David Horovitz, the editor of the Times of Israel, is not a stupid man. In fact, he strikes me as a pretty, pretty smart guy. And, as far as I can tell, he’s also generally supportive of the State of Israel, articulately advocating on behalf of Israel’s best interests.
That is why I was surprised to see his recent op-ed entitled “it’s the settlements, stupid.” In this piece, Horovitz runs through a long list of things he thinks Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets right, including Netanyahu’s concern that Hamas might establish a terror state on the West Bank if Israel relinquishes control of that territory, as Hamas did in Gaza; Netanyahu’s legitimate complaint about the double standards in the treatment of Israel by the international community; and the dangers facing Israel in a hostile region beset by Islamic extremism.
However, according to Horovitz, even though “Netanyahu’s right about all of that, it just doesn’t matter.” Why? Because “those vital arguments don’t resonate the way they need to in the Western world They are not merely overshadowed, but sometimes eclipsed by the issue of settlements. Their credibility is undermined by the issue of settlements. And thus crucial support for Israel is eroded by the issue of settlements.” As evidence of this, Horovitz quotes Sir Richard Ottaway, a Conservative Member of the British Parliament, who, while abstaining on Britain’s recent House of Commons vote to recognize the State of Palestine, stated that “the annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life.”
Does Horovitz really believe that, if Netanyahu imposed a freeze on future settlement development, the international community’s double standard toward Israel would suddenly disappear? Does he truly believe a settlement freeze would cause Sir Ottaway – – who views Israeli’s settlement activity as the most outrageous thing in his political life (and I expect Sir Ottaway has lived through some pretty outrageous things, like the recent beheading of British citizens by the Islamic State) – – to suddenly start dancing the hora with Netanyahu?
Of course, he doesn’t. Horovitz knows, or should know, that the “settlement issue” is just the latest in a long line of false rationales designed to undermine Israel’s basic right to exist. In fact, before the newly-elected President Obama unilaterally injected the settlements issue into the debate in his “new beginning” Cairo speech in 2009, it was essentially a non-issue. Before the settlement issue became the issue of the day, there was “the occupation” issue, the checkpoints issue, the security wall issue. Seems like only yesterday the headline was “it’s the occupation, stupid.” Of course, that was before Israel ended the occupation of Gaza, resulting in no gain in international support, no diminishment of criticism in the West, nor, of course, peace in the region.
The current mantra is “it’s the settlements, stupid.” This is because President Obama and his administration have obsessively repeated the settlement myth since taking office, blaming it entirely for the lack of progress toward peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. But President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry know better. They are well aware that there was little progress towards peace even before there was a single settlement in the West Bank or Gaza. They know that Israel’s enemies repeatedly tried to destroy it before any Israeli set foot in the Palestinian territories. They know that a settlement “freeze” imposed by Netanyahu under pressure from the United States did not advance the peace process. They well know that the Palestinians repeatedly (in 1948, 2000, 2008) have turned down generous offers to establish their own state. It wasn’t the settlements then, and it’s not the settlements now.
Rather, the settlement myth is just another euphemism designed to disguise the critics’ real reason for disparaging Israel: it’s the Jews, stupid. After sixty-six years, many people just can’t come to grips with the fact that the Jewish people have their own state, make their own decisions, control their own fate. For these people, “settlements” mean not only outlier posts in the West Bank, but also Tel Aviv. For them, Israel itself is a settlement that must be dismantled.
David Horovitz well knows that it’s not the settlements, stupid. In his recent op-ed, he acknowledges that the annexation that so galled Sir Ottoway is “immediately south of Jerusalem, much of it privately purchased by Jews before the establishment of Israel, and envisaged by many Israelis as an area that would be retained by Israel as part of a land swap-redefined border under a permanent accord with the Palestinians.” In other words, much of these “settlements” will remain part of Israel no matter what. Other settlements, outliers in the West Bank, will be dismantled, as they were in Gaza. In short, contrary to Horovitz’s argument, Israel is not “unilaterally remaking the facts on the ground.” Rather, these ARE the facts on the ground and, until Obama invented the settlements myth in 2009, all concerned accepted that.
I expect that, in time, the settlements issue, like the other once fashionable lines of attack against the existence of the State of Israel will fade away and be replaced by another false rationale for denigrating Israel. What will it be? Perhaps, “it’s the bicyclists, stupid.” If only Israelis would stop riding bicycles…
Why the bicyclists? As Hannah Arendt recounts the old joke: “an anti-semite claimed that the Jews had caused the war; the reply was: Yes, the Jews and the bicyclists. Why the bicyclists? Asks the one? Why the Jews? asks the other.”