Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video statement in which he claimed that evacuating Israeli settlements from the West Bank in the context of a future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is tantamount to “ethnic cleansing.” This statement, trivializing crimes against humanity and genocide, should outrage anyone who cares about international affairs and who cares about Israel.
Applying terminology borrowed from the darkest days of European history to a scenario in which Israeli settlements would be withdrawn to allow for a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians, reached by the sovereign governments of both peoples, is abhorrent. It merits the US Jewish community’s rejection and repudiation.
Every U.S. President since 1967, both Republican and Democrat, has accepted that settlements would be removed as part of a peace agreement. Menachem Begin, who evacuated all of Israel’s settlements in Sinai as a part of a peace agreement, and Ariel Sharon, who unilaterally removed all the settlements from the Gaza Strip and a handful in the northern West Bank, made a sovereign decision to do so out of national security considerations. Controversial as these moves may have been at the time, they were not “ethnic cleansing.”