Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Helping Hand

The Jerusalem Post has a fascinating article up about Israeli settlers who want out:
Breaking the stereotype of the radical settler are an increasingly vocal number of families in certain communities who want to leave voluntarily, driven by motives ranging from personal security to wholesale political U-turns. Bound together in wanting out of the West Bank, they are campaigning for government assistance to enable them to move out of their homes, which in some settlements have plummeted in value. But their potential lifeline, a law compensating those who voluntarily evacuate, is now facing an uncertain fate, with a new right-wing government and the most liberal US administration Washington has seen for years.

For those of us who think that arresting the growth of the settlements is one of the crucial stepping stones to reaching a peaceful solution to the conflict, this is an important instinct to nurture. A goodly chunk of the settlers recognize that their presence is an obstacle to peace, and they are willing to leave, so long as there are feasible alternatives (hell, even Avigdor Lieberman has placed himself in this camp, albeit in his case only as part of a negotiated resolution to the conflict rather than in response to a proposed resettlement program). I'm more than willing to support an Israeli law compensating those who resettle in Israel proper, and I believe the US should throw its own diplomatic muscle into getting it passed (hell, why not bundle it into our own financial aid package that goes to Israel?).

The article notes that a large portion of the settler community, far from being the stereotypical religious zealots, are more akin to American exurban families. They were drawn to the West Bank because of the open space, the potential to have a bigger house than reasonably available in Israel's core, even superior schools. To be sure, it was Israeli policies which made that dream realizable in the West Bank (like the United States, which very deliberately constructed the conditions which allowed what we know as suburbia to flourish). And, again like the United States, many of these policies were at the very least spectacularly short-sighted, if not wholly disconcerned with the way they affected political outgroups. We shouldn't overstate: there is still much hostility directed toward the people within the settlement community leading the calls for evacuation. But their presence in neither minuscule nor trivial, and is something that committed actors have a chance to build upon.

It may be this article is overly optimistic. Nonetheless, once we get past the idea of all the settlers is irrational nutjobs motivated by hate, it is possible to create and implement a pragmatic peace agenda that can get them out of the West Bank. Every settler that we can get out of the West Bank and back into Israel is one less irritant blocking the resolution of the Israel/Palestinian conflict. But even those settlers who personally desire to leave and are even ideologically aware of the implications for regional peace and justice are going to hard pressed to register support for any evacuation if they don't know where they're supposed to land after they're pushed. It doesn't do any good to yell and wave signs about ending the occupation if you're not thinking about what happens the day after.

(Via Greens Engage)

UPDATE: Charles Ettinson has a good followup post tracking where the bill is at in the Knesset and the particulars of "how" to get the settlers out.

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