Whether One State or Two, Settlements Need to Go

With the option of two-state solution continually dwindling in the face of Israeli expansionist measures on the ground, other ideas have been rising to the surface, including the age-old bi-national state or a Palestinian state where a small settler population remains.

While the first idea of establishing a nation for Palestinians and Israelis alike on all of historical Palestine would seem the most appealing, it is highly unlikely that this would ever happen for one reason. Israel, in its current state, would never accept the notion of a non-Jewish country, which is exactly what would happen if the two peoples merged. Furthermore, it would take a lot of coaxing for Israel to accept the Palestinians, whom they have oppressed and considered as second and third class citizens for so long, as equal citizens with equal national and civilian rights. Hence, the Edward Said’s of our nation may have the right idea but Israel’s leaders, all the way from left to right, will make sure "one nation under God" so to speak, will never happen.

This leaves us with the second option, one which has been floating around disturbingly, for some time now. Since Israel’s illegal and illegitimate settlements built on the West Bank, are perhaps the biggest bone of contention in any peaceful settlement of the conflict (at least from the territorial aspect), Israeli leaders and even some settlers themselves have begun to postulate on the far-fetched notion that some of these illegal squatters, who live on land and squander the resources of the rightful Palestinian owners, may just settle for remaining in a Palestinian state to avoid the messy business of evacuation. It should be clear here that we are not talking about all the settlers in the West Bank, who number about half a million. No, Israel has already clarified that the major settlement blocs, deemed illegal under international law, would never be relinquished in a final peace deal but would be annexed to Israel. Hence, the elaborate plans that have been put into motion over the past decade –” the separation wall, the checkpoints, the land confiscation and the accelerated settlement construction –” all of these moves have been in a bid to consolidate these settlement blocs under Israeli rule in any future solution. The settlers in question number around 100,000, mostly in the smaller and more remote settlements of the West Bank. The rest, living in the monstrous settlement blocs of Maaleh Adumim or Gush Etzion, would have been annexed to Israel anyway.

The question is not in the number of settlers per se but in what these settlers represent. The fact that they have already agreed and even insisted on living on occupied territory, suck up much needed natural resources for their own benefit and to the detriment of the Palestinians, says something awful about who they are. For the Israeli government, this is a cop-out, a way out of a real solution what would necessarily adhere to international standards, which call for the removal of settlements on occupied land. It would spare them the hassle of evacuation, which we all know is never carried out very smoothly in Israel. There are always the extremists who fight the government tooth and nail, staking tents on Palestinian hilltops and forming human chains to ward off Israeli police and border guards who have come to evacuate them.

But this is exactly the reason why such a solution would never work. No settler, no matter for what reason, should remain on Palestinian land. In theory, the Palestinians have graciously offered to host any Israelis who want to remain in a Palestinian state once it is established as Palestinian citizens. However, in practice, even those who uttered the words know this is an unlikely alternative. How for example, will Palestinians coexist with settlers from say, Yitzhar, in the northern West Bank, when these settlers have burned down neighboring Palestinian homes and fields, have uprooted olive trees or, if in season, stolen the olives? Or with a settler in Hebron caught on tape boasting of how the Jews killed Jesus, how God gave them this land and how they would kill the Palestinians (and the Westerner taping the whole scene) as well?

Some may argue that not all settlers are so belligerent and would be willing to live "side by side" with the Palestinians. There is even a small settler group calling themselves "Settlers for Peace" that propose to solve the conflict by making peace with their Palestinian neighbors. The problem here is not the individual person or even their intentions. The problem is what they stand for, which is a colonialist enterprise on occupied Palestinian land, an enterprise which, no matter how candy-coated we make it, can never be sweetened up enough to be acceptable.

Every conflict has "red lines", ones which are tantamount to political suicide for the leaders that dare to cross them. For the Palestinians, forfeiting the legitimate claim that settlements are illegal in all shapes and forms is one of those red lines. Pushing the borders of a Palestinian state back from the 1967 line to accommodate Israel’s major settlement blocs in a land swap of equal area is bad enough –” some would say even this is going too far. But to begin to legitimize the existence of settlers on Palestinian land, by handing over usurped territory on a silver platter, making peace with those who have declared war on your country, is simply outrageous.

A solution must be found to this conflict, there is no doubt. Whether this solution entails the endorsement of a bi-national state (even if only to pressure Israel) or a two-state solution along the 1967 borders, one thing is certain. Illegal and illegitimate Jewish settlers cannot and must not be allowed to remain in Palestine.