a judge for the Army courts in the West Bank, reveals some of his personal beliefs. Agassi told the Guardian that a peace agreement with the Palestinians “goes against nature”.

“When we [Israelis] say that this is a political conflict, then we lose the battle,” he told the Guardian, adding that it should be remembered that the ancient land of Israel is “given to us by the Bible, not by some United Nations.”

Agassi, one of the most important officials in the military courts wielding authority over large parts of the West Bank, says settling Jews on lands that made up ancient Israel stands above all other biblical commandments and only when it is done can they have “a promised land and a promised life.”

“You say that these lands ‘passed into Jewish hands’. Others would say that they came back into Jewish hands. Others would say that they are obviously ours, inherently,” he said. It was, he claims, a mistake to call it the State of Israel. “If we would have named it the State of Jews, the Arabs would have understood that this land belongs to the Jews.”

Read the rest of this entry »