Last week, we posted the video by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, where he called out the international community on their ignoring the demand for any future Palestinian state to be free of all Jews, calling it “ethnic cleansing”. If you didn’t watch it already, click here to see it.
Following the video, the Obama administration called out Netanyahu and said it was “inappropriate” for him to use such terms when referring to the removal of Israelis from the disputed territories.
Legal expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Professor Eugene Kontorovich wrote this excellent legal analysis of the claims Netanyahu makes in the video.
Here are a few passages from this great article:
There is simply no support in international practice for the expulsion of settlers from occupied territories. In the many situations involving settlers around the world, the international community has never supported expulsion, and consistently backed plans allowing the settlers to remain in a new state.
Settlement activity is the rule rather than the exception in situations of belligerent occupation around the world. In places like Western Sahara and northern Cyprus, the settlers now make up a majority of the population. In most other places, they account for a much higher percentage of the territory’s population than Jews would in a potential Palestinian state. In all these cases, the arrival of the settlers was accompanied with the familiar claims of seizure of land and property, and serious human rights abuses. Unlike the Israeli situation, it was also accompanied with a large-scale expulsion of the prior inhabitants from the territory.
In internationally-brokered efforts to resolve these conflicts, the question of the fate of the settlers naturally arose. The answer, across all these very different situations, has always been the same: the settlers stay. Indeed, the only point of dispute has typically been what proportion of settlers receive automatic citizenship in any newly-created state and what proportion merely gets residence status…
This is not because these settlers are beloved by the surrounding population. The opposite is true. In the Paris peace talks to end the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, representatives of the latter tried to raise the possibility of expelling the nearly million Vietnamese settlers. Their arguments were familiar: the settlers remind them of the occupation, rekindle ancient hatreds, and destabilize the peace. Yet the Cambodian demand for the mass removal of ethnic Vietnamese was rejected outright by diplomats: One simply cannot ask for such things…
Yet the most controversial part of his comments were two words: ethnic cleansing. Indeed, the phrase invites criticism because there is no precise legal definition of the term. However, it is generally used to refer to the purge of other ethnic groups, rather than the group doing the cleansing. Indeed, that is why the international community demands that Israel remove the settlers itself, so the Palestinians won’t have to. One might call it ethnic pre-cleansing. Again, there is no international precedent for a country being required to forcibly remove its own population en masse.
While it may not be entirely apt, ethnic cleansing is definitely part of the story. Jews lived throughout what would later be called the West Bank until its conquest by Jordan in 1949. The Jordanians expelled every single Jew from the area they controlled. Unlike the flight of Arabs from Israel, the purge was clearly coercive, by the fact that not one Jew was left in the Jordanian occupied territory. This expulsion was clearly ethnic cleansing, and indeed it left the area clean.
Israel wrested this area, including the Old City of Jerusalem, from Jordanian control in the Six Day War. Much of the international community believes Israel was legally required to maintain the Jew-free status quo created by the Jordanian expulsion 19 years earlier. Any Israelis who do move into the area, in this view, are illegal settlers, and should be removed.
Assume that the presence of settlers is illegal. The only reason these people were “settlers” was the Jordanian expulsion of 1949, and their subsequent 19 year enforcement of a Jew-free territory. International law scholars like to say that Israel, as an occupying power, must maintain the prior status quo. Even assuming that is true, pointing out that the status quo was itself a result of recent, complete to-the-last Jew ethnic cleansing should hardly be bad form.