The Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 marked a new step in creating political realities in the region by Israel, namely the settlement movement. Understanding the purpose and history of this movement is crucial to understanding my answer to the question of whether settlers could become citizens of a Palestinian state.
In the first days following the 1967 war, Israel immediately began what is now a common policy of land confiscation and settlement building on Palestinian land. In the beginning it focused mainly on Jerusalem. But impetus was really given the settlement movement in 1977 after the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and later the Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel. Settlement building then reached almost hysterical proportions.
The aim was already clear. The Israeli leadership, especially the Likud Party and Ariel Sharon, one of the settlement movement’s first and greatest champions, intended to preempt any future agreement with the Palestinians and impose a number of political realities on the ground. It was a strategic colonialist project to create a political reality, and it was realized through Israel’s military might.
Some believe settlement activity had the simple colonialist goal of confiscation and subordination. That view, while partly correct, ignores important additional aspects: to prevent the establishment of an independent, effective Palestinian entity and render any future Palestinian entity entirely under Israeli control and domination, no matter what the political circumstances.
Much as the peace treaty with Egypt was followed by massive settlement activity, the 1993 Declaration of Principles between Israel and the PLO triggered a new wave of settlement building in the West Bank, particularly along the "belt" around Jerusalem. Again, the aim was clear, and in spite of signed commitments not to undertake any unilateral activity to preempt final status negotiations, Israel did just that.
Hence, any discussion on the issue of settlements must take into consideration the true motives behind their existence. Perhaps the one point that is not always brought to light when dealing with this issue is that the periods during which there was political activity were also the periods when there was the most settlement activity. This shows the strategic colonialist nature of the movement. Insofar as settlement activity privileges the rights of one group of people (Jewish settlers) over another (indigenous Palestinians) it is also racist. These elements must not be disregarded in any discussion of any dimension of the settlement presence.
Despite the fact that the world considers all settlements illegal and illegitimate, there is no doubt that the subject of settlements will be the source of much complication in final status negotiations. Among the different ideas for solving this thorny issue there is one that surfaces from time to time: can settlers be accepted as Palestinian citizens in a future state of Palestine?
The question seems intriguing on the surface, and some may immediately respond in the positive. My answer is an unequivocal no.
My objection is not to individuals or a people; we would not reject any Jew who rejects Israel’s aggressive nature and becomes a Palestinian citizen. The objection is to consolidating facts that were established by force and aggression. Accepting any settler to stay in his present abode would be tantamount to a whitewash of this immoral and shameful enterprise.
But in addition to the theoretical and moral considerations there are practical ones. Israel operates on the premise that it has the right to intervene to protect any Jew wherever he may be and whatever his citizenship. Imagine the Israeli interference in a Palestinian state next to Israel, on land Israelis, deep down, consider is rightfully theirs.
We must also consider the reality that if a number of Jewish settlers remain, they must live among their Palestinian neighbors. In theory, despite different religious and educational practices, this ought not be a problem had the presence of these settlers come about in a framework of coexistence. But it didn’t. The settlers are present as a result of Israeli aggression.
Let me be clear: my objection is not to the idea of coexistence with Israel or Israelis. My objection is to the idea of rewarding the aggressor. The settler and the racist dimensions of the settlement movement, more than almost anything else in this conflict, epitomize aggression.
All this is not to say that the establishment of a truly independent Palestinian state, far from Israeli domination, and the establishment of new, open and rewarding relationships will not create a new atmosphere, which could eliminate the hatred that has resulted from the struggle. But only then can we envisage what would be former rather than current settlers carrying Palestinian citizenship. In any case, such an issue can only be the result of a real peace process, and I believe the current generation of leaders is neither qualified nor prepared to make this come true.