An unforced error and real estate sales

An unforced error and real estate sales

Analysts who have discussed Hamas’s motive for its murderous October 7 surprise attack — apart from its hatred of Israeli Jews — have talked about two probable objectives: its desperate desire to prevent the emergence of a U.S.-led normalization between Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other historically hostile Arab Gulf states and its hope to trigger a regional war against Israel, which could include a full scale second front coming from Lebanese Hezbollah militants in the North and an uprising of West Bank Palestinians as a potential third front

U.S. intelligence estimates have pointed out that while Hamas is clearly no match for the large, seasoned Israeli military, a combined war with Hamas and Hezbollah would challenge Israel’s capacity severely. It should go without saying that a simultaneous general uprising of West Bank Palestinians would only add to that dark prospect.

Understanding these dangers, President Biden stepped in immediately and decisively, ordering the 5,000 sailors on the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford and other naval vessels to the coast of Lebanon on October 8 “to ensure that no enemies of Israel believe they can or should seek advantage from the current situation.” Acting on the President’s orders, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken simultaneously jumped into action with emergency phone calls to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates to deter any escalations. Thankfully, the combined demonstrations of armed resolve and diplomacy by our country, “the indispensable nation,” which persists to this day, has mostly kept the simmering conflict in Israel’s North to relatively low-level exchanges so far, even as the intense fighting in Gaza and the disastrous loss of lives of noncombatants has dragged on.

To his great credit, President Biden has coupled his unshakable support for Israel with articulating a vision for a peaceful postwar future in which a secure Israel will coexist with Arab world partners. In various talks with U.S. diplomats, Saudi Arabia, which has stood for many years outside the Abraham Accords framework, has made clear that it “absolutely” stands ready to join a U.S.-supported regional security arrangement. The Saudis and other Arab states, no friends of Hamas, have recognized that the reach of the Islamist group’s negative ideology can’t be overcome without opening up a new horizon for security, progress, and self-determination for the Palestinian people, That is a horizon that includes a concrete pathway to an eventual Palestinian state alongside Israel, led by a revitalized Palestinian Authority.

While the media has given daily attention to the fighting in Gaza and on the Israel-Lebanon border, much less has gone to the third front of conflict, the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Extremist settlers there have taken the occasion of the war to dramatically expand their violent confrontations with Palestinians and have been attempting to drive them out of “Area C” — the 60 percent of the territory under full Israeli control — with 645 documented settler attacks between October 7 and March 14 of this year. An estimated 1,680 Palestinians have been displaced due to home demolitions carried out by Israeli forces in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the same period. The violence by extremist settlers has only been encouraged by such key members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition as Bezalel Smotrich, now serving as Netanyahu’s finance minister and the de facto Israeli civilian governor of the West Bank. Smotrich, who also boasts about being a “fascist homophobe” and who advocates for Israel to adopt theocracy as its state model, last year called on Israel’s government to “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara after a settlers’ rampage burned homes, cars, and businesses there. When he is not using the most toxic inflammatory language toward Palestinians, — he’s threatened them with a “new Nakba” (catastrophe) — he is projecting the idea of unending Jewish supremacy over them. (“We are the landlords here.”)

The idea of driving Palestinians off their remaining land in the West Bank and annexing it de facto or de jure has always been closely connected to increasing the number and size of Jewish-only settlements there. Both the expulsions of Palestinian residents and the Israeli settlements have repeatedly been found to be illegal under the relevant international law, which explicitly forbids the conquering power after a conflict from forcibly transferring residents of the controlled territory (“protected persons”) or transferring “parts of its own civilian populations” into such territory. The inherently combustible situation in which settlers are governed by Israeli civil law and Palestinians living adjacent to them in the territories live strictly controlled lives under Israeli military jurisdiction with no citizenship rights have repeatedly become flashpoints, both on the ground and in Israel’s relations with the United States and other countries.

In late February, Smotrich announced the beginning of an approval process for 3,300 new settler homes in the West Bank, including 2,350 in Ma’ale Adumim, just beyond the bounds of Arab East Jerusalem. Predictably, our state department took it as a slap in the face of our country’s attempts to move forward longstanding American policy for a two-state solution. Secretary Blinken called out that provocative announcement, pointing out that settlement expansion “only weakens, doesn’t strengthen Israel’s security.”

The question now is whether the parties to the conflict can move away from the repeated vicious circle of violence and war toward a virtuous circle that points toward future peace. The Israeli war against Hamas, which began as a response to the brutal October 7 attack, has also become a series of tests for Israel that are not just military. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu contends that its operations in Gaza are only against Hamas terrorists and not against the Palestinian people. President Biden challenged Israel in his State of the Union address to live up to that contention by making saving innocent Palestinian civilian lives in Gaza “a priority” and not “a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip.” Israel’s approach to the West Bank is another such test, both for Israelis and for our own Jewish communities.

New Jersey residents will be reminded of the contentious nature of the settlements by a recent “real estate event” that rented space in a Teaneck synagogue and became the occasion of much protest. A group that has been doing similar sales meetings in other Jewish locations in the New York metro area and in Canada promoted this session as an entryway to “owning a piece of the Holy Land,” but they included Ma’ale Adumim (one of the settlements which extremist Minister Smotrich has pushed to expand) and two other West Bank sites among the locations they called “Israeli” properties. It should be common sense that buying real estate in the United States, where there is a definite rule of law and opportunities for those impacted by the subject communities to challenge their expansion, is nothing like buying property where the neighbors are subject to military occupation.

Starting or expanding settlements on occupied land is unacceptable at any time, but to do so in the middle of the largest and most difficult war Israel has been part of since its founding, and against the opposition of our U.S. government, Israel’s steadfast ally, is doubly dangerous folly — an unforced error. Jewish Americans who are tempted to take part in real estate purchases in areas that are associated with Smotrich and his inflammatory settlement expansion project should also observe the standard advice: “Buyer beware!”

Mark Lurinsky of Montclair is recently retired from a career in public accounting. He is an activist in local politics and a member of the steering committee of J Street’s New Jersey chapter.

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