In an article in the Jerusalem Post, Maurice Ostroff writes about the status of Gilo--where plans to build 900 houses have caused a new uproar and claims that Israel is once again expanding settlements.
However, as Ostroff points out, the emotional reaction ignores the facts--both historical and legal.
THE REALITY is that Gilo is very different than the outposts in the West Bank. It is not in east Jerusalem as widely reported. It is a Jerusalem neighborhood with a population of around 40,000. The ground was bought by Jews before WWII and settled in 1971 in south west Jerusalem opposite Mount Gilo within the municipal borders. There is no inference whatsoever that it rests on Arab land.
The current building approval was not a deliberately provocative political decision by Binyamin Netanyahu as reported in some media. The plan was initiated a long time ago by the Israel Land Administration. Since Gilo is an integral part of the city, the approval was given by Jerusalem's Construction and Planning Committee and, as Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement released by his office, "Israeli law does not discriminate between Arabs and Jews, or between east and west of the city. The demand to cease construction just for Jews is illegal, as in the US and any other enlightened place in the world. The Jerusalem Municipality will continue to enable construction in every part of the city for Jews and Arabs alike."
...In his video message to the November 8 Rabin Rally in Tel Aviv, US President Barack Obama urged Israel to pursue Rabin's legacy. It is therefore relevant to recall that Rabin had no intention of returning to the 1967 lines. In his last speech [view here] to the Knesset on October 5, 1995, Rabin said "The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines....First and foremost, united Jerusalem - which will include both Ma'aleh Adumim and Givat Ze'ev - as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, while preserving the rights of the members of the other faiths, Christianity and Islam, to freedom of access and freedom of worship in their holy places, according to the customs of their faiths...."
No less supportive of Israel's right to build the houses is Internaational Law, which is often misquoted in an effort to condemn Israel:
AS THE Western Wall, Ramat Eshkol, French Hill, Pisgat Ze'ev, and Mount Scopus are all beyond the Green Line, it important to consider its significance realistically. The Green line is not an international border. It refers only to the 1949 Armistice lines established after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Its name is derived from the green ink used to draw the line on the map. Nor is it fixed, as explained by Justice Stephen M. Schwebel, who spent 19 years as a judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, including three years as President. He wrote "...modifications of the 1949 armistice lines among those States within former Palestinian territory are lawful (if not necessarily desirable), whether those modifications are, in Secretary Rogers's words, "insubstantial alterations required for mutual security" or more substantial alterations - such as recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem.." And in a footnote he added "It should be added that the armistice agreements of 1949 expressly preserved the territorial claims of all parties and did not purport to establish definitive boundaries between them".
The Palestinians never had sovereignty over the West Bank nor east Jerusalem and Justice Schwebel concluded that since Jordan, the prior holder of these territories had seized that territory unlawfully in 1948, Israel which subsequently took that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense in 1967, has better title to it. Jordan's illegal annexation of the West bank and east Jerusalem in 1948 was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan and Jordan now makes no claim to it.
In terms of international law, between 1948 and 1967 this territory was terra nullius, or "land belonging to no one" over which sovereignty may be acquired through occupation. The concept of terra nullius is well recognized in international law. For example it has been a major issue in Australian politics and Norway occupied parts of uninhabited Eastern Greenland in the 1920s on the grounds of terra nullius.
As east Jerusalem came into Israel's possession in the course of a defensive war, Israel was entitled to annex it and create a united Jerusalem. Consequently, the Jerusalem City Council has jurisdiction over building approvals for Jewish and Arab residence in any part of the city.
It is highly relevant that the Oslo Accords do not require any freeze of building activity and even the road map which was never formally ratified, speaks only of dismantling "outposts" erected since March 2001, a far cry from Gilo, that has been a residential suburb of Jerusalem since 1971.
In proposing solutions towards achieving two states, co-existing in peace and security, impractical slogans like 'evacuate the settlements' should be discarded because of their vagueness and replaced by a pragmatic call for territorial compromise taking the above realities into account.
But don't bet on the loaded terms 'settlement' and 'occupation' falling into disuse any time soon. Rhetoric has long served pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel apologists far too well--and far better than the historical record and accurate interpretations of International Law.
Besides, rhetoric beats the facts--hands down.
And both the Palestinian Arabs and their allies know this very well.