The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.
— Art. 49, Fourth Geneva Convention
American news agencies (AP, Reuters, any major news organization or outlet) in reference to Israeli settlements (which could more accurately be termed “colonies”), routinely comment that these settlements are “considered illegal by most nations.” This is dishonest, as it creates the impression that the legality of settlement activity is murky and subject to debate. When I encounter this phrase I often ask the source to identify which nations consider settlement building on occupied territory legal. I neither receive or expect a reply because, of course, no nation besides Israel itself would argue their legality.
In order to drive this to ground, on August 8 I sent requests to both the U.S. Dept. of State and to Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to provide a written statement of official U.S. policy on the legality of settlement building on occupied territory.
With no response being offered, on August 16 I began placing calls to State and the Congress, which I continued over the the following twenty-five days. By email and/or by telephone I contacted several offices at State along with spokespersons for Senators Menedez and Harry Reid (Senate Majority Leader) and the Congressional Representative of my home district, Loretta Sanchez. Specifically, I spoke to Kerry, Carlos, Kirby, Jose, Jennifer and Cameron, a gaggle of bright young staffers who ranged from earnest to annoyed and aloof. They all shared an abject inability to summon a response to my question. This includes the emailed response I finally received from Sen. Menendez on September 9, which reads as follows:
Dear Mr. Hurt :
Thank you for contacting me to express your views regarding a two-state solution to the Israel – Palestinian conflict. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter and having the opportunity to respond.
As you may know, the Palestinian Authority proposed a resolution at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) regarding issues under direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, namely borders and settlements. Regardless of the content of such a resolution, our country’s consistent position has been that this and other issues linked to the Middle East peace process can only be resolved by the two parties negotiating directly with each other.
A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is long overdue, and we must ensure that peace is sustainable and both parties are fully committed to a resolution. The merits of any peace proposal between the Israelis and the Palestinians will have to be weighed against the assurances Israel requires for its security. Israel’s right to exist and defend itself is inalienable and must be explicitly recognized by its neighbors.
Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of further assistance.
The reader will note that Sen. Menendez’s response is mere boilerplate and utterly fails to address the question. It also opens with a striking disregard for the truth: At no point did I “express (my) views regarding a two-state solution…” I immediately hit “Reply” and sent a polite, carefully worded message pointing out that my question remained unaddressed. In return, I was summarily notified by an entity labeled “senatepostmaster” that my reply was undeliverable.
Sen. Menendez has a spotty political record, often taking positions closer to Republican than Democratic. When it comes to Israel, however, he is reliably and staunchly in support, and maintains a close relationship with AIPAC. (Please read his address to AIPAC, March of this year.) He has recently sent a letter to the president laying out conditions for the Iranian nuclear negotiations that appear to be penned by Netanyahu himself, going far beyond Obama’s objectives and well beyond anything the Iranian’s could accept. Not surprising then that in his letter above, Menendez speaks entirely from an Israeli perspective, for example stressing the Israeli security requirements with nary a word about Palestinian security.
I had also forwarded this question (our nation’s official position on the legality of Israeli settlements) to the Council on Foreign Relations, and was pleased to receive a reply penned by Elliot Abrams, who, though still encumbered by significant moral and legal baggage (Central American death squads, Iran-Contra), must be respected as a scion of American diplomacy. Mr. Abrams, whose reply provides a neat history of the issue, from Reagan (“not illegal”) to Obama (“illegitimate”), while still failing to state our national position on legality, which position quite clearly does not currently exist.
The episode described clearly illustrates that our “representative democracy” is a charade. A representative democracy whose government declines to discuss or even express policy is nothing more than a plutocracy and our elections become merely an opportunity to select from a limited pool of plutocrats. It also calls into question our ability to perform an elemental and essential role of government: to create and conduct policy. It further questions the quality, capability and experience of our leadership and certainly our commitment to fundamental American values, namely the rule of law. The Fourth Geneva Convention was incorporated into Customary International Law in 1993, making it applicable to all nations. It’s clear that in this case our government willfully ignores and refuses to even acknowledge international law.