Notes on Netanyahu in Congress: A misrepresentation of reality
A few quick notes on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress on Tuesday:
- Netanyahu, when making the case for annexing large settlement blocs in the ever-unlikely event that he makes peace, inflated the number of settlers living east of the pre-1967 lines by roughly 150,000. It is not clear where the claim of 650,000 Israelis living beyond the Green Line came from but the motivation for his statistical augmentation is likely driven by his desire to make the prospect of withdrawal appear impossible, as Mondoweiss speculated.
Note: A request to the Prime Minister’s Office inquiring about he source of his numbers was unanswered at the time of this post. I will update if/when an answer is provided.
- Netanyahu claimed: “The vast majority of the 650,000 Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines, reside in neighborhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and Greater Tel Aviv.” This can be described either as an untrue statement or a gross manipulation of liberally applied geographic descriptors and definitions. Let’s forget the misnomer calling settlements suburbs just and look at the numbers.
- The largest settlement bloc is Gush Etzion (right) with over 55,000 residents (this calculation includes the municipality of Beitar Ilit, which is usually calculated separately due to its large population of nearly 35,000). There is no doubt that the settlements of Gush Etzion are suburbs, but not of Jerusalem. The westernmost settlement in Gush Etzion, Beitar Ilit, is roughly 3.5 miles from Bethlehem as opposed to the five-plus miles from Jerusalem’s southern neighborhoods (inside the Green Line). The easternmost settlement, is barely 2 miles from Bethlehem.
- The second largest settlement is Modi’in Ilit (below), with a population of over 41,000. Though situated somewhere between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Modi’in Ilit is actually closer to Ramallah than either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. To call it a suburb of either is a wild stretch. While someone (from Los Angeles) could argue that Calabasas is a suburb of Los Angeles, using those same standards, the northern Gaza Strip would be a suburb of Tel Aviv. To be fair to Mr. Netanyahu, his description allowed for “suburbs of …Greater Tel Aviv,” which with enough imagination could make any city in Israel qualify.
- The next largest settlement (bloc), with nearly 34,000 residents, is Ma’ale Adumim (below). While definitely qualifying as a suburb due to its proximity to Jerusalem (roughly 2 miles at its westernmost point), it also extends eastward deep into the West Bank, effectively cutting it into two. To make this point clearer, the easternmost point of Ma’ale Adumim is only 5.5 miles closer to Jerusalem than it is to the border with Jordan.
- The last on this list is Ariel (below), a settlement most often invoked when discussing settlements that “cannot” be evacuated. While described as a city, Ariel has a population of less than 18,000. Often referred to as the “finger” that reaches into the West Bank, Ariel is closer to the Jordanian border than it is to either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Its location was chosen specifically to give Israel enough “strategic depth” to hold off an army invading from the east, but coincidentally sits on one of the largest water aquifers in the West Bank. Ariel lies just over ten miles from both Nablus and Ramallah.
- Lastly, Netanyahu said of the settlement blocs, “These areas are densely populated but geographically quite small. Under any realistic peace agreement, these areas, as well as other places of critical strategic and national importance, will be incorporated into the final borders of Israel.”
It is true that the actual area of the West Bank covered by Israeli settler homes is small. However, the security buffer zones surrounding them (off-limits to Palestinians) eat up a significant amount of land. Furthermore, the settlements’ locations (even the “blocs”) effectively cut the West Bank into incontiguous pieces, making a “viable” Palestinian state impossible if they remain as they are today.
These points may be dismissed as nitpicking, but when attempting to decipher policy cues from such an important speech, language and semantics become extremely important.
(Maps overlays created by Peace Now)