Monday, June 08, 2009

The Anti-Settler State

Recent polling out of Israel finds that the settlers are more unpopular with the Israeli public than ever before, with nearly two-thirds of respondents calling them a liability rather than an asset to the state. Settler organizations are responding to this rationally: by initiating a PR campaign to encourage tourism in the West Bank ... and by launching a wave of violent protests and terrorist violence directed at their Palestinians neighbors and Israeli government officials who attempt to remove them.
Last summer radical settlers introduced “price tag,” a new campaign intended to disrupt evacuations of illegal settlement outposts by wreaking havoc on roads, burning fields, and attacking Palestinian people and property.

In a single day on June 1, as Benjamin Netanyahu pushed ahead with his promise to evacuate outposts, this strategy went into overdrive. Settlers began blocking roads and stoning Palestinian cars near Karnei Shomron, Kedumim and Yitzhar and Palestinians responded by throwing rocks at the settlers. Olive groves and fields belonging to Palestinian residents of Burin, near Yitzhar, were torched, allegedly by settlers. After soldiers and police removed three caravans from the Nahalat Yosef outpost, near Elon Moreh, settlers retaliated later in the day by torching Palestinian fields at various locations in the northern West Bank. In a statement sent to reporters, the perpetrators said this was “the price for harming our sacred land.”
Some settlers have also created conflict with police and soldiers. During the June 1 settler actions, lawmaker Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union alliance was arrested after he climbed onto the van in which police had locked a settler and refused to get off, claiming parliamentary immunity. Ben-Ari is now demanding a police investigation into his treatment, arguing he was beaten as he was removed from the van.

Fortunately, these violent acts are doing nothing but increasing the gulf between the settlers and the majority of the Israeli public. And the overall tenor of the article indicates that there is room for America and Israel, working hand in hand, to make a serious dent in the settler project.

On that note, The Washington Post has a good editorial sketching out a "compromise" that will overcome Israeli refusal to move.
Mr. Netanyahu should publicly acknowledge that the peace process will lead to Palestinian statehood, and should adopt a series of measures curtailing settlements. He should quickly dismantle those deemed illegal, end all government subsidies, prohibit the territorial expansion of all settlements, stop new construction in those outside Israel's West Bank fence and agree to a monitoring mechanism that will prevent cheating. Mr. Obama can reasonably accept that as a freeze, while not requiring that not a single brick be laid in any of the more than 120 West Bank communities. Then he can turn to the equally important task of pressing Palestinian leaders and Arab states for measures that match Israel's actions.

Basically, this comes down to the difference between "vertical" versus "horizontal" growth. "Vertical" growth doesn't involve appropriating any more territory; it simply involves increasing density within preexisting settlements. Horizontal growth involves actually expanding the borders of the settlements. The latter, obviously, is far more dangerous and inciting than the former. A true freeze on horizontal growth, paired with actual dismantling of illegal settlements and an end to subsidies, would be a major step forward. Permitting vertical growth will allow Israeli politicians to save face and head off obstruction from the right.

In making this claim, I'm not saying that vertical growth is politically neutral. Of course it isn't -- while it poses a less visceral and immediate threat to the peace process, particular when confined to the settlement blocs which are generally acknowledged to be ceded to Israel in an eventual agreement, so long as the eventual borders are not set, Israel doesn't get to unilaterally declare that any part of the occupied territories are permanently theirs.* But the point of a compromise is that it isn't going to be perfect; the benefits it gives us are worth more than what is being given up. And it is abundantly clear that the benefits of a horizontal settlement freeze, dismantlement of outposts, and end to subsidies easily outweigh the detriments of allowing vertical growth.

* Which isn't to say Israel is obliged to withdraw from every inch of the territories -- it is well established the UN Res. 242 requires no such thing and contemplates that the final borders be set by negotiation. I'm only noting that we can't assume the outcome of these negotiations before they happen.

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