Dr Sara Hirschhorn, an Oxford lecturer in Israeli Studies, has made a speech claiming that any resolution of the settlement problem in the West Bank would make little impact on peace in the Middle East whilst any ideological tensions remain.

The West Bank is an area of land east of Israel. Designated as part of a new Arab state in the UN 1948 partition plan, it was taken over by Jordan after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Israel subsequently took control of the land in 1967 after the Six-Day War, and has since been building settlements in Palestinian teritory, despite this being illegal under international law. UN Resolutions 242 and 338 stipulate that Israel must withdraw completely from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.

Speaking at Limmud 2014, a Jewish festival of arts and ideas, Hirschhorn remarked, “The settlements are not the problem. It’s not a conflict about territory, water, refugees or any of the practical political issues [alone].

“If you’re a policy maker, there’s any number of plans you can use to reach a peace deal. This doesn’t matter, because it’s not a conflict about all of these things; it’s a conflict about narrative. This is an ideological conflict.”

Hirschhorn told Cherwell, “The two-state solution or any other political solution that does not resolve underlying ideological tensions is unlikely to be a claims-ending, durable peace.”

She did point out though that this did not mean settlements were unproblematic, saying, “Continued building causes pain and lack of trust amongst the Palestinian population, and weakens the moderate Palestinian leadership that needs to be empowered as a partner to a future peace deal.”

Stressing the complexity of the settler movement, she said that she has tried to illuminate “the complexity of this movement made up of more than 300,000 individuals beyond stereotypes presented in the media and popular culture”.

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The Oxford Students’ Arab Cultural Society commented, “Dr Hirschhorn’s opinions, as put forth at Limmud 2014, reflect the views of Israel and the extremist settler parties that now dominate its government.

“For those familiar with Israeli propaganda, Hirschhorn’s comments fit into a well-worn narrative that detracts from the horror of Israeli settler-colonialism by posing Israel’s illegal military occupation as an existential ‘conflict of narratives’.

“This attempts to alleviate Israeli responsibility for its historic and continuing project of forcible population transfer (ethnic cleansing) and the regime of institutionalised racial discrimination (apartheid) by which it is realised, and of which Israel’s armed settler gangs are but the tip of the iceberg.

“It is a shame that an Oxford University lecturer chooses to propagate views that undermine international legal norms and support the extremist policies of the Israeli government rather than supporting legal accountability, peace and justice.”

Law undergraduate David Browne commented, “There seems little doubt in the minds of the international community that Israeli settlements violate international law, but the vast majority of such settlements are near the Green Line, meaning that their existence should certainly not be a deal-breaker to peace.

“However, it is difficult to suggest that, when Israel is surrounded by countries which do not even recognise its existence, and did not even before settlement construction began, and threatened by Hamas on its doorstep, that any resolution of the settlement question will make much of an impact on peace in the region.”