Sunday, November 29, 2009

Is It Possible Israel's West Bank Settlements Are Not Illegal?

An Israeli NGO is saying that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is wrong when she calls that nation's West Bank settlements illegal.

In fact, says the Israeli Office for Constitutional Law, the entire West Bank - claimed by Palestinians - belongs to Israel.

That stunning claim is based on an obscure treaty signed by the United States and Britain in 1924. It's called the Anglo-American Convention. And it outlines the boundaries of the Mandate for Palestine. Which included the whole of the West Bank.

It's an interesting argument. The treaty predates the establishment of the state of Israel, whose boundaries do not include the West Bank. The 1947 UN Partition granted that land to the Arabs. But the director of the Office for Constitutional Law says - technically, the earlier treaty still stands - even though the mandate expired.

The pronouncement likely will have no real effect on conditions on the ground today. But discussion of the treaty shows early intent to grant the land to the Jews - and puts into perspective the foundation over the conflict over the settlements today.

The United States has been among nations that have been pressuring Israel to stop construction on the West Bank. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a 10-month freeze on construction in the hopes that the Palestinians would then resume peace talks. But - speaking in Venezuela - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the overture. He wants pre-conditions - including a concession from Israel that Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians - before resuming talks. Something he knows very well is unacceptable to the Israelis.

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