The Cherry-Picking Fantasy Land of Elliot Abrams

At the blog for the Council on Foreign Relations, Elliot Abrams concludes that people who think illegal settlement construction hinders the Israeli-Palestinian peace process are not living “in the real world.”

Abrams has argued before, amazingly, that settlements in the West Bank are “not a critical issue” (to which I responded). In this latest fantasy land post, Abrams pushes back against the condemnations for the newest set of approvals for 277 new homes in the West Bank city of Ariel. He argues that because these are new units within an already existing settlement, it’s all good.

The new units are to be constructed in the center of  the town, it was also announced. This is a significant fact, for construction of new units at the edges of the town would mean that the security perimeter would need to be extended to protect the new housing and the people in it. But this will not happen, and Ariel will expand in population but not in land area.  It is not, in the usual Palestinian Authority parlance, “taking more Palestinian land.”

Right, they’re just increasing the population of previously stolen Palestinian land. Not only is this virtually a distinction without a difference, but it pretends dishonestly that “expanding in population but not in land area” is typical for West Bank settlement construction. Abrams leaves out the 4,300 new units Israel approved last week for construction in Palestinian East Jerusalem (which Abrams calls “Israel’s capital”). These thousands were in addition to the 930 new homes approved for construction around the same area just days earlier. Abrams is intentionally white-washing the fact that Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes has skyrocketed this year with 356 structures demolished and 700 people displaced in the first six months 2011. These were not instances where new units were built in the center of existing settlements, but rather where innocent Palestinian people were expelled from their homes so that they could be demolished and given to Israeli settlers. Like, for example, the incident at the end of July where the Israeli government sued a group of poor Bedouin Palestinians in the Negev desert for over $500,000, the claimed costs of demolishing their village each time they rebuilt it. Israeli authorities destroyed, and the Bedouin rebuilt, the homes in al-Araqib more than 20 times.

Abrams leaves out those nasty little details so he can keep his imaginary framework for the entire conflict nice and neatly undisturbed. And then of course he chimes in with this little number:

It is not reasonable to view it as a violation of international law and a threat to a peace agreement every time bricks and studs and drywall show up at the center of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Except that it is. They are a violation of international law according to the consensus view of the international community. The Geneva Conventions clearly states that forcible transfers and deportations people in occupied lands is prohibited, as is the transfer of “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Not to mention that numerous international agreements, as well as the International Court of Justice, have declared the settlements illegal. Heck, even Israel sometimes admits certain settlements to be illegal.

Not Elliot Abrams though. He’s a bit too far down the rabbit hole…