As per the reasons outlined in the Levy Report, Israeli settlements are legal under international law.
As the sum of the settlements equals less than 3% of the land in the West Bank and are temporary, they are not an obstacle to peace.
There is nothing inherently wrong about the occupation and if anything, settlements in Judea and Samara provide better economic opportunities for Palestinians.
For the sake of this article, lets just accept these three ‘axioms’. However to put it simply, even with this, settlements are inane and must be stopped.
The genesis and history of the settlement enterprise is a fascinating yet complicated story, but this is not the place to tell it. In the context of this article, I am not trying to justify or explain the past, but to speak about the current situation.
People refer to there being three main reasons for the ongoing building of settlements; economics, security and religion.
The economic argument rests on two pillars; cheap land and negotiation strategy. The negotiation strategy is that if Israel builds enough in the West Bank, it can present a fait accompli where it will be too difficult to remove itself from (or at least distinct blocs). However, the land isn’t so cheap in light of the enormous investments Israel has to make in order to make these communities feasible. There is plenty of land in Israel that could badly use the development. A disproportionate amount of resources are being directed towards the settlements at the expense of communities inside the green line. Although this is bad for a number of reasons, the simplest to point out is how these subsidies are benefiting a tiny part of the population. Very few Israelis live in settlements and very few Israelis would ever consider living in settlements meaning that the overwhelming majority of Israelis are being screwed over.
Security is probably the most important word in Israel’s vocabulary which makes this so peculiar. The settlements do not contribute to Israel security. Many people like to claim that the settlements bring security to Israel through the IDF but this is categorically false. It is important to understand the distinction between the IDF presence in the West Bank and settlements. Settlements may alter the location of where the IDF and Israel’s security apparatus are, but without settlements, the same pieces would be there just in slightly different locations. Israel does not need settlements to have troops in the Jordan Valley, nor does the security barrier need to be in the exact same location for Israel to be protected.
In contrast, settlements can be quite damaging to Israel’s security by inciting Palestinians in supplement to weakening Israel’s international image and bargaining position. This is especially apparent in negotiations with the Palestinians as the entire concept of needing to keep land for defensible borders (security) has been almost completely replaced by the need to keep land for the purpose of lowering the cost (political and economic) of evacuating settlements. Moreover, by needing to ask for so much land, it detracts from other important security assets Israel could seek from the Palestinians. This is also ignoring the difficulty it presents in being able to potentially reach an agreement with the Palestinians at all.
The largest and most important factor as to why settlements are built today stems from religion. Yes, there are many secular settlements, but the drive towards their construction is largely fueled by religious motives (and lobbying). In this regard, there’s nothing really I can say. Although small in numbers, a subset of the Israeli population gets great fulfillment by being able to roam the land of the bible and be close to ancient Jewish holy sites.
If these are the supposed “benefits” of the settlements, then when are the negatives?
Many people get confuzzled about “morality” in regards to the settlements. They point out how unfair and unequal the criticisms are, how little the settlements impact what is going on in the Middle East and many other rational counterpoints.
It is integral to understand this one point – it is irrelevant if settlements are bad, if people are hypocritical, ignorant or malicious; settlements piss people off – period. The world is going to be ignorant, the world is going to be unfair and the world is going to be malicious; these are just facts that Israel has to live with. In consequence, the damage that every single settlement tender causes is immense.
There are a few different prisms to view this through. Firstly, the construction of settlements is extremely polarizing within Israel society. This self-inflicted damage and conflict is unwarranted and harming. However, this is followed by something arguably worse; settlements are extremely polarizing and alienating to diaspora Jews. This is a twofold process. The first part is that many Jews themselves loathe the settlements causing a rift. The second is how settlements tarnish Israel’s image causing Jews to want to disassociate themselves with Israel and those that are seen to be supporting it.
The biggest crater caused by settlements is likely seen in Israel’s reputation. Due to the ways this damage manifests itself in economics, security and politics, it is incredibly powerful. The Middle East is extremely complicated and very difficult for someone even educated in the field to understand. People simply cannot comprehend settlements and as a result, go absolutely bizerk over them. Whether its individuals, or European governments; settlements are the single biggest cause in Israel’s negative reputation.
Due to overwhelming amount of factors going against Israel, the state needs to be as close to perfect as possible to have a fighting chance at being treated as a normal country. Any legitimate concern Israel has about anything is immediately mitigated by settlements. This is how pretty much any conversation about Israel goes nowadays. Iran wants to eradicate Israel – yes, but settlements. Lebanon wants to shoot indiscriminate rockets at Israel – yes, but Israel settlements. Hamas wants to send suicide bombers to Israeli buses – yes, but Israel settlements. The relationship between reputation and important concerns such as economics and security are highly correlated, and by weakening Israel’s reputation, Israel suffers.
Israel has a lot of vital interests in their negotiations in with the Palestinians. Israel also has made many drastic concessions. In contrast, the Palestinians seem to be quite intransigent. However, this is pretty much irrelevant, as by merely continuing building settlements, Israel will always be viewed as the one who ruined the negotiations and did not want peace. Palestinians can say no, no, no; incite as much as they want and be unfaithful, but they will always come out on top in negotiations so long as Israel gives them such an easy card to play.
In fact, this is literally the Palestinian strategy. The Palestinians sit back and do nothing while Israel builds more settlements and further alienates itself. For the foreseeable future, the Palestinians will never accept or concede anything significant because they know that by sitting back and doing nothing, they can just wait for Israel to lose support among its citizens, fellow Jews and international partners.
When looking at the Knesset, many people have contempt for the Haredi and Arab MK’s who look out for the interest of their own constituencies at the expense of a Zionist Israel. Seeing as how these two groups are largely non-Zionist, this makes a lot of sense. However, I am fairly tempted to also group a large subset of the religious Zionist Knesset members in this group, which I find to be quite disheartening.
Individuals like Uri Ariel strive to achieve one goal, working towards a complete Israeli takeover of Judea and Samaria. This is done at the expense of improving the state of Israel. It is important to understand just how anti-peace someone like Danny Danon truly is. As damning as it is to say, I believe these people have no contempt for the Israeli and Jewish people. There is nothing the Palestinians could do aside from not existing that would satisfy these people. Danny Danon could not make peace with Switzerland. The concept of security, economics and democracy are absolutely irrelevant to someone like Moshe Feiglin or Ariel. There is no compromise, there is no potential for an agreement, there is no possibility of peace; all these people care about is furthering an Israeli stronghold of Judea and Samaria at any cost.
There is much virtue in doing the right thing. However, principled actions must be measured. Due to the realities of the world, Israel must heed the message being thrust upon it. The damage settlements do is immense and not worth any conceivable benefit they provide.