The word “outrageous” was very popular last week. It started with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming in a video he posted to his Facebook account that the Palestinian demand that no Jewish settlements should remain in the Palestinian state within the framework of a two-state solution was tantamount to a demand for “ethnic cleansing.” He claimed that this demand was outrageous, as was international support for such a demand.
Much of the international reaction to Netanyahu’s statement was that it was outrageous.
There are several problems with Netanyahu’s statement, though he is undoubtedly right that should the Palestinian demand be realized, that part of the West Bank which will be part of the Palestinian state will be Judenrein.
Besides, since very few Jews settled in what we call Judea and Samaria until the establishment of the state in 1948, and the few Jews who had settled there (especially in Gush Etzion) were evacuated during the War of Independence, all the Jews currently living there are post-1967 settlers, whom most international law experts claim to have settled in the West Bank illegally – contrary to the Geneva Conventions.
Most Israelis and Jews might claim that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Judea and Samaria, and they certainly have a right to believe so. However, most non-Jews, with very few exceptions, disagree, and believe that all the Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal, and that therefore their removal is not tantamount to ethnic cleansing in the legal sense, but simple justice.
Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge the Palestinian leadership has not said that no Jews could live in the Palestinian state, if and when it is established, but that the current Jewish settlers should be evacuated, because their settlements were illegally established, some of them on land privately owned by Palestinians. Had the Palestinian leadership bothered to say that Jewish settlers willing to recognize the Palestinian state and its sovereignty can remain, it would be totally absolved from any accusations of “ethnic cleansing.” However, to the best of my knowledge, so far they have made no such formal statement, and I doubt whether more than a handful of Jewish settlers would accept such conditions anyhow.
Incidentally, ethnic cleansing is defined as the systematic forced removal of ethnic or religious groups from a given territory by a more powerful group, with the intent of making it ethnically/religiously homogeneous.
The means used to achieve this may include deportation, forced population transfer and physical or mental intimidation.
If an ethnic population is removed from a territory where it has lived on the basis of an agreement between the states concerned, it may be deplored by those who oppose the removal, but is not tantamount to ethnic cleansing in its illegal sense. The departures from Algeria after 1962 of over a million Frenchmen, who had settled in Algeria after the French occupation of that territory in the 19th century, is an example of such a situation.
The expulsion of all the Germans who had lived in Czechoslovakia and various East European countries after the Second World War may indeed be viewed as ethnic cleansing, especially since these Germans had lived in these countries for centuries before the Nazis came to power in Germany.
However, since just before and during the war most of these Germans acted as a fifth column against their countries of residence, and due to heinous crimes committed by Nazi Germany during the war in the countries they had occupied, hardly anybody except for the deportees themselves claimed that these expulsions were illegal. In other words, in certain extreme situations the world is willing to tolerate ethnic cleansing.
However, what makes Netanyahu’s statement outrageous in the eyes of many is that as prime minister of Israel his hands are not clean.
Though during the War of Independence many Arabs escaped the territory controlled by Israel of their own volition, many were physically removed by Israeli forces (as in the cases of Lod and Ramle), while in several other cases such a removal was prevented by local Israeli commanders refusing orders (as in the case of Nazareth).
There were even cases of civilian Arab populations being systematically massacred after the fighting had ceased (for example in the case of Dir Yassin, which was a battle fought by former Irgun forces). Add to this the fact that over the years Israel has confiscated the vast majority of Arab-owned land in Israel, and one may conclude that in terms of ethnic cleansing Israel has a few skeletons in its closet.
Furthermore, Israel’s current defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, is known to favor a two-state solution that will leave as many as possible of Israel’s current Arab citizens outside the borders of the Jewish state. Many if not most Israelis share this desire, though few support the idea of Israel giving up territories that are currently part of Israel to achieve this goal, as Liberman does. Does this make Liberman’s proposal “outrageous”? According to Netanyahu’s logic, it does.
In short, perhaps Netanyahu ought to adopt Fagin’s famous words from the musical Oliver!: “I think I’d better think it out again!” The writer is a political scientist.