New West Bank facts don’t change the lay of the land

By Edward I. Koch

The New York Times, which opposes Israel retaining any of the West Bank land it now controls, and where Israeli citizens have settled in a number of towns, published an article recently on information provided by Peace Now, an Israeli advocacy group.

The article states “that 39 percent of the land held by Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is privately owned by Palestinians…. If big sections of those settlements are indeed privately held Palestinian land, that is bound to create embarrassment for Israel and further complicate the already distant prospect of a negotiated peace. The data indicate that 40 percent of the land that Israel plans to keep in any future deal with the Palestinians is private.”

I have been asked to comment by The Villager. Let me say those who support the state of Israel and its long-stated goal of establishing defensible borders to protect its population from future attacks by Arab states after the implementation of a two-state solution — one state Israeli, the other Palestinian, in accordance with the Road Map to Peace proposal of the U.S., endorsed by the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — need have no concern.

When a country has been at war with another country and wins that war, the victor generally dictates the peace treaty and the final borders. That happened when the Soviet Union (which invaded Poland when Germany did and eventually won World War II) gave Polish territory to Ukraine, where it remains today. Russia has retained ownership of several Japanese islands it invaded in the closing days of World War II. Poland now retains land that belonged to Germany before World War II, Poland being on the winning side. At the end of World War I, France regained control of Alsace and Lorraine, which Germany took from France after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. During World War II, Germany took those provinces back. At the end of the war, victorious France once again took control of the two provinces.

Some people and countries are trying to change the rules when it comes to Israel, which is continuously attacked by Arab armies, insurgents and terrorism. After the invasion of Israel by Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967, when those three countries lost the war, Israel occupied the West Bank and annexed these areas — about 10 percent of the West Bank — where Israeli cities were subsequently built in the vicinity of Jerusalem to protect it. The Jordanian government during 19 years of occupation of the West Bank from 1948 to 1967, prior to the war, treated these particular areas as publicly held, belonging to the Jordanian government. But, assuming for argument’s sake that those areas were privately owned by individual Palestinians, why is it different in treatment than when the Czechs confiscated the properties of Sudetenland Germans, who were driven out of Czechoslovakia after World War II? Czechoslovakia being one of the Allies who won the war.

Finally, a substantial part of Upstate New York is claimed by Native American tribes. Some of those claims have been upheld, others are awaiting court determinations. If all of those claims are upheld, the tribes don’t get the land back, they get the appraised value at the time they lost control of the land, which in some cases, may be a few cents an acre. Israel, to its credit and generosity, has said in any final peace settlement, it will compensate Palestinian private owners of the land it confiscates and give the new Palestinian state an equal exchange of land. That is far more generous than that which the Native Americans in New York State can look forward to. The same rule applies to the Palestinians who fled after 1948 and left property in the state of Israel. They are entitled to the value of the property they left at the time they left.

All in all, the best way for a country to keep its land is not to lose a war. The best way to keep your land in the Middle East is not to pick a fight with Israel. 

Koch was the 105th mayor of New York City, holding the office from 1978-’89.