Samoa, the West Bank of the South Pacific

Under the headline, "Send Jeff Goldberg to Samoa," the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto takes issue with my "left-liberal" assertion that classifying the West Bank as part of Israel proper, rather than as occupied territory, would be a very bad thing for Israel's future as a Jewish-majority democracy:

Goldberg errs in assuming that an assertion of Israeli sovereignty over the disputed territories would necessarily be the equivalent of incorporating those territories into "Israel proper." To see why, look at the American example.

The U.S. has several unincorporated territories--insular possessions over which America exercises sovereignty but which are not part of the U.S. They are, in declining order of population (and omitting unpopulated islands), Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Residents of these territories do not have the right to vote in presidential elections. They have no representation in the Senate and only a nonvoting delegate or (in the case of Puerto Rico) resident commissioner in the House.

Because these territories are not part of the U.S., their natives--unlike people born on the mainland or in Hawaii--are not entitled by the 14th Amendment to U.S. citizenship. Congress has enacted statutes granting birthright citizenship to natives of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Marianas--but not American Samoa.

Natives of American Samoa whose parents are not U.S. citizens have the status of "U.S. national." This gives them rights equivalent to those of a resident alien: They may freely travel, work and live in the U.S., and they may apply for citizenship--but until they become citizens, they are not entitled to vote in mainland elections.

Goldberg and others who repeat this trope need to explain why Israel can't have unincorporated territories if the U.S. can.

Well, okay, let me explain: I suppose that Israel could indeed have unincorporated territories, like the U.S. does, if the people who lived in the those unincorporated territories wanted to live as "resident aliens" of Israel. But they don't. This is one difference between the West Bank and Samoa. The people of Samoa seem content to be citizens of a territory of the United States. At the very least, they're not in perpetual revolt. If they were in perpetual revolt, or even sporadic revolt, does James Taranto really believe that the President, Congress and people of the United States would attempt to force Samoa, through arms, to remain a territory of the U.S.? Or we would we let the Samoans have their independence, or whatever it is they said they wanted? I imagine the American people would choose the latter option.

If the Palestinians of the West Bank choose, through a free and fair referendum, to become non-voting resident aliens of the State of Israel, well, who are we to tell them they're wrong?  But so far there's no indication that Palestinians would freely choose such an arrangement.

The editors at Bloomberg View have a more sensible understanding of the consequences of extending Israeli sovereignty to the whole of the West Bank:

Jewish settlements in the West Bank aren't regular neighborhoods. They are outposts of Israeli citizens in land intended to be part of a Palestinian state according to the 1947 United Nations plan to partition the British mandate of Palestine. During the 1967 war, Israel conquered the territory from Jordan, which had annexed it after the 1948 war. Israel has occupied the West Bank since.

"Occupied" is the verb used by the UN, the U.S. and other third parties. Levy and his two fellow panelists don't see it that way. They argue that Israel is not an occupying force in the West Bank because Jordan's previous control was never legitimized. Yet that's a rare view even in Israel. Many officials there dislike the term, but international law regarding occupation has been the basis of Israeli jurisprudence in the West Bank for 45 years. In the first military orders issued after taking the West Bank, Israel cited the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deals with the responsibilities of an occupying power.

Of course, Israel is free to reconsider its position. It would suit Netanyahu if settlers could expand their communities more easily, especially if he could claim he was unable to stop them. The political support of the settlers is important to him. However, government backing of their ambitions invites international opprobrium: Settlements would make it difficult, if not impossible, to create a Palestinian state with any geographic integrity.

Read the whole thing.