Are Settlements Obstacles Or Incentives?

Ariel Sharon stands in front of the Temple Mount during his term as prime minister in July 2000 (file photo: Flash90)
Ariel Sharon stands in front of the Temple Mount during his term as prime minister in July 2000 (file photo: Flash90)

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told AIPAC’s 18,000 delegates that Israeli settlements are not obstacles to peace. He’s wrong. They are and that’s what they were intended to be.

My source is the man known as the patron of the settler movement, Ariel Sharon. I first met him in 1980 when he was Menachem Begin’s agriculture minister and I was AIPAC’s legislative director. He rolled a map across the table where we sat and showed me his plan to build a network of settlements scattered about the West Bank. “There’s no way you can draw any lines” for a Palestinian state, he explained. He signed the map for me and it now hangs in my office.

Schumer said “Israel voluntarily” left Gaza in 2005, and “three weeks later” Palestinians in the coastal strip “threw rockets into Sderot.” For the Brooklyn senator that was proof that settlements are not the “blockage to peace.”

Wrong again, Chuck. That’s intentionally faulty and pandering logic. By that time Sharon had become prime minister and had endorsed the creation of a future Palestinian state. In August of that year nearly 9,500 Jewish settlers were withdrawn by his government from 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank.

The Gaza disengagement was a major screw-up on both sides. Israel failed to make living arrangements for the displaced settlers, and many spent years in temporary homes. Sharon failed – actually refused – to negotiate an order transfer arrangement with the PLO on security, property and commerce. It was simply a matter of walking out the door and tossing the keys back over his shoulder.

The PLO, for its part, blew an opportunity to show the world it was ready for statehood by turning Gaza into a showcase for self-rule and democracy. Instead it was more of the usual corrupt and brutal rule, which led to a bloody takeover by Hamas, which turned the area in a terror base and launching pad for rockets and missiles targeting Israeli towns.

Meanwhile, settlement construction and expansion continued to grow on the shrinking West Bank territory where Palestinians hope to build a state. Land is continually being gobbled up for new homes and roads, most for exclusive Jewish use and creating the infrastructure for a potential apartheid state.

The argument that settlements are essential to Israeli security like Yad Mordechai in 1948 is ancient history. Today most are suburbs around bigger cities inside the Green Line, the 1967 border.

Within the Netanyahu government is a movement to extend Israeli civil law to West Bank settlements, which has been called “creeping annexation.”

A majority of American and Israeli Jews oppose annexation.

There was a time when settlements could have been seen by Palestinians as an incentive to make a deal, when the Jewish population of the West Bank was small, more concentrated and less entrenched. But instead the Palestinians stuck to unrealistic, maximalist demands and opportunity slipped by.

Today settlements are a major obstacle, as intended. Their most ardent supporters, like Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party and the national-religious camp, see their expansion as critical to preventing a Palestinian state.

But they are not the biggest problem.

Israelis are right to point to Palestinian terrorism and incitement as possibly the greatest obstacles to peace, and an unwillingness to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

Another is the failure of Arab leaders to prepare their public opinion and give the Palestinians the encouragement and support they need to make historic and difficult decisions.

But Palestinians ask – not without justification — how they can make peace when Israel is gobbling up more and more of the land they need for a viable state.

Schumer may not believe settlements are a “blockage” to peace but the evidence suggests otherwise. And Chuck, a smart man, undoubtedly knows that.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.
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