The Trump Administration’s statement declaring the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements to not be “per se, inconsistent with international law,” has been hailed by some within the American Jewish community as an important “pro-Israel” act.
However, as an American citizen currently living in Israel, I can say that this statement makes me feel less safe.
In response to the Trump administration’s statement, thousands of Palestinians across the West Bank participated in a “Day of Rage” organized by different Palestinian organizations. The “Day of Rage” included throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, and burning figures and flags. Watching the images on the Israeli news, I was reminded of footage from the first and second Intifadas. The “Day of Rage” has ended, but the anger is still there, and it is I and other Israelis who have to live with the consequences. It is us, not Mike Pompeo, who has to think twice before getting on a bus.
Of course, there was Palestinian anger at Israel before Pompeo’s statement. But, the statement acted as a catalyst to galvanize Palestinians into anti-Israel action -and once people are galvanized, it’s extremely difficult to un-galvanize them.
Then, there is the fact that the statement empowered the settlement movement -and I see that movement as a threat to Israel’s safety and security. I do not think the mere existence of settlements, as they are, has to be an obstacle to peace. Settlements have been dismantled in the past when Israel relinquished territory. However, I do think that the settlement movement as it currently stands is a threat to Israel’s safety.
I think so for two reasons:
- The settler movement is currently heavily pushing expansion, including building structures that are illegal under Israeli law. This constant expansion is essentially eating up the land that would be slotted to be a Palestinian state under a two-state solution, shoving that possibility off of the table. This is not an unintended consequence, but rather, the entire purpose of the settlement expansion endeavor. Although having a few settlements does not have to be an obstacle to peace, having a West Bank full of settlements, with no room for a Palestinian state, does constitute such an obstacle.
- The more extreme voices within the settler movement, especially from the settlement of Yitzhar, have been increasingly prone to violence against Palestinians, and sometimes event, against IDF soldiers and Jewish left-wing activists.* Although the settlement movement leadership has strongly condemned the attacks on the IDF, its condemnation of attacks on Palestinians and left-wing Jews has been lukewarm, at best. The settlement movement’s failure to reign in its own extremist elements, which seem to be increasing, makes it extremely dangerous for Israel. The danger exists on an existential level, because those extremist elements, by advocating racism and inequality, and by acting against Israel’s security forces, threaten Israel’s existence as a democratic state and its ability to implement rule of law. But they also constitute a more immediate threat: Israeli and intelligence officials have gone on the record claiming that “Price Tag” attacks make it more difficult to keep the peace in the West Bank -and what happens in the West Bank, if it grows big enough, has a danger of spilling over into pre-67 Israel as well.
So as I go into Shabbat, the same act hailed by many of my fellow American Jews as pro-Israel, is making me feel less secure, as an American Jew living in Israel.
This leads into a discussion, of course, of what “Pro-Israel” means in the first place. Does it mean acting in Israel’s best interests, as you define them? Does it mean acting in Israel’s best interests, as defined by the Israeli government and/or the Israeli people? Does it mean prioritizing Israel’s immediate safety, or its long-term security? What if the two conflict?
I don’t have easy answers to these questions, but I think we would all do well to ask them a little more in-depth, before using the phrase.