UN Resolution 2334 and a review of Israeli history from Biblical times
Tel Aviv was founded on empty dunes, purchased from Arabs, north of the existing city of Jaffa. This photograph is of the auction of the first lots in 1909. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
It came as a shock, at least to the public, a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel that the US refused to veto. UN resolutions critical of Israel are as common as Russian and Chinese hackers. Only those promulgated by the Security Council, however, have serious ramifications. The US is one of five permanent members of the Security Council. Any of these five members can veto a Security Council resolution. The US has reliably, but not always, vetoed such resolutions critical of Israel. What happened this time? What are the repercussions?
To begin we turn to the Bible. In fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and the patriarchs, God led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan (later Israel) somewhere between 1400-1200 BC. From then until 70 AD sizable Israelite and later Jewish communities resided in the land. The boundaries of the land changed constantly depending upon historical events. Solomon’s empire (950 BC) and possibly another under Alexander Janneus (90 BC) saw the boundaries expand to the largest area – from present day Iraq to the Sinai Peninsula. Regardless of the extent of land acquisition, the Bible clearly promises “the land” to the Jewish people.
Following the Roman-Jewish wars (66-70 AD, 131-135 AD), Jews were forcibly removed from the land of Israel. In the year 130 the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, renamed the land Palestine. Until 1948 various groups and empires ruled the land. While it appears there was always a small Jewish remnant present, the concept of returning to “the land” was relegated to hope and prayer. That changed with the rise of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century. At first small numbers of Jews seeking to escape Russian persecution made their way to the land (then controlled by the Ottoman Empire), purchased plots from typically absentee Arab landowners, and began farming the land. By the early 20th century more Jews migrated to the land under the Zionist banner of a homeland for the Jews, buttressed by the Biblical promise of Jews returning to their homeland.
Following World War I, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the British assumed control of the land. They declared Palestine (a region under the Ottomans) to be the national homeland of the Jews (Balfour Declaration). Later the British divided a portion of the land and established the nation of Jordan. The British control over the region was called the British Mandate and lasted until 1947. During this period the Jewish population grew from 100,000 in 1920 to about 500,000 in 1945, later rising to 700,000 in 1948. During the entire period Jews comprised a minority of the population – 15% in 1920, 30% in 1947-48.
In 1945, the newly formed United Nations assumed jurisdiction over Palestine, and in 1947 voted in favor of a partition plan, further dividing the land between Jews and Arabs. The Jewish portion would have a Jewish majority of 61% of the population. Each side was to establish its own state sometime during 1948. The Jewish representatives reluctantly accepted the proposal; the Arabs rejected it. On May 14, 1948, Israel declared her independence. Five Arab armies attacked Israel. By 1949 Israel prevailed in battle, adding an additional 1/3 of land, mostly in the Negev, the Galilee and up to West Jerusalem. Many Arabs previously residing in areas controlled by Israel fled or were forcibly displaced, leaving the Jewish majority at 82% of Israel’s population. The remainder of the Partition Plan’s Arab territory was assumed by Jordan (West Bank and Jerusalem) and Egypt (Gaza).
In 1967, Israel prevailed in a six day war against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula, including Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Later, as part of the 1978 Camp David Accords, Israel relinquished the Sinai back to Egypt (while keeping Gaza). Israel also committed to assisting in the establishment of a new Palestinian entity within several years, encompassing the West Bank and Gaza. However, since the 1967 War, Israel authorized building extensive Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza (until the 2005 Gaza withdrawal). There are currently 600,000 Jews in the West Bank, about 1/2 in East Jerusalem. The vast majority are in large settlement blocks around Jerusalem and a few other areas.
The United Nations considers all the settlements, including those in Jerusalem, to be illegal occupation and has consistently condemned Israel for it. The United States also has consistently condemned the settlements, but for the last several years has vetoed most UN resolutions targeting Israel. That changed last week.
Before addressing the most recent UN resolution, let’s explore Israel’s end game. If the West Bank was uninhabited, then the issues would be fairly simple. Currently, however, the West Bank holds 2.5 million Arabs, mostly Muslim. If Israel continues the settlement program or annexes the West Bank, what happens to the Arab residents? Are they forcibly displaced? Do they become residents and thus citizens of Israel? In 1960, the Jewish portion of the population of Israel was 89%, the highest in her history. It has since shrunk to 75%. If the West Bank Arabs were added, the proportion of Jews in the country would further shrink to 60%. If Gaza’s population was included, then Jewish margin drops to 50%. Within a generation or two, the Arab population could become the majority in the country, likely leading to its destruction as a Jewish state. In Jerusalem alone, if all the Arabs became citizens, Jerusalem could elect an Arab mayor.
Aside from demographics, Israel is called to be a light to the nations. In many respects, she already is. But the Palestinian issue is the albatross around her neck. The Israelis don’t want the Palestinians, and the Palestinians don’t want the Israelis. The solution is straight forward – separate. Of course, the complicating factor is the land of Israel. But what is more important – the land of Israel or the people of Israel? God made his promises to people. As part of the promise is the land upon which to live and build a righteous society. But even when the land was occupied by others, the people of Israel still lived, endured and eventually prospered. Now, a portion of the land is once again occupied by the people of Israel. Other portions of “Biblical Israel” are inhabited by Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians and Iraqis. Shall Israel claim all these lands for herself or allow God to work out the details of further map-making?
A peaceful solution is a long way off. There are huge security matters. The Middle East generally is in a state of chaos. But that doesn’t mean the responsible parties should avoid the process. It is true that in the year 2000 and 2008 the Israeli government offered the Palestinians a generous two state solution proposal. In both cases, the Palestinians rejected it. Yet, the answer is not building more settlements in the West Bank. This complicates matters, inflames the Palestinian population and further isolates Israel in the international arena.
While UN resolution 2334 was a huge slap in the face to Israel and could lead to serious legal consequences, it could also be a wake-up call to an intransigent government. The current government is waiting with bated breath for the inauguration of the new Trump presidency, but no matter how good a negotiator the new president is, the issues remain the same, and the solutions remain the same. Something must give. The status quo cannot continue. Any alternative other than separation from the Palestinians dooms the future of Israel – her people and her land.
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Jamie Cowen is a Partner at Cohen, Decker, Pex, Brosh Law Offices, Petach Tikvah, Israel; Former Rabbi, Tikvat Israel Congregation, Richmond, Viriginia; Former President, Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations; Former Chief Counsel, US Senate Subcommittee 1978-1986