To jazz soundtrack, Israeli official insists settlements are legal
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon offers a whimsical take on the Arab-Israeli conflict in a slick new video. His conclusion? Israeli West Bank settlements are legal and there is no occupation.
Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister from the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, has kicked up an Internet storm with a slickly produced video that argues Israel is within its rights to hold on to the West Bank in perpetuity.Skip to next paragraph
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Accompanied by a bouncy jazz soundtrack, Mr. Ayalon – a former ambassador to the US – stands in front of a simple white background while he makes his case in avuncular tones, illustrated by cartoons behind him. For instance, a sheesha-smoking character in a fez is run over by a tank to illustrate the Ottoman Turkish defeat in World War I.
To my eyes, the video – released July 19 – will probably be effective in making Ayalon's case to the only casually interested or people already predisposed to thinking Israel's possession of the West Bank is proper. But it is infuriating Palestinian negotiators, who are taking it as evidence of bad faith and the near impossibility of negotiated progress on a two-state solution with the current Israeli government.
It's also evidence of how mainstream the settlement movement has become in Israeli politics. Ayalon's video largely mirrors that of an earlier video for the Yesha Council, the main lobbying voice for the settlers, and was directed by the same man. Jeffrey Goldberg, a self-described Zionist at The Atlantic, summarizes Ayalon's point as "the West Bank belongs to Israel now and forever" and writes that "The Israeli Foreign Ministry is now part of the settlement movement."
To be sure Ayalon, an energetic Twitter user, appears to have taken issue with that characterization on his feed in a lively debate between him and Mr. Goldberg. When Goldberg writes "Your entire project is designed to legitimize Israel's hold over the territories forever," Ayalon responds: "I ask you again. where in the video is this stated, even implicitly."
The video is at the bottom of this post, so watch it and judge its intent for yourself. In my judgment, Goldberg certainly has a point, and the overall thrust of the presentation appears to be making the case that Israel should not give up any more land.
Ayalon argues that the territory seized at the time "are not 'occupied territories' but rather 'disputed territories,'" since there was no clear sovereign power at the time, and certainly no legal state of Palestine.
This choice of the word "dispute" is about far more than semantics. Under international law, territory seized in war is generally considered "occupied" and annexing such land as the spoils of war is illegal. But in some instances, as in the case, of Western Sahara, land can be considered "disputed," with no clear owner and no clear legal answers about what's to be done next. Ayalon is, in effect, seeking to downgrade the West Bank to this status, which would make it much easier to keep all or part of the West Bank in perpetuity from a legal standpoint.
To build his case, Ayalon mentions early on that "half of 1 percent of the Middle East" was set aside to be the Jewish homeland before World War II.
This argument is frequently advanced, in service of saying that the "Arabs" are incapable of reasonable compromise ("they want the last 0.5 percent"). But Arabs aren't an undifferentiated mass, either politically or culturally. The problem is the Palestinians who were living in the area both when the state of Israel was declared, and in 1967, and today. The Palestinians are the folks who've been dispossessed, no matter how much land the Saudis or Egyptians have.