Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are illegal. The whole world has said so.
When the International Court of Justice in the Hague was asked for an opinion on the Israeli wall built deep into Palestinian territory, the ICJ reaffirmed that occupying powers are not allowed to take property or move their people to areas under occupation.
The illegality of settlements is clearly defined in the 4th Geneva Convention, made into humanitarian law after the relatively prolonged Nazi occupation of France. The Israeli occupation of Palestine since 1967 has lasted more than seven times the German occupation.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was, therefore, totally justified when he told The Associated Press that no settler should remain in the state of Palestine as part of any peace deal.
Erekat was responding to a statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which the latter stated that Jewish settlers currently living in the occupied territories could remain in their homes and live under Palestinian rule. The statement was later modified to make this issue a choice for Israeli settlers.
With the exception of Erekat, the Palestinian side was relatively silent, but Netanyahu's bombshell left many political victims in his own ruling coalition.
Israeli right-wing leaders, including minister Bennet called Netanyahu's statement "very dangerous," while Israeli newspapers said that a trap intended for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas exploded in the face of Netanyahu's own government.
Regardless of Erekat's or Israelis' reactions to this trial balloon, the question about who can be allowed to live in Palestine is important and must not be swept under the carpet.
Some Palestinians, including former prime minister Salam Fayyad have said that there is no principled reason why Jews or Israelis cannot live in an independent state, as long as they abide by Palestinian laws.
Some also insisted that for any current Israeli settlers to live in Palestine, the issue of ownership of their property must be first resolved.
Ownership issues must be solved before the Palestinian government can give any legitimacy to settlers wishing to live in the state of Palestine.
While most believe that the idea of settlers remaining in Palestine is farfetched, for many reasons, the idea that at some time in the future Palestinians must come to terms with this possibility is there.
If indeed an American Jew or an Israeli genuinely wants to properly buy property and accept the laws of the state of Palestine, would that eventuality be denied?
Historically, Palestinians have been open to the idea of a shared state in Palestine. The PLO' covenant and early PLO leaders always referred to the idea of a secular democratic state where Jews can live alongside Muslims, Christians and non-religious Palestinians.
True, Palestinian leaders who opposed the Zionist ideology that allowed Jews anywhere in the world to emigrate to Palestine were vague as to which Jews would be allowed to live in this secular state. But the concept of a multi religious state of Palestine has always been part of the historic Palestinian narrative.
Today many Palestinians are favoring the one-state solution, in which Jewish Israelis would be part of the citizenry of this single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.
Some Palestinians feel that there is a huge gap between the concept of a person of Jewish origin choosing to come and live in an independent Palestine and that of Jewish settlers who live on stolen Palestinian lands and who for decades have been terrorizing their neighbors all of a sudden being given legitimacy and citizenship.
The anger at and rejection of such ideas recalls other long-term conflicts that required a reconciliation process as a prerequisite.
A South African-style truth and reconciliation commission might be needed if indeed some of the settlers who have pillaged Palestine would be permitted to continue to live in Palestine.
The idea of Jewish settlers living in Palestine draws raw anger from many sides. Netanyahu might have thrown this trial balloon as part of his own negotiating tactic. The issue, however, is serious. Palestinians must think through and try to see if they can find some kind of national consensus on it.
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