Jewish settlement in the West Bank is not the issue

The Middle East peace process is not, nor was it ever, being stopped by the presence of Jewish settlements

Stop settlements, stop conflict? Blue sky thinking
Adam Mallerman
On 26 October 2012 09:39

Palestinian Authority leaders pay a great deal of lip service to their desire to  create a state of their own, even turning to the  United Nations to try to achieve some kind of unprecedented observer status for their as yet nonexistent state.

At the same time the Palestinians, their friends, and even elements of Israeli society, point to the Jewish settlements in Judea & Samaria (aka The West Bank) as the primary obstacle which stands in the way of a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and the subsequent declaration of an independent Palestinian state in that area – which they claim is their ultimate aim. But this assertion does not hold up under even basic critical analysis or historical evidence.

Since 1947, the Arab world, including the Palestinians, has had multiple opportunities to negotiate with Israel and create a state. The Arab world rejected the United Nations partition plan, which would have created a tiny Israeli state and much larger Palestinian one, preferring instead to go for it all in a genocidal war with Israel that failed. 

Twenty years later, after the Six Day War, Israel's efforts to swap its newly acquired territory in the Golan, Sinai, and West Bank for peace was rebuffed with the infamous "3 No’s" from the Arabs. Even so, for the next dozen years Israel did little to settle Jews in the West Bank, assuming that negotiations would happen, and the West Bank would change hands.

Rather than grabbing at  this opportunity to try to turn their overwhelming loss in 1967 into something positive, the Palestinians chose a twelve year policy of international terrorism against Israeli and Jewish targets, which they wrongly believed would lessen Israeli resolve.

Incidents like the Munich Olympics and Entebbe hijacking are written in blood into Israeli and world history. It should be noted, by the way, that unlike what would have occurred had the Arab’s won the 1967 war, the West Bank residents remained in their homes, villages, and cities. They were not massacred and they were not expelled; indeed, their quality of life improved under Israel.

Despite the terror attacks, Israel however did not capitulate. Instead, under Menachem Begin, Israel began to once again create settlements in the West Bank, more fully integrating it into Israel. I say once again because, prior to Jordan's land grab in 1948, this area had been home to a Jewish community since biblical times. Indeed, Hebron, the ancient home and burial places of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is considered the second holiest city to Jews and the area known as Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, had seen whole communities slaughtered in the war of independence.

In any case, even as Jews started to build on the West Bank, Israel came to an agreement with Egypt that was based around a "land for peace deal", with the Sinai area being returned to Egypt. This clear demonstration of Israel's willingness to exchange land, captured in the Six Day War, for peace, could have been an opportunity for the Palestinians to begin a peace process and indeed Israel understood this, and offered them autonomy in the West Bank, which they of course rejected. 

Having made that offer, and now decades after the Six Day war, Israel clearly saw that an intransigent Arab response meant the West Bank would be in Israeli hands for a very long time.

Begin, and subsequent prime ministers, continued to invest in the area, building Jewish settlements, but also improving life for the Palestinians: Access to Israel's superb health system improved life expectancy dramatically, reduced infant mortality, and eliminated childhood diseases. Palestinian education had been ignored by Jordan prior to 1967, leading to high illiteracy levels, but Israel's investment in education not only drastically improved literacy but also built universities and colleges. Unemployment went down, and employment was at record levels for the area.

It was by no means a bed of roses for the Palestinians. But it is a fact that their quality of life at that time was far better than much of the Arab world.

Despite that, the Jordanian citizens on the West Bank, who now identified themselves as Palestinian, were indeed an occupied people. Tough anti-terror measures by Israel, coupled with anti-Semitism and inherent hatred in the Palestinian world, led to a growing disobedience, leading to the First Intifada.  

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