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Naftali Bennett, the settlements and my cracked skull

Responding to terror by building more Jewish homes in the West Bank makes no sense, whether you're right or left

Every time I hear Naftali Bennet say that we need to build settlements in response to terrorism, it makes me want to smash my head against a wall.

Now, to be clear and honest from the start, I think the settlement enterprise does more harm than good for Israel, but that doesn’t mean I think people who live in settlements are bad, or that they want some horrible fate for Israel. I am close friends with many people who live in the settlements. The people I know and have met in settlements are for the most part good people who have the best interests of Israel at heart. We just have different opinions on what is best for Israel and that’s ok, even wonderful and it’s what makes Israel a vibrant democracy.

That said, every time I hear someone say that we need to build settlements in response to terrorism, really, I mean it, it makes me want to smash my head into a wall. Why you may ask? Because it is a horrifically terrible argument, and I am not one that wants to give out free points to the anti-Israel folk in the public relations game that accompanies this conflict. There are enough reasons for everyone to score points, no need to set up an own goal.

How can settlements be legitimate if we use them as a punishment for terrorism? How can they be legitimate if they come in response to something else? The core of the problem comes from the government’s handling of the issue. All the freezes and unfreezes and stops and starts, it is impossible to tell if the government really thinks the settlements are legitimate or not. In my opinion, either the government should clearly and unambiguously say settlements are legitimate and lift restrictions on building and expansion, because if they are legitimate, if they are part of Israel, then why should it be restricted, or the government should come out and say, we don’t think the settlements are legitimate, and stop building all together. All of the parsing of phrases and nuanced policy when it comes to the settlements just brings their legitimacy and the government’s commitment to them more and more into question. In the long run, the lack of a clear policy one way or the other hurts Israel, no matter which side of the political spectrum you are on.

So when Bennett (or any of a lot of other Israeli leaders who say this on a fairly regular basis) comes out and says we should build settlements in response to terrorism, it comes back to the previously mentioned question of legitimacy and of the wellbeing of my skull. Now, I know that the people who make this call are not doing it because they think the settlements are illegitimate or they want to cause problems for Israel. They believe that the settlements are legitimate and there should be no restrictions, but because of the government’s policies regarding the settlements, these people feel like they have to take any opportunity they can to advance to expansion of the settlement enterprise in the West Bank even opportunities that come with very big downsides. By making this a punishment in response to some act of terrorism, the settlements are undermined. Any land use authorized like this, as a punishment will be seen as illegitimate. People will ask, “if you are doing this as a response to terrorism, doesn’t that mean if the terrorism stopped, Israel would stop building settlements?”

The answer to that question is clearly no, or at least, that the building of settlements isn’t and shouldn’t be tied to terrorism. But because of the government’s policies, this is what the debate in Israel has become, instead of settlements either being a moral right or a moral wrong, the government plays this game of incrementalism, pitting the domestic right wing against the international community, moving back and forth with the needs of the moment, never thinking about the long term plan, just kinda riding a wave. When it is time to build a coalition, we hear much talk about expanding the settlements, though we usually see little action. When an important international vote or conference is coming up, we see demolitions of settlement buildings to show the international community that those Righties in Likud and Biet Yehudi aren’t really who Israel is, but it is never more than a couple of buildings. Clearly it is part of a larger strategy of the Netanyahu government to maintain the status quo at all costs. To keep everything exactly the same for as long as possible. To play one side off the other, one point for this side, one point for this side, so neither side becomes strong enough to show any real opposition to him.

At the end of the day, I think if you ask the most ultra left and the most ultra right, if you ask the moderate left and the moderate right, if you ask the center, everyone will agree that settlements should not be built in response to terrorism, they should not be a punishment. I think if I asked Naftali Bennett himself, he would say, settlements should not be built in response to anything, they should be built without restriction because this is the Land of Israel and Jews should live anywhere in Israel they want. That is what he believes, not that settlement construction should be tied to terrorism.

I am not trying to make a case for or against settlements here, but this demand, that when there is a terrorist attack we should build settlements in response, this demand gives free points to people who use it for anti-Israel demonization, not a reasoned, responsible debate of policy. This demand de-legitimizes the very thing that people like Naftali Bennett are working for, and strengthens the hands of groups like BDS, as well as helping to maintain Bibi’s grip on power, making Naftali Bennett look more radical and less acceptable to the Israeli public as a potential competitor to Bibi in the future.

So please, for the health of my skull, Naftali and Co, stop demanding settlements be built in response to terrorism, my head already hurts enough as it is.

About the Author
Michael Hilkowitz holds degrees in History and Secondary Education from Temple University and is a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for International Affairs. He is currently a Masters student in Security and Diplomacy Studies at Tel Aviv University. Living in Israel since 2012, he formerly served as the Chief Content Office for The Israel Innovation Fund, a 501.c.3 working to promote Israeli culture, art, and humanities innovation abroad.
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