Settlements and Israel’s Quagmire

No matter how you look at it, Israeli settlements are leading the Israelis to a monstrous nightmare. If they get rid of the settlements, there is likely to be a civil war with Jewish settlers. If they don’t get rid of the settlements, bi-nationalism becomes a reality and the Jewish character of Israel dissipates. Despite this, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon apparently told the Israeli Cabinet last weekend that Israel can continue settlement building in the Palestinian territories so long as the construction is not celebrated. “……just build,” is how Sharon was quoted in Israel’s Ha’aretz.

Sharon’s defiance came at a delicate time in the Road Map to peace and followed a proposal by National Infrastructures Minister Yosef Paritzky to move Jewish settlers from the West Bank to lightly-populated areas of Israel.

Sharon has to consider the feelings of Jewish settlers who are key supporters. And for many Jewish settlers, being in the West Bank is a religious duty. Consider the 400 heavily-armed settlers who live among 130,000 Palestinians in Hebron. The settlers believe that they are entitled to Hebron because Abraham, the ancient patriarch of Arabs and Jews, bought a cave in modern day Hebron as a burial place for his Jewish wife, Sarah, about 4,000 years ago.

Some even insist that the settlements are needed for security reasons even though the colonies arguably have cultivated more hatred.

But it was Sharon himself who declared the true aim of the settlements when he once urged “Everyone has to move, run, and grab as many hilltops as you can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours……”

Indeed, Sharon and other supporters of Israeli settlements are correct that a viable Palestinian Arab state cannot be established west of the river Jordan. The settlements and the exclusively Jewish bypass roads leading up to the settlements have left Palestinian areas looking like Swiss cheese. However, it is doubtful that settlement supporters are thinking about the erasure of the Green Line and the resulting one state solution where Palestinians and Israelis live together in one state.

As Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen of the Israel Policy Forum acknowledged in fall, 2002, “You now have a Jewish state on both sides of the Green Line, one where there is a Jewish majority and one where there is a Jewish minority ruling an Arab majority.”

The reality is that Israeli settlements have long been recognized as a thorn in the side of Middle East peace. They’ve been referred to as war crimes by International Committee of the Red Cross head, Rene Kosirnik, since the Geneva Convention forbids resettling individuals on occupied lands. Even then-President Ronald Reagan proposed a peace plan in 1982 that required freezing such settlements. “The immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed,” Reagan said.

Twenty years later, the settlement building continues, and leaders from both Labor and Likud have never taken a reprieve since occupying the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. In fact, there was more settlement building under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak than there was under rightwing predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Israel’s Peace Now. Barak é often credited for his “generous” offer to Palestinians at Camp David é clearly reneged on prior declarations of freezing settlement expansion.

According to Israel’s Peace Now, almost 40,000 houses have been built since the 1993 Oslo Accords. Most surprising to people is that there was more settlement building under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak than there was under rightwing predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu. Barak, often credited for his ‘generous’ offer to Palestinians at Camp David, actually wanted to maintain 80% of these settlements in any final peace agreement.

And so, Sharon pushes forward with the settlement policy. Each defiant statement and edifice is adding to Israel’s quagmire. To illustrate the dilemma that Israel has created for itself, consider comments to the AP by one Yosi Peli, a settler from the Yitzhar settlement and recent evictee of the Mitzpeh Yitzhar outpost: Regarding violence between Jewish settlers and IDF soldiers, “When someone is trying to take you from your home it’s difficult to know what will be.”

Setting aside that Palestinians can make the same statement, it is time for Sharon to behave like a statesman and make the tough decisions necessary for peace.

Sherri Muzher, who holds a Jurist Doctor in International and Comparative Law, is a Palestinian-American activist and free lance journalist.