Shaul Arieli has a smart op-ed in Ha’aretz today arguing that the concept of the sanctity of settlement blocs is leading Israel astray. Arieli goes through the history of how the blocs came to be, and more importantly demonstrates the way in which their contours have changed, from security zones in the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem envelope to settlements intended to obliterate the Green Line to more recent efforts on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s part to include areas that bifurcate the West Bank and make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. Arieli argues that the blocs have no security, demographic, economic, or political logic, and that in fact the idea of these inviolate blocs that Israel will keep in any permanent status agreement actively harms Israel by establishing an incoherent and unstable border. Were Israel to adopt a border that incorporated only settlements not separated by the Green Line from Palestinian towns or infrastructure, Arieli writes that it would significantly shorten the length of the border, leave 75% of Israelis living over the Green Line in their current homes, and create a border that is more secure without hurting the social fabric and contiguity of Palestinian locales.
It’s an excellent piece and I want to highlight it so that people go and read it, but I also want to make two brief complementary points. First, the history of the changing definition of blocs to include, in Netanyahu’s current formulation, places like Ofra, Kiryat Arba, and Kfar Adumim demonstrates the urgent need to define the border of the blocs. The idea that negotiations for two states proceed with an assumption about Israel keeping blocs and nobody knows what those blocs entail means that an agreement in principle might easily blow up once the details have to be hammered out. Furthermore, allowing the blocs to gobble up more and more area destroys any semblance of trust among the Palestinians, and is fundamentally unfair to Palestinian society in the West Bank. The current government’s definition of a border for the blocs would be a very different one than I would draw, but limiting things at all would still be a positive step. It would also force the Israeli government to provide a visual for its current settlement policy, which would make it more difficult for it to insist that everything is fine as is. “Blocs” cannot continue to be an amorphous concept that everyone tiptoes around as if it is – pardon the pun – settled, when in fact the blocs continue to be defined differently depending on who’s doing the talking.
Second, Arieli’s rundown demonstrates to me why a complete settlement freeze is unworkable. I get the argument that any deviation from the 1967 lines as a starting point undermines the core Palestinian conviction that agreeing to negotiations on that basis was their key concession. But Israeli politics cannot be ignored either, and a complete settlement freeze that includes Jerusalem neighborhoods like Gilo is going to be anathema to 95% of Israeli Jews. Each side is going to have to bend on something, and defining the blocs in a fair manner and then freezing everything outside of them – along with a concurrent declaration that everything, including territory inside the borders of the blocs, is subject to future negotiation – is my view of what constitutes a reasonable and likely way of moving forward. Just as the Palestinians view their core concession as recognizing the 1967 lines as relevant at all, Israelis view their core concession as recognizing the PLO and agreeing to negotiate towards a Palestinian state. The reality is that both sides are destined to be deeply disappointed in some manner, and that is how agreements are forged.
The Jewish state includes 2 million Arab citizens, but half a million Jews makes a “Palestinian state impossible’? .
Does this make sense?
(And on the day after the massacre in Ankara, what we’re supposed to direct our attention to is Jewish settlement blocks?)
The answer is yes as to your first two questions. The reason being that the number of Jews is not the sole issue. One has to consider whether the land they occupy prevents, or interferes with, a contiguous and economically viable Palestinian state (as the number of Palestinians in Israel does not). And, the Palestinians in Israel do not entail military protection from another state while the Jews in the West Bank for the foreseeable future obviously do require the protection of Israel. Indeed, the Palestinian State, if it comes to pass, will be limited — correctly in my view — in its abilities to conduct affairs that would be atypical for most states. Picking out two numbers and comparing them with no context is no argument. Your third question is a non-sequitur’ particularly as you chose to direct your attention to the issue.
The borders of the blocks should be whatever land is owned by the people that live there. Jews should be allowed to buy land and live wherever they want. There are 2 million Arabs in Israel, but the Arabs insist that not one Jew can live where they determine the land is theirs.
This nonsense of the blocs gobbling more and more land is typical Haaretz, J Street, Soros nonsense. The settlements take up a grand total of 2% of the West Bank. It is a phony issue. The Arabs want all of Israel and this won’t change despite what Haaretz says.