I had planned to write about something else today, but Yesha chairman Dani Dayan’s op-ed in the New York Times requires a comment or a thousand (be forewarned, this post is on the longer side). Dayan has written a good summation of the settler leadership’s views, and it is instructive in that it does not attempt in any way to hide the ball but also rests on a series of false assumptions and logical inconsistencies. I thought I’d go through it paragraph by paragraph, since there is a lot in here to unpack.
Whatever word you use to describe Israel’s 1967 acquisition of Judea and Samaria — commonly referred to as the West Bank in these pages — will not change the historical facts. Arabs called for Israel’s annihilation in 1967, and Israel legitimately seized the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria in self-defense. Israel’s moral claim to these territories, and the right of Israelis to call them home today, is therefore unassailable. Giving up this land in the name of a hallowed two-state solution would mean rewarding those who’ve historically sought to destroy Israel, a manifestly immoral outcome.
To begin with, you almost have to admire the fealty to terminology. You will never catch Dayan referring to the West Bank as anything but Judea and Samaria (Yehuda and Shomron in Hebrew), and much like Peter Beinart with his call to rename the West Bank “non-democratic Israel” Dayan seems to think that the term West Bank is somehow an ideologically loaded one. I disagree, but it is a good peek into Dayan and the settler leadership’s mindset that they think calling the West Bank by its biblical name is somehow going to change people’s minds, as if it is simply a matter of psychological trickery. The other interesting thing to note is the bait and switch between the Arab armies seeking to destroy Israel in 1967 and the Palestinians to whom the West Bank would be given. There is no question that Hamas has “historically sought to destroy Israel” but the implication is that yielding the West Bank would reward the losers of the Six Day War, which is not the case.
Of course, just because a policy is morally justified doesn’t mean it’s wise. However, our four-decade-long settlement endeavor is both. The insertion of an independent Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan would be a recipe for disaster.
The influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere would convert the new state into a hotbed of extremism. And any peace agreement would collapse the moment Hamas inevitably took power by ballot or by gun. Israel would then be forced to recapture the area, only to find a much larger Arab population living there.
Moreover, the Palestinians have repeatedly refused to implement a negotiated two-state solution. The American government and its European allies should abandon this failed formula once and for all and accept that the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria are not going anywhere.
This is where Dayan begins his strategy of appealing to security and political reasons not to give up the West Bank rather than making arguments about moral and historical justifications. I suspect he is doing this because he knows the latter arguments will not be winning ones with this particular audience, but his case is built on some contentious assumptions. First, the notion that Palestinian refugees are universally extremist is not a given, and the idea that Hamas will “inevitably” take power is also not assured. A Palestinian state in the West Bank that emerges following negotiations with Israel will be accompanied with massive international financial and security assistance to the Palestinian Authority, and a Hamas takeover is not a fait accompli, as Dayan would have it. Furthermore, Hamas already does control Gaza, and Israel has not been forced to recapture the area despite the problems that Hamas rule in Gaza has presented, so again we have a logical leap here that is presented as fact. Finally, it is true that the Palestinians have repeatedly turned down Israeli offers for a two-state solution, but Israel has not been entirely blameless in this process and Dayan rejects the very premise of a Palestinian state on the West Bank anyway, so this point is not at all relevant to his argument.
On the contrary, we aim to expand the existing Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and create new ones. This is not — as it is often portrayed — a theological adventure but is rather a combination of inalienable rights and realpolitik.
This is what I mean about not trying to hide the ball. Dayan is extremely forthright about what he and the settlers for whom he speaks want, and I think his honesty in talking to a non-Israel audience is a good thing for which he should be commended. There is way too much dissembling on all sides when it comes to settlements, the peace process, and accepting Israel’s right to exist, so clear and open statements are welcome. The more noteworthy point here is that Dayan is claiming that settlement growth is a matter of rights and practical considerations rather than theology, and this is where he is not being entirely honest, as we shall see below.
Even now, and despite the severe constraints imposed by international pressure, more than 350,000 Israelis live in Judea and Samaria. With an annual growth rate of 5 percent, we can expect to reach 400,000 by 2014 — and that excludes the almost 200,000 Israelis living in Jerusalem’s newer neighborhoods. Taking Jerusalem into account, about 1 in every 10 Israeli Jews resides beyond the 1967 border. Approximately 160,000 Jews live in communities outside the settlement blocs that proponents of the two-state solution believe could be easily incorporated into Israel. But uprooting them would be exponentially more difficult than the evacuation of the Gaza Strip’s 8,000 settlers in 2005.
The attempts by members of the Israeli left to induce Israelis to abandon their homes in Judea and Samaria by offering them monetary compensation are pathetic. This checkbook policy has failed in the past, as it will in the future. In the areas targeted for evacuation most of us are ideologically motivated and do not live here for economic reasons. Property prices in the area are steep and settlers who want to relocate could sell their property on the free market. But they do not.
So now I am confused – are settlers motivated by material self interest or are they motivated by ideology? The explosion in the settler population has largely been fueled by the rising cost of living in Israel’s cities and the economic incentives provided by the government t0 move to the settlements, but Dayan does not mention that here. He then says that the 160,000 settlers living in areas not envisioned to be incorporated into Israel following a peace deal are ideologically motivated – read: theologically motivated – so despite his claim in the previous paragraph about rights and realpolitik, it now appears is if the issue is something else entirely, which is a religious attachment to the land. I understand and empathize with this position, but let’s then drop the charade that this about Israel’s strategic interests.
Our presence in all of Judea and Samaria — not just in the so-called settlement blocs — is an irreversible fact. Trying to stop settlement expansion is futile, and neglecting this fact in diplomatic talks will not change the reality on the ground; it only makes the negotiations more likely to fail.
Given the irreversibility of the huge Israeli civilian presence in Judea and Samaria and continuing Palestinian rejectionism, Western governments must reassess their approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They should acknowledge that no final-status solution is imminent. And consequently, instead of lamenting that the status quo is not sustainable, the international community should work together with the parties to improve it where possible and make it more viable.
This is bound to infuriate those who have been warning for the past decade about Israel creating facts on the ground in order to impede the possibility of a Palestinian state, and it also demonstrates why the Palestinian insistence on preconditions to negotiating has been such an unmitigated disaster. It also gives a good window into the emerging support on the right for a one-state solution, and what is so fascinating here is that Dayan is writing as if he thinks that there an actual possibility that Western governments will simply back off and watch Israel turn the current status quo into a permanent annexation of the West Bank. If you want evidence of the horrible miscalculation and naivete of the settler right, led by Dayan and MKs like Danny Danon, look no further.
Today, security — the ultimate precondition for everything — prevails. Neither Jews nor Palestinians are threatened by en masse eviction; the economies are thriving; a new Palestinian city, Rawabi, is being built north of Ramallah; Jewish communities are growing; checkpoints are being removed; and tourists of all nationalities are again visiting Bethlehem and Shiloh.
While the status quo is not anyone’s ideal, it is immeasurably better than any other feasible alternative. And there is room for improvement. Checkpoints are a necessity only if terror exists; otherwise, there should be full freedom of movement. And the fact that the great-grandchildren of the original Palestinian refugees still live in squalid camps after 64 years is a disgrace that should be corrected by improving their living conditions.
Yossi Beilin, a left-wing former Israeli minister, wrote a telling article a few months ago. A veteran American diplomat touring the area had told Mr. Beilin he’d left frightened because he found everyone — Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — content with the current situation. Mr. Beilin finds this widespread satisfaction disturbing, too.
I think it is wonderful news. If the international community relinquished its vain attempts to attain the unattainable two-state solution, and replaced them with intense efforts to improve and maintain the current reality on the ground, it would be even better. The settlements of Judea and Samaria are not the problem — they are part of the solution.
There are many problems with this type of thinking, but one of the biggest is that the world is not static. Just because the West Bank is quiet now does not mean that it will be so forever. The first intifada took Israel by surprise, and then the second one was even more challenging and violent than the first. There is little doubt that the third one – and make no mistake, a third intifada is going to happen at some point – will be even worse than the previous two, at which point Dayan’s conclusion goes up in smoke.
The emergence of real support for a rightwing one-state solution is terrifying to me, and Dayan’s op-ed crystallizes in concise form why it is happening. The settlement movement is busy convincing itself that settlements have become permanent and immovable, and nothing that the Netanyahu government has done, from commissioning the Levy Report to the continuing efforts to push off the High Court’s order to evacuate Migron, have disabused them of that notion. More dangerously, the settler leadership is also convincing itself that Israel will be able to get away with a binational state. The Israeli public desperately needs to be convinced that this is a problem that cannot be ignored, because most Israelis are not going to like what happens if this outcome actually emerges, and unfortunately the far right seems to be the best motivated party at the moment. Dayan’s piece needs to be a wakeup call, since it is nakedly transparent on what the settlers want to accomplish while also being dangerously naive and shortsighted about what will happen if they are successful.