Removing Settlements will not Bring Peace–or Appease BDS

Phillip Mendes’ recent article “Dismantle settlements to defang BDS” forwards an interesting and thoughtful proposal: removing some 70,000 settlers from east of the green line over the next five years in order to, as he puts it:

“…demonstrate without doubt that the Israeli people are committed to making significant concessions required for a two-state solution.” This would “place the onus back on the Palestinians to demonstrate that they, too, are willing to compromise,” and, “Overall, it would defang the BDS campaign by reminding everyone that both sides have to give significant ground if there is to be conflict resolution.”

Mr. Mendes reasonableness and optimism are infectious, but, I fear, gravely misplaced. It is, I admit, difficult for me to reconcile his earlier description of BDS as a movement that is “not intended to promote a two-state solution that respects the national and human rights of Israeli Jews or Palestinian Arabs, or conflict resolution at all” with his belief that the hefty concession he recommends would somehow “defang the BDS campaign by reminding everyone that both sides have to give significant ground if there is to be conflict resolution.”

 Mr. Mendes further adds that “[BDS’s] leading Palestinian proponents seek the demonization of all Israeli Jews and the deligitimazation of Israel.” To which I would also add: so do their non-Palestinian proponents. 

As for the Palestinians, their manner of rewarding such concessions has a familiar, sorrowful, and not-too-distant precedent.

 In 2005,Israel withdrew all of its population, settlements, and military from the Gaza strip. It did so unilaterally and without asking for, or demanding, any concessions in return. In the hope of leaving assets that could be converted by the Gazans into capital that would assist in building up their economy, the Israelis left behind intact greenhouses and other economic assets. The Israelis also withdrew from the Egypt-Gaza border.

For the first time in centuries, the people of Gaza were free from any occupation. Turks, British, Egyptians, and Israelis had all occupied at one time or another. Now they were free. This freedom, along with the generous array of foreign economic aid open to them, could have greatly assisted the Gazans in building up a civil and economic infrastructure that would, for once, have promoted the welfare of its citizens and allowed them to finally live in peace with its neighbors. In the absence of the Israeli occupation, however, Hamas quickly gangsterized the territory, rounding up “collaborators” for torture, imprisonment, and murder, and spreading a swarm of criminal “protection” rackets enforced by gun-toting thugs sporting keffiyeh head cloth. The financially lucrative greenhouses left by the Israelis were vandalized and their contents stolen.

After winning the election in 2006, Hamas then staged a counter-coup against its Fatah rivals in Gaza in 2007; scores of Fatah members were killed, maimed and mutilated in the most brutal fashion, and scores of others were dropped from rooftops with their hands tied for the benefit of the cameras. Now Hamas were the sole masters of Gaza, and the strip was swiftly converted into a sharia-ruled terror ministate. With the Israelis now gone, all efforts by Hamas would now be solely focused on the production, positioning, and firing of mortars and rockets into Israel, some several thousand being fired into an area encompassing nearly a million Israeli civilians over the next two and a half years, culminating in late 2008 with Operation Cast Lead, a sustained Israeli strike on Hamas’ terror infrastructure to stem further attacks.

 The reasons for the failure of the Gaza withdrawal to inspire goodwill from the activist community, or reciprocal concessions from the Palestinians, were hardly a mystery.

First of all, Hamas, as befits a genocidal terrorist entity at war with Israel, saw not a good-faith concession, but a retreat out of weakness. “Resistance” had finally scored a victory, and jihad had triumphed.   

Secondly, as Hamas well knows, the economic life of Gaza is tied closely and inextricably to Israel, as well as the West Bank. The terrorist attacks conducted by Hamas, which escalated sharply in scale and quantity during and after Israel’s withdrawal, brought with it the usual border closings and counter-terrorist responses that any sovereign state engages in when its citizens are endangered by acts of indiscriminate terror. As Hamas terrorists are well aware, these measures inevitably bring hardship on the Palestinian people, and, given Hamas’ well-documented habit of positioning their terrorist infrastructure in mosques, hospitals, and other densely populated areas encompassing civilians, puts their lives in danger. This underscores the brutally cynical calculus behind Hamas terror: Hamas leaders know only too well what suffering their terror war on Israel inflicts on the Palestinian people, and they could care less. Terrorism works, and they know that the resulting debasement of the Palestinian people only strengthens their hand.

After all, why should they care? Who is going to hold them to account? The Palestinian people have never been anything but dirt under their feet and fodder for “the cause.” Also, Hamas knows that any terror attack on Israel will be answered in kind, and that the UN, the EU, and Hamas’ myriad supporters and apologists around the world will focus their attentions and condemnations almost exclusively on the Israeli response to the attack. Does anyone think they live in mortal fear of human rights organizations, UN sanction, arrest by the International Criminal Court, or the tutt-tutting admonitions of Baroness Ashton? Please. Like the late Saddam Hussein, Hamas fully grasps the bias, the credulous useful-idiocy, and the corruption of these entities, and skillfully manipulates them for its purposes to maximum effect.

The moral confusion of BDS and their ilk in the left-activist community betray their scurrilous attempts to blur the distinctions between genuine terrorism and the defense against it that is at the heart of their attempt to deligitimize the Jewish state. Terrorism is the use of violence and murder to advance a political or religious objective or agenda. Either it is always wrong or it is never wrong. This moral disintegration of means to ends is one of the key features of terrorist groups (and their apologists) as they wade ever deeper into the lies and the bloodshed, and the abandonment of any moral criteria is in some ways a prerequisite for their effectiveness.

Dostoyevski made this point brilliantly in his great anti-terrorist novel “The Devils.” The character Verkhovensky, seeking advice on how to be an effective terrorist, is told by the diabolical Stavrogin: “Persuade four members of your group to murder a fifth, on the pretext that he is an informer for the police, and you will at once tie them all up in one knot by the blood you have shed. They will be your slaves.” Only fear and depravity can thus unite them in their grisly tasks, and none can be an effective terrorist who retains the basic elements of a human personality and a conscience. The refusal of the activist groups to look at the true faces of those whom are empowered and those who suffer on behalf of their efforts is their greatest, most terrible failing.

 The leveraging of a concession like the Gaza withdrawal in such a dangerous atmosphere was thus bound to do more harm than good. It greatly exacerbated Israel’s security situation in the south, and purchased no good will from any direction. It was just the latest misfire in a long tradition of largely futile peace-processing, whose brief history I detail below:    

Concessions and Rejections: An Inventory

Arab rejectionism runs deep through the whole history of the conflict: their rejection of the King-Crane compromise in 1919, the rejection of the 1937 and 1948 partitions, Nasser’s “three no’s” of 1967, Arafat’s rejection of autonomy in the territories in 1979, his multiple rejections of a sovereign, contiguous state in 2000 and 2001, and Abbas’s rejection of the West Bank in 2008. These rejections are all a matter of record and are beyond dispute.

Just as clear are the compromises and concessions made by the Israelis: the willingness to compromise in 1919, 1937, and 1948; the return of the Sinai to Egypt after the 1956 war, the offer of the return of the territories in 1967, and the second return of the Sinai to Egypt in 1981 along with the withdrawal of all Israeli settlements there; the offer of autonomy to the Palestinians in 1979; the withdrawal of Israel from 98% of all Palestinian population centers and the release of scores of Palestinian prisoners (some of them hardened terrorists) in the 1993-2000 period; the unprecedented offers in 2000-2001 of a Palestinian state in some 97% of the West Bank, all of Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the removal of all Israeli settlements contained therein; the offer of the return of the Golan to Syria in 2000; the unilateral withdrawals of all Israeli troops, citizens and settlements from South Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005; the offer of the West Bank to Abbas in 2008, the 10-month settlement freeze in 2009-2010, the repeated willingness, to this very day, to negotiate directly and without any preconditions which has been met with the Palestinian’s usual intransigence and refusal to reciprocate.

This sad, sorry history of concession and conciliation banging their heads against the stone-cold wall of continued rejection and hostility betrays the true cause of the conflict: the continued rejection by the Arabs of any sovereign, independent Jewish entity on any of the land between the Jordan River and the sea, historically known as Palestine. Peace can only be made when one side defeats another, or when both sides see it in their interests and willingly consent to it.  Most Israelis support a Palestinian state beside Israel; most Palestinians want a state in the place of Israel.  I wish this state of affairs was otherwise, but there it is. 


Let me just say that Mr. Mendes’ observations are astute and to the point, and his proposal is put forward in an obvious spirit of reasonableness and conciliation. As a confidence building measure between two parties legitimately seeking peace and reconciliation, it could be seen as an inspired stroke of aggressive diplomacy. But it takes two, and until the Palestinians have a leadership that can reciprocate such a concession, the Israelis would only be asking for trouble all around. That is why it is not workable.

We surely know how the Palestinians would greet such a gesture, and a dismantling of settlements along the lines that he proposes here would not be seen by Israel’s other enemies and Western activist-antagonists as a concession made in good faith, but as a sign of weakness to be exploited. The whole sordid network of BDS and other “human rights” activists would only come crawling out of their open sewers to proclaim a great victory for their movement and their methods, and, far from being induced to reciprocate in kind, they would merely be emboldened to heretofore persevere in their attempts to deligitimize (and yes, destroy) the Jewish state with even greater passion and vigor than before. I also wish this were not so, but there it is.


About the Author
Robert Werdine lives in Michigan City, Indiana, USA. He studied at Indiana University, Purdue University, and Christ Church College at Oxford and is self-employed. He is currently pursuing advanced degrees in education and in Middle Eastern Studies.