In the aftermath of the latest war in Gaza, much of our attention shifted away from our deep-seated predicament in the West Bank to the growing dangers emanating from the Strip. A sense of urgency, now predictably losing steam, gripped the Israeli public who clamored for change. Yet while gruesome war and international furor had a way of rocking our world, these intermittent headline-grabbing challenges also tend to mask more enduring, slow-burning problems.
A recent investigative report by the Molad research institute has for the first time revealed the grossly disproportionate funding that Israeli taxpayers unwittingly provide settlements in the West Bank, confirming with hard numbers what many of us already knew. Formally intended to support construction projects throughout all of Israel, the so-called Settlement Division evidently spends 74.5% of its budget on the West Bank – with one local authority in particular, Beit El, even receiving more than all 115 beneficiary communities in the Galilee and Negev combined.
Those of us who want to see Israel remain Jewish and democratic should find this alarming, because preserving that vision demands a two state solution—and an ever-expanding settlement enterprise only reduces its waning possibility of success. Therefore we must heavily roll back these subsidies: not as a precondition for negotiation, a gesture of good will, or an act of appeasement, but because our future depends on it.
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Although most Jews support the two-state solution in theory, solidarity quickly fades when those polled begin to examine the compromises that establishing a Palestinian state requires. Rather than serve as a wake-up call to action, our differences of opinion and frequent distractions in Gaza have caused us to take refuge in the comfort of inertia.
Perhaps people believe the status quo in the West Bank is sustainable, or somehow less important than Gaza. While rockets and tunnels from Gaza terrified us this summer, the West Bank remained mostly quiet, and the trauma of the last round temporarily silenced the peace movement. But the status quo in the West Bank is not sustainable, because a democratic state ruling over a territory whose Jewish residents are protected citizens and whose Palestinian residents are heavily-controlled subjects can only call itself a democracy for so long. Any version of this story that maintains one state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean carries too heavy a price: Extending formal sovereignty beyond the Green Line and enfranchising its over two and a half million Palestinian residents would mean the end of the sovereign Jewish refuge we have prayed, fought, and died to achieve. Alternatively, annexing the West Bank and expelling its Palestinian residents would be an injustice unbefitting of our ethical character, not to mention a threat to Israel’s legitimacy.
Perhaps people believe we can keep taking more pieces of the pie until Palestinians surrender. But a state born out of a negotiation in which Israel simply dictated its terms would be so stripped of its dignity, so embittered, that any ostensible peace treaty underlying it would be short-lived and worthless. And while the potential advantages of continued growth are seductive, unbridled settlement has no brake mechanism to determine the point at which our expanding presence in the West Bank simply makes a Palestinian state nonviable.
Perhaps people believe that subsidizing settlements has and will continue to strengthen our bargaining position. But even if this were true at some point, surely the growing human cost of any eventual disengagement now far outweighs the marginal benefit of continuing this tactic.
Anyone who believes the current trajectory will end with victory or a de facto end to the conflict is sorely mistaken. While we wait as though for some miracle, the international community turns against us, Diaspora Jews turn away from Zionism, and moderate Palestinians turn to resistance. The Palestinian Authority goes on a world tour in search of unilateral recognition of statehood, and goes to their more extreme brethren in Hamas to try to make peace with them instead. Our enemies rally the world in delegitimizing the entire State of Israel rather than just its presence in the West Bank. And heaven forbid we grow complacent and forget the prospect of widespread terrorism.
If we agree that our greatest chance to remain both Jewish and democratic rests with the successful establishment of a Palestinian state, it is illogical to perpetuate a policy that inevitably undermines it.
To begin with, the economics of the settlement project must change. While their fellow citizens inside the Green Line continue to protest the high cost of living, West Bank residents are paying less. East of the Green Line, land is sold cheaper, homes are built larger, and public transportation is offered at discounted rates—despite the fact that the complex web of military bases, installations, patrols, armored buses, and checkpoints are largely there for their personal protection. And even though their presence invites violent clashes, political complications, and diplomatic censure, government subsidies also inadvertently attract families motivated by cost-cutting rather than ideology. Even if the government allows Jews to move there pending an agreement, if the growth of Israel’s population in the West Bank makes peace less likely, we should at least stop incentivizing its expansion. Instead, we should redistribute the cost to settlers to better reflect the financial, military, and political burden of being there.
Advancing a durable two-state solution also requires more direct action. It requires a charismatic and courageous leader or grassroots movement capable of building a national consensus, recognizing that we cannot advocate a two-state solution while strapping it with so many qualifications that the idea loses meaning. It means publicly presenting the Palestinians and the international community with a serious, viable plan. One so reasonable that if refused or ignored would expose our partners in peace to be charlatans. It means involving mediating countries, so that if Palestinians are dragging their feet or reneging on agreements, they at least do so under the watch of world opinion-makers. It means proposing interim agreements to work toward clear mutual goals such as the confiscation of weapons, cessation of financial support for families of terrorists, moderation of public statements, autonomy of Palestinian security forces, and reform of school textbooks in exchange for dismantling problematic settlements, opening access roads, rerouting the security barrier, funding economic and educational initiatives, and permitting greater freedom of movement. It might even mean imposing enforceable penalties should these reciprocal commitments not be upheld.
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For many, this presentation will appear too one-sided. Peacemaking, after all, requires a partner. Lest the above be misinterpreted as giving Palestinians a free pass, it should be clear: historically it has never been Israel’s settlement of the West Bank that stood in the way of peace, but Israel’s existence per se that stood in the way of peace. The turbulent past of pre-1967 Israel attests to this. And while today the Palestinian leadership publicly claims their commitment to a peaceful resolution, this posturing is starkly contrasted by their often duplicitous rhetoric, diplomatic hypocrisy, and celebration of martyrdom.
While we may point to this narrative should the peace process ultimately fail, using it as an excuse to further subsidize settlements and wait for the other side to blink is not in our own best interest. As long as there is still a chance for a two state solution ensuring a Jewish and democratic Israel, we must do everything in our power to promote its success and ensure that we not have a hand in its failure.