Settlements: Part 1 and Part 2

Settlements, Part 1:

Israel’s disengagement from Gaza was a big disappointment for those on the left:  The promise of a free Gaza was quickly replaced with the reality of a Gazan population oppressed by its own leaders, who went out of their way to deprive the civilian population of economic opportunities. The excellent job done by the IDF soldiers at carrying out the evacuation was quickly forgotten in the wake of the Israeli government’s terrible job at resettling the ex-settlers, and helping them to rebuild their lives. Any future disengagement plan must include comprehensive solutions for dealing with the mistakes that were made in 2005; in the absence of such a plan, unilateral disengagement is not a viable option.

While immediately pulling out of settlements may not be the answer, expanding them doesn’t make any sense either. If you believe that one day we will reach a negotiated peace deal with the Palestinians that will involve giving up significant tracts of the land Israel gained in 1967, then there’s no point in building settlements – their likely destiny is to be destroyed, whether in one year or in ten.

Even if you don’t believe that’s the case, and you somehow envision a permanent situation in which Israel retains control of the West Bank, has peace, and doesn’t become un-Jewish or un-democratic, it still pays to put settlement building on hiatus. Why? Settlement building is one of the most divisive issues in Israeli society, causing a lack of unity that makes it harder for Israel to effectively grapple with many important issues that are essential to her long-term well being, such as the economy. This divisiveness also puts Israel in a weaker position when it comes to fighting her enemies.

Furthermore, by enabling populations with different religious/political views to live in completely different parts of the country, settlements fracture Israel into different micro-societies, while furthering the religious-secular divide. Settlements also harm Israel’s image in the media, while alienating potential (and even current) allies. Settlements are often used as a key issue in order to convince people to boycott Israeli goods and businesses, as can be seen with the recent Soda Stream campaign, thereby harming the Israeli economy.

The same can be said of the trend of more governments rethinking their financial and political support of Israel; settlements were a major issue in the debate surrounding a recent resolution by the British Parliament in favor of a Palestinian state. Last, but not least, resources that are currently invested in settlements could be invested in places within the Green Line, thus opening up new housing opportunities, available to all Israelis, regardless of their political beliefs. Tax breaks that currently go into settlements could be re-allocated, either to the Negev or the Galil, two places in need of more development, or to certain suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, thus making it more affordable for Israelis to live within a reasonable commuting distance of Israel’s two major cities, with all of the employment opportunities that they offer.

There are many reasons not to build in the West Bank, but those who favor settlement expansion have yet to show why it is in Israel’s interests to continue building beyond the Green Line. Even for those who believe that settling the land of Israel is an essential part of the Zionist mission,  there is no reason why that settling must occur specifically in the West Bank, when it can just as easily be done in other parts of the country. For those who believe that maintaining Israeli presence in the West Bank is essential to creating a buffer zone,  that presence is already there, and can be reinforced through military bases. Such bases are more easily dismantled than civilian settlements, without uprooting significant portions of the population.

It is true that stopping settlement expansion would not silence all of Israel’s critics; indeed, there are some who would point to the settlements’ continued existence, even without any new building, as evidence of Israel’s evil. There will always be those who wish to demonize Israel, regardless of its actions, and they cannot be appeased. But there are also many moderates and would-be allies who will take a settlement freeze as a sign of Israel’s seriousness about giving up the territories when a peace deal is signed, and anti-Israel campaigners will be deprived of a crucial piece of ammunition when it comes to wooing people to their cause. Israel’s international ties and business interests will be more secure. Many who oppose unilateral action – including unilateral withdrawal – would take a settlement freeze as proof of Israel’s willingness to withdraw when a multilateral deal is reached. Furthermore, although it is unreasonable to demand a settlement freeze as a prerequisite for peace talks, it is true that such a freeze could act as a symbol of good faith towards the Palestinian people, thereby helping to provide a more positive atmosphere in which such talks could take place.

If you don’t believe in peace talks, then when whatever it is changes, that suddenly allows for the retention of the West Bank, without violence, and without affecting Israel’s status as a Jewish democratic state, settlement construction can resume as normal, with the hiatus having done nothing more than to help strengthen Israel’s international ties and business connections, while also adding a bit of unity to Israeli society – who knows, that unity might even help to bring the Messiah himself.

Settlements, Part 2:

Lefitsts love to talk about settlements. I know this not only because I read too many newspaper articles, but also, because I’m a lefty, and I love to talk about settlements. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure the one time I spoke up in Ulpan, it was to condemn the settlement in Hebron as cultivating a culture of violence. But just as leftists love to talk about settlements, there are many things about settlements that they like to forget:

1. A stop in settlement building will not bring the Palestinians freedom or economic opportunities. Only their governments can do that, and so far, they have a pretty bad track record. The fate of the Palestinians after the settlements are “frozen” or dismantled, depends on the Palestinian people and their leadership. All we can do is hope for the best.

2. A freeze in settlement building hurts Palestinians, who are often employed in settlement construction. Dismantling settlements often results in Palestinians losing their livelihood, since they are often employed in settlement industries in a variety of capacities. Soda Stream in the West Bank, for example, employs many Palestinians, who would lose their employment if the factory shut down.

3. Settlements sometimes exhibit a type of coexistence that is alien to the Tel Aviv bubble. Close proximity means shopping at the same supermarkets and using the same medical centers.

4. Settlers are people, and no, not all settlers are Arab-hating crazy folk. I’m not just referring to peace activist like Rabbi Froman (of blessed memory) who lived on a settlement.  Talk to “typical” settlers in a place like Ariel or Efrat, and the variety of political views might surprise you, as might some of the residents’ positive feelings towards their Arab neighbors.

5. Settlers love this country too, and ultimately, like us, they want to live in peace.

6. Forcibly removing settlers can be seen as a violation of their human rights; its ironic for lefties to be arguing for what essentially amounts to a country engaging in a forcible population transfer of its own citizens, even if the transfer is occurring in order to help end an Occupation and fill the world with magical unicorns.

7. Freezing settlement construction or dismantling settlements will not automatically bring peace. It’s possible that these unilateral actions will not lead to the bilateral steps necessary for a lasting peace agreement, because it takes two to tango (or to salsa). But more importantly, it may not bring peace, because even if Israel gives up the West Bank, there will be that small but violent, (and, just as importantly: armed) Palestinian minority whose goal is not peace, but rather, to destroy the State of Israel and to kick the Jews out of the area entirely. The establishment of a Palestinian state beyond the Green Line will not appease this group, and it is possible that such a state could act as a staging ground for them to continue their mission of violently destroying the Jewish state. Until the left acknowledges this fact and comes up with a plan for dealing with the security threats that arise from it, the rest of the Israeli public won’t be willing to listen to whatever else it has to say -including, or perhaps especially, what it has to say about settlements.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.