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Obama Is Right About The Settlements

| 14 Comments
Barbara: So, when do I get out of here?
Sandy: As soon as Mr. Stone pays the ransom.
Barbara: What's the problem? What is the ransom?
Sandy: Well, we asked for $500,000.
Barbara: That should be no problem.
Sandy: He wouldn't pay.
Barbara: He wouldn't pay?
Sandy: Then we asked him for $50,000.
Barbara: Yeah?
Sandy: He still wouldn't pay. So now we're lowering our price to $10,000.
Barbara: Do I understand this correctly? I'm being marked down?

- Ruthless People
In the film, a couple who have been stolen from by a ruthless businessman kidnap his wife for ransom, only to discover that he really doesn't care about her.

Israel's 'land for peace' model has been similar; they took over the West Bank and Gaza in the hopes that the Palestinian people would be willing to trade for them - much as traditional nation-states trade for territory. And then they discovered that they were playing checkers and the Palestinians were playing whist, and that their moves were essentially valueless.

And every year, as they built more town into the Occupied Territories, they thought they were sending a message..."No ransom? We'll send you a finger at a time!" But the Palestinian leadership didn't want it's land back, to devolve into a normal nation they'd have to lead; they want to keep leading a worldwide movement and if all the Palestinian people have to die to make that happen - well.

This doesn't make the Israelis right - at all - for continuing to make it clear that they will keep a little more of the West Bank every year.

The reality is that continued encroachment - one house at a time - is the stupidest thing the Israelis can do. The settlements are hard to defend, they undermine Israel's moral position as desiring a two-state solution, and the empower the worst hardliners in Israeli politics.

Obama is absolutely right when he said he "wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions," as Secretary Clinton explained this week.

And Netanyahu is saying he won't.
Mr. Netanyahu is trying to find a middle ground. On Monday, he told lawmakers from his Likud Party that Israel would have to destroy 26 illegal outposts in the West Bank in order to win U.S. support for tough action against Iran. After his return from meeting with Mr. Obama in Washington last week, Mr. Netanyahu ordered a few structures built by teenage settlers on private Palestinian land in the West Bank razed. But none of them were among the 26, and settlers quickly started rebuilding some of them.

Meanwhile lawmakers from Mr. Netanyahu's party responded coldly to his proposal. "The message from the party was clear: We were not chosen by voters to evacuate Jews from their property," a Likud lawmaker said after a party meeting Monday.
Likud and the Israeli leadership would be wise to reconsider - not only because it is most likely the price of continued US support, but because it is in fact the best strategic position for Israel to take today. Building settlements is financially and politically very expensive, and those costs are ones that Israel really can't carry any more.

This isn't a new position for me. But for the first time, a sitting President is taking that position publicly. Israel - and Israel's other friends - should listen.
-

14 Comments

I'm at a bit of a loss to think of viable historical precedents for a state in the configuration of Gaza + the West Bank - two statelets separated by a hostile power. (Alaska and the lower 48 come to mind, but we won't be that hostile to Canada until somebody tells Obama they're part of the Commonwealth run by the hated British.) It didn't work for East & West Pakistan, it didn't work for Germany and the Polish Corridor; even with the truly remarkable statesmanship of the Palestinians, why should things be different there?

I guess we can postpone dealing with that until Israel gains the moral high ground in the eyes of either the Europeans who feel bad their grandparents didn't complete the Holocaust, or the Arabs who think they can get it right next time.

Well, I think you're right that the efforts spent on the settlements is effort that the state of Israel cannot afford. Frankly, they are counter-productive.

Unfortunately, efforts spent opposing the settlers seems to be effort that the government of Israel cannot afford, because of the particular parliamentary structure of the government. The settlers, lunatics that they are, tap into a sufficient amount of mainstream lunacy as to be able to occasionally tank an otherwise functioning (for Israeli levels of "functioning") government when their desires are thwarted.

The solution seems to be a constitutional one-- raise the election thresholds for party level representation so that the smaller lunatic fringes, including the settlers, fall away. But because the lunatic fringes know this, and can prevent it, it seems very unlikely to happen.

There is no practical reason to expand the settlements; only ideological reasons.

As you note, Israel loses massive amounts of moral legitimacy by continuing to encroach on West Bank land.

Israel loses massive amounts of moral legitimacy by continuing to encroach on West Bank land.

To say nothing of what they lose by the illegal occupation of places like Haifa and Tel Aviv.

I bet if they pull out of the West Bank, they'll get double the moral authority they got when they left Gaza.

They lose moral legitimacy with me for their settlement shennanigans. Just because Israel's enemies are morally implacable does not imply that Israel's every action is morally justified as a result.

The settlements indeed have a negative value to the Israeli's- the Palestinians net far more value from Israel's possession of them than they would be worth in Palestinians hands.

Israel is foolish to be negotiating with the Palestinians in any event considering the Palestinians aren't negotiating in good faith to begin with.

The best case for Israel is to evacuate unilaterally back to the Green Line, complete their border fence, and wash their hands of all things Palestinian.

"Moral high ground"? Israel has given up land it captured in a defensive war; how many nations have ever done that - while its enemies were still trying to destroy it?

"The best case for Israel is to evacuate unilaterally back to the Green Line, complete their border fence, and wash their hands of all things Palestinian." - that was the theory behind giving up Gaza. "Us over here and them over there." It turned into "Them over there lobbing rockets daily at us over here." Giving up the disputed territories will not make the Palestinians leave Israel alone - it will simply provide yet another launching pad for missiles. The settlements are not and have never been the obstacle. The obstacle is the continued refusal by the Arabs, especially the Palestinians, to countenance a sovereign Jewish state in their midst. Giving up land will only add to their certainty that Israel is illegitimate and has no claim to any land at all.

"Giving up the disputed territories will not make the Palestinians leave Israel alone - it will simply provide yet another launching pad for missiles."

Undoubtedly. But anything Israel does or does not do short of genocide will result in the same thing, so we aren't talking about what the Palestinians will or won't do, but what's good for Israel.

Israel's problem now is that, fair or not, they are viewed by much of the world (including important parts, like this administration and all of Europe) as part of the problem. By pulling back to the Green Zone they neutralize a lot of that opposition. What more could be asked of them? Then when the rockets fly over and Israel responds with a well justified pounding, they are simply a sovereign nation that has been attacked by their neighbor. Will it silence all their critics? Of course not, but it will disarm most of them in the US and much of Europe, which is where Israel's security is ultimately guaranteed.

"The settlements are not and have never been the obstacle. The obstacle is the continued refusal by the Arabs, especially the Palestinians, to countenance a sovereign Jewish state in their mids"

Absolutely. How many more decades should Israel keep demonstrating this to the world? What has it garnered them? Being 'right' in the abstract isn't worth a loaf of bread. Better to be secure and make this intractable Palestinian nightmare somebody elses problem. Right now, the world (and even segments of Israel) consider the Palestinian plight largely Israel's problem. That needs to end. Give them the land and if they tear each other apart and starve to death, let the Arabs fix them.

"Israel's problem now is that, fair or not, they are viewed by much of the world (including important parts, like this administration and all of Europe) as part of the problem. By pulling back to the Green Zone they neutralize a lot of that opposition."

That's what people said about the Gaza pullout: that if the Palestinians attacked from Gaza afterward, the world would recognize that Israel was in the right to defend itself. It didn't happen. If anything, the Gaza pullout seems to have increased the vitriol hurled at Israel.

That's what was said about the Lebanon pullout. The UN even certified that Israel had complied fully, leaving every bit of Lebanese territory. But when Israel responded to Hezbollah attacks that forced a million Israelis to take refuge in bomb shelters for months, it was Israel that was castigated.

No matter what concessions Israel makes, the world - or more specifically, the world's newspapers - will never see it as having the moral high ground. But those concessions clearly increase the danger to Israeli citizens. If Israel has any chance of changing hearts and minds, it is in making it abundantly clear that it regards the land in question is its own rightful property, not land held illegally. It is in changing the terms of the debate from "when should Israel give up land" or "how much land should it give up" to "should it give up any land at all to people who will simply use it as a base for more attacks."

But in the end, it is not the world's blessing that matters. It is Israel's ability to defend itself. Giving up land will not do that. It will - as has been abundantly demonstrated - merely place it in greater peril.

"If anything, the Gaza pullout seems to have increased the vitriol hurled at Israel."

Link? True- Hamas used Israel's withdrawal to launch rockets... but they were launching rockets before the withdrawal. On the other hand when Israel launched its reprisals against Hamas world opinion was far more muted and for the first time in my memory there was a loud international voice condemning Hamas. And Hamas suffered severe casualties and loss of faith in the aftermath. Hardly a decisive victory for Israel, but still far better than the long defeat they've been fighting for 50 years.

"But when Israel responded to Hezbollah attacks that forced a million Israelis to take refuge in bomb shelters for months, it was Israel that was castigated."

Israel was given several weeks with almost silence from the US and even the UN. When the offensive stalled (due completely to Israel's own inept leadership), then the calls for ceasefire began. What really happened was that the world gave Israel a virtual free pass on that offensive, which Israel squandered.

"But those concessions clearly increase the danger to Israeli citizens."

How so?

"It is in changing the terms of the debate from "when should Israel give up land" or "how much land should it give up" to "should it give up any land at all to people who will simply use it as a base for more attacks.""

They should give up the land that the world agrees they are not legally entitled to. That they hold it for security reasons is one thing- annexing it is another. Its simply a foolish unforced error that strenghtens the terrorists. How much money flows into Hamas and Jihad because of those settlements specifically? How much support would be lost from both Arabs and Westerners if Israel wasn't in possession of those areas? This is simple real politic, not an appeal to justice of sympathy. Israel holding areas outside the green zone makes the Palestinian terrorists stronger, while providing nothing for Israel.

And this nonsense of closer launching points is just nonsense. Aren't the settlements well within range? Kinda makes for circular thinking- why not occupy all of Greater Israel
if eliminating launch sites is your goal. You'd have to.

But worse- the range of these weapons is extending rapidly. The status quo works against Israel, regardless if they hold territories or not. They need a game changer to change the Palestinians from an 'occupied' resistance movement to an abusive neighbor.

Besides the arguments already presented here by Marc D. and Marc B. (which I agree with), there is also the issue of how settlements make the Israeli government into sneaks and liars. When land was acquired for the now-huge Jerusalem exurb of Ma‘aleh Adumim, that was supposed to be a transit camp for workers widening the adjacent Jericho highway. The "natural growth" of settlements is another lie, just an attempt to float a fiction that overseas partisans of Israel can latch onto. It goes without saying that Arab towns outside or even inside Israel don't get permits for natural growth. Natural growth is an excuse for settler youth (including dropouts, misfits, and fanatics from both inside and outside Israel) to set up new trailers in an ongoing attempt to grow the convex hull of Jewish-settled land, to infill later. If settlers were truly concerned about accommodating natural growth, they could build high-density housing, but quite the contrary, settlements are generally the most suburban and lowest-density communities anywhere in the country.

The settlement movement is equally corrosive to the rule of law. It isn't easy to enforce laws to the benefit of people represented by Hamas and Fatah, and to a considerable extent the Israelis have stopped trying. There was a big stink a few months ago when Hebron settlers (the most maniacal of all) were caught terrorizing Palestinian families on camera. Had the roles been reversed, we would have seen long prison terms and destruction of the perpetrators’ homes. The Israelis are unwilling or politically unable to crack down on this misbehavior when done by Jews. I find no evidence in Google of any prosecutions in this matter.

Settlements rot the country from within.

[And as a note to Marcus Vitruvius, the movement has metastasized to the extent it can not be eliminated by increasing the electoral threshold. Even if their own parties were too small—and that is not the case in the current Knesset—settlers have a warm home in the Likud Party, whose moderate wing has pretty much all left for Kadima. Bibi is their front man.]

The so-called West Bank is Biblically and historically the heartland of Israel. Israel won that land in a defensive war. The so-called Palestinians only want to destroy Israel, not to build a state. They are allied with radical Islam, which wants to rule the world. Since the leaders of all of Europe and now the US are all named Chamberlain and Israel doesn't want to be Czechoslovakia, I guess that's the way it's going to have to be. If the US is going to withdraw support, Israel will co-produce weapons with India and/or China. The whole world getting on Israel's case when it's Israel's survival (and probably the world's) at stake is a bad move for everybody. But Israel is not going to do much different because it wouldn't help anyway. And those so-called lunatics have a much higher birthrate than the domesticated Israelis of Tel Aviv, so who will be the majority in another 20 years. And BTW the Arab birthrate in Israel is going steadily downward.

"The so-called West Bank is Biblically and historically the heartland of Israel. Israel won that land in a defensive war."

I guess my answer to anyone making this argument is thus: if Israel is going to annex the settlements in question, or anywhere else for that matter, do it officially and be done with it. Or get out. One or the other.

It is this uncertainty that is making matters worse. Its just a constant source of salt in the wounds, and a provocation at the same time. If you take away the emotionalism, it comes down to this- Israel doesn't have a negotiating partner acting in good faith. Going through the pantomime again and again doesn't work in their favor.

Israel needs to stop 'enabling'. Decide on a permanent solution they feel is viable, and impose it. Then disentangle from the Palestinians in every way possible. This straddling is the death of 1000 cuts (for the Palestinians even moreso). Personally i'd prefer that Israel do so along the Green Line or the closest approximate, as i think this would prove to be the most politically rewarding route in the long run (as well as morally defensible, which is important because this won't be a bloodless disengagement sadly). But above all, Israel is really the only party that can end the con game and step out the cycle. There is a certain amount of 'break it/bought it' syndrome every time Israeli tanks roll into the OT. That needs to end- get disentangled and the next time a rocket flies over the border respond the same way Russia would react if Georgia started lobbing ordinance.

The so-called West Bank is Biblically and historically the heartland of Israel.
I understand Serbs believe that Kosovo is their historical heartland. How'd that work out for them, anyway?

If Israel wants to annex the Territories and grant voting rights to the Arabs then by all means go for it. That can't happen because of demographic imbalance, so we remain in a situation where there is one group, namely, the Jewish settlers, who participate in the Israeli government, and another, the Arabs, whose representation (the Palestinian Authority) was powerless against the settlement movement even before it degenerated.

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