As the Obama administration moves to transform Palestinian arguments about Israeli settlements into U.S. policy, an examination of the facts underlying these issues is appropriate. There may be no better place to begin than the swimming pool at Rimonim, a Jewish settlement in the heart of the West Bank.
The scene is a familiar one. Families picnicking together. Mothers yelling at children to be careful. Young children calling out to moms to watch them do dangerous things.
But it is the view from the hilltop pool that is striking. It quickly dispels many of the myths that today masquerade as dogma concerning Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
As one looks out from Rimonim, the most telling fact is what one does not see. Over the miles of rolling hills that unfold across the landscape, there is not a village, building, home or even a herd of sheep to be seen. The scene is the same at other Jewish settlements as well.
Palestinian propaganda machines have for years purveyed the myth of Israeli settlements choking Palestinian communities the way commerce and residential developments have encroached upon rural America. Yet, in reality, nothing like this exists in the largely unsettled expanses of the West Bank.
When Mark Twain walked this land in 1867, he described in his book, Innocents Abroad, this very same "deserted" and "desolate country" with its "rocky and bare" landscape. Today, despite Palestinian efforts to portray it differently, not all that much has changed outside the few towns and villages that dot the land.
Even the pro-Palestinian group Peace Now concedes that Israeli settlements - mostly bedroom communities of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv - occupy less than 3 percent of the West Bank. More than 98 percent of Palestinians already live under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, and there is no shortage of land there for Palestinian expansion.
Moreover, Israeli professionals living a suburban life with their children in the vast expanse of these territories do not threaten or harm Palestinians. Israeli checkpoints and security measures have been implemented because Palestinians have seemed more interested in destroying Israel and killing Jews than establishing an independent Palestinian state.
Nor are Jewish settlements the result of Israeli colonial aspirations. Most represent the return of the Jewish people to the cities of their ancestors. As Twain painstakingly reported, Jews have lived here since time immemorial, and a drive through these territories highlights the Jewish history - cities, tombs and other landmarks - rooted in this land.
Yet it is not just ancient history that speaks to the great Jewish legacy. The Jewish presence has been a constant right up to modern times. While many bristle at the terms "Judea" and "Samaria," dismissing them as propaganda invented by extremist "settlers" for political ends, maps, photographs, travel guides and other books have throughout history described these territories by those time-honored names. Even United Nations resolutions - including, notably, the 1947 Partition resolution - used those terms.
Given this history, the rights of the Jewish people in these lands are rich, historic and firmly enshrined. While negotiations about sharing this land may be necessary for the sake of peace, they cannot proceed from a premise that these are "Palestinian lands" or occupied "Palestinian territory." They are, at most, "disputed territories."
Indeed, the Oslo Accords firmly recognized the issue of "settlements" as one of the "final status" issues to be addressed by negotiation after other, less difficult, issues were resolved.
It is wrong for the Obama administration to now seek to prejudice that delicate issue with pronouncements adopting the Palestinian narrative and actions designed to preclude the building of additions to homes and new units necessary to accommodate natural growth in existing Jewish settlements.
The thousands of young children who frequent the Rimonim pool look to the future like children anywhere. They seek only to grow up in peace, experience the joys of youth with sufficient room in their homes and schools and, ultimately, have the right to raise families in the communities that nurtured them from birth.
There is no morally sound reason for the Obama administration to challenge these basic rights.
Aron U. Raskas is a Baltimore attorney currently residing in Jerusalem. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.