The Settlements Fallacy
Israeli settlements do not make peace less likely, nor is there any logical reason why they should. In many cases, the very opposite is true
At the beginning of last week the French President Francois Hollande was in Ramallah and, as is customary, he was calling on Israel to halt settlement building, “for the sake of peace and to reach a deal”. In doing so the French President was giving voice to the Settlements Fallacy.
Of course, it would be unfair to single out the French government as being uniquely misguided on this subject; which Western country doesn’t essentially take this line?
That, however, doesn’t change the fact that it is quite mistaken to assert causality between an increase in settlements and a decline in the prospects for peace.
Experience thus far certainly suggests that settlements do not make peace less likely, nor is there any logical reason why they should. In actual fact, those places that Israel has removed its civilians from, are today some of the most lawless, radicalised and dangerous areas in the region.
Presently within the West Bank, while Jewish communities sit on less than two percent of the territory, Jews constitute around twenty percent of the population there. Many of these people were born and raised in the communities they live in, they are second and third generation West Bank Jews.
In other words, this group, the so called settlers, are a well-established ethnic community, a reality that is not going anywhere, much like the Arab-Israeli citizens living within the rest of Israel.
For nineteen short years, during the Jordanian occupation 1948-1967, the West Bank was ethnically cleansed of Jews. Prior to that, there were ancient and flourishing Jewish communities throughout the West Bank, most prominently alongside the religious sites in Hebron and in the Jewish villages south of Bethlehem.
There were Jews in the West Bank continuously before the Jordanian occupation and there have been ever since.
What reasonable person could seriously advocate returning this area to its Judenrein status during the brief Jordanian occupation? The very fact that this is what the Palestinians have been demanding hardly speaks of an attitude towards coexistence and reconciliation.
Just as the Palestinian leadership refuses to officially recognise the Jewish State, if Palestinians are unable to countenance living alongside Jews as neighbours then what does this say of their willingness to end hostilities with the Israelis?
By encouraging Palestinians in their desires to see Jews exiled from settlement communities, the international community radicalises and emboldens Palestinian hopes of successfully waging a war for driving out all Jews and totally defeating Israel. In those places that Settlements have been uprooted the Palestinians have increased their support for hardline groups and Islamic extremists have taken control.
The most obvious example is Gaza. There, in August 2005, the Israeli government evicted nine thousand Israelis and pulled out entirely with the intention that this area would serve as the first step towards full Palestinian independence.
At the time of the withdrawal Islamists led public celebrations, claiming that terrorism had brought about this Israeli retreat. By January 2007 Hamas had consolidated enough public support to begin a military campaign to seize control of the Gaza strip, since which time they have used that territory to continue sustained rocket warfare against Israel’s civilian areas.
While Gaza may have become one of Israel’s primary security threats, the Sinai is also now one of the most wild and lawless parts of the Middle East. Israel was pressured into withdrawing its settlements from the Sinai in 1982 but since then Egypt’s huge military has been unable to secure the area and today myriad Jihadist factions operate in the Sinai, including branches of al-Qaeda and groups tasked with smuggling Iranian weaponry to Hamas.
Nor does the situation look a great deal better in the northern part of the West Bank around Jenin, where Israel also evicted all its Settlements in 2005.
Now, Jenin acts as a stronghold for both Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the West Bank. In recent months, Israeli forces have come under fire in that city during the kind of incident now rare in most other parts of the West Bank where Settlements remain.
Alternatively, if we look to the part of the West Bank most heavily dominated by settlements, the Gush Etzion region south of Jerusalem, this is arguably one of the quietest, safest and least radicalised areas of the West Bank.
Similarly, within Israel itself, it is those areas where Arabs and Israelis live in closest proximity that are least volatile and where the Muslim population is most moderate, as can be seen in Abu Gosh or Haifa.
The Settlements Fallacy was perhaps at its most apparent when in 2009 Barak Obama pressured Israel into implementing a settlement freeze. Not only did this lead to Palestinian President Abbas extending his demands to a freeze in Jerusalem and avoiding the negotiating table until the final weeks of the freeze, but during the freeze militant Islamists began a spate of shooting attacks on Israeli civilians.
Israelis can have all the good will in the world towards Palestinians, but if Palestinians continue to support extremists in their efforts to destroy Israel and vow to murder Jews wherever they can find them, then peace will remain a fantasy.
The Settlements Fallacy is really the belief maintained by the international community, that preventing Israel’s settlements will advance peace.
In reality not only has freezing and dismantling settlements quite evidently done nothing to bring peace any closer but by emboldening Palestinians it has had a radicalising effect that makes ending the conflict an even more difficult task.
The Settlements are now a reality; the large Jewish population in the West Bank cannot be made to disappear. Accepting this fact is part of a process that the Palestinians must go through before they will be able to come to negotiations in good faith.
The international community must accept this too and realise that expecting peace to come through the destruction of the settlements is not only a fallacy but also a completely counterproductive strategy.
Tom Wilson lives in New York where he is a political analyst and writer
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