I commented a while ago (note that the map isn't fixed, sadly demonstrating the powerlessness ofthe Blogoverse) about my negative reaction to Israel's newly announced plan to build 600 new homes in the occupied West Bank. My reaction was in large part triggered by the announcement, but then I read this editorial in the NY Times (
looked but couldn't find the original Haaretz article online Mich at Tonecluster just forwarded the url of the article in a comment below), and my feelings were even stronger:
The newspaper said it had given a team of reporters three months to interview officials, pore over ministry budgets and make calculations. The exercise was filled with frustration, but the conclusion drawn is that since 1967, Israel has spent roughly $10 billion on the settlements. Currently, the annual amount spent on settlements' civilian needs is more than $500 million.
One of the reasons the Haaretz study was so difficult to carry out is that the Israeli government's budgets have purposefully hidden spending on settlements within other costs, bundling them with subsidies to border communities and those in the Negev Desert, areas where people need to be induced to live either because of risk or limited economic opportunities. This cover-up is part of an unhappy pattern. Look at any government map of Israel, and you will find no border demarcating the occupied territories. Although Israel has never officially annexed the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it has treated them, in many ways, as if it had. This means that those seeking to establish Jewish towns and villages in the captured lands have benefited from generous government subsidies: personal income tax breaks, grants and loans for house purchases, bonuses for teachers. The Jewish settlers, who now number 230,000, have been granted special bypass highways, water supplies and health clinics. Even the cheery red-roofed bedroom settlements a few miles from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are treated as if they were distant depressed towns. Teachers who settle in them, for example, get four years' seniority, an 80 percent housing subsidy and 100 percent reimbursement for travel, and more. The result, according to Haaretz, is that the average settler family benefits from about $10,000 more per year of government spending than a family living within Israel proper.Here's the deal. Pretty much every one of us - regardless of whether we live in the Americas, Europe, Asia, or Africa, lives on land taken from other people by conquest. That's pretty much the basic story behind our history as humans. The question becomes: When do we stop the clock? In 1967, Israel took by force of arms the territories known as the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. They held them, originally, as a defense against conventional military invasion, as had been attempted in 1948, was imminent in 1967, and was tried again in 1973. With those territories, came a population of Arabs - many displaced in the conflicts of 1948, and loosely Jordanian, Syrian, and Egyptian at first - but now and forever Palestinian. The question is simple: Did Israel hold those territories as conquest, with the intent of expanding into them? Or were they a military buffer and political bargaining chip? As a military buffer, events, history, and military technology appear to have passed their usefulness by. As a political bargaining chip, Israel seems to find itself in the predicament of the kidnappers who took Bette Midler in 'Ruthless People'...no one wants them back. So what we're left with is conquest. Morally, many (including me) find that repugnant. And the official claim is that Israel doesn't intent to take over ("colonize," for lack of a better term) the Occupied Territories; Israeli efforts to negotiate some kind of 'land for peace' deal would support that. But... ...by building an increasingly dense network of civilian communities in the West Bank and Gaza, what happens on the ground looks like a creeping colonization. So as much as I'm happy to bust the Arab world for talking peace and diplomacy in English and bombs and bullets in Arabic, I have to wonder how it is that we're talking diplomacy and ceding control of the Occupied Territories in English, and budgeting for new construction in Hebrew. Let me note one thing: I haven't changed my opinion that offering statehood to the Palestinian people, as things stand today, would be a fool's errand. Either there is no government capable of containing the violence of the various sects, or the government is duplicitously claiming that it cannot. In neither case has anyone these shown me that they deserve the keys. But while we figure out how to deal with the charmingly erratic nature of the Palestinian polity, we need to do so from a position that is sustainable - militarily, economically, politically, and morally. And I've gotta question whether the current policies - of quietly burying a huge budget to subsidize people to move into the settlements, while talking about handing them back to the Palestinians - are sustainable on any of those grounds. Militarily, the original justification for settlements was they would provide 24/7 sets of Israeli eyes to assure that there would be no pre-invasion buildup. Between satellite imagery and Predators, that justification seems pretty much evaporated at this point. I have to believe that in the face of constant, low-intensity attacks such as we are seeing now, the settlements cost a great deal more in readiness than they provide. Economically, the Haaretz articles seem to speak for themselves. Politically, I used to think that the slowly growing settlements were a ploy to induce the Arab world to hurry up and negotiate - if they waited too long, there wouldn't be any land left over to make into Palestine. It may be that we're hitting that point now (back to 'Ruthless People' again). But the fact is that Israel has to figure out what to do with the population in the West Bank- having done too little over the last 20 years has created the conditions we see today, in which crazed leaders can make strapping on a Semtex belt seem like a sensible thing to do. I have come to believe that Israel should either annex the Territories and deport anyone who objects - and take the political conseuences, which I believe would be catastrophic - or find a way to give them up. Neither of those processes is helped by this current policy of accretion. And morally, it's hard to look at the policy of settlements while negotiating to give it back without a certain level of repugnance. It's duplicitious at best, while a public and absolute freeze on settlements - and even a meaningful rollback of some of the less-defensible ones - would at a time of profound Arab weakness, should be seen as a sincere act and demonstration of good faith. M. Simon emailed the following in response to my intial snippet of a comment:
To Armed Liberal, Since the comments are broken I have this reply about settlements. If Arabs and Muslims living in Israel are no obstacle to peace please explain how Jews living in the Palestinian territories are an obstacle to peace? If that is not good enough then you might consider that for a peace deal that was real Israel has dismantled settlements in the past. Why wouldn't they do it again? Settlements are an imaginary obstacle. Land is not being taken from Arabs. Land which once belonged to the Jordanian government (which they have long since renounced) is being used. SimonAnd I owe him a reply. First, and foremost, the Arabs who live in Israel do so freely as members of the Israeli community - they are subject to israeli laws, participate in the israeli economy, and do so with the free and full consent of the Israeli government. Settlers live in enclaves, subject to Israeli law rather than what passes for Palestinian law, and do so over the protest of much of Palestinian society. If Arab governments bought or expropriated (as Israel has done to property once owned by the Jordanian or Egyptina governments) land and built enclaves for Palestinians within Israel, subject to Jordanian law, the people of Israel would be rightly outraged. Why is it different for the Arabs? Yes, they can be dismantled for a peace deal, but I've got to believe that as they and the people who live in them get more and more entrenched it will be less and less possible to do so every year. And personally, I'd rather see the $500 million/year spent more constructively by being offered directly as a bribe to the Palestinians for peace. Fred Lapides also blogged this at Israpundit