The Purpose Of Israel’s Settlements Is To Be Difficult To Remove


I had to read Fred Barnes’ new Weekly Standard piece “In Defense of Settlers” a few times to be sure that Fred wasn’t actually putting us on. It appears he isn’t.

Things go awry beginning with the very first paragraph, in which Barnes writes, “When direct talks begin next week between Israelis and Palestinians, the fate of Jewish settlers in the West Bank — tens of thousands of them — will be a major issue in the negotiations. But the settlers themselves won’t be part of the discussion.”

Given that Netanyahu is still in the process of choosing his negotiating team, it remains to be seen whether actual settlers will be part of the discussion. But here’s an interesting fact: Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is himself a settler, living in the settlement of Nokdim, south of Bethlehem. While it’s highly unlikely that Lieberman will himself participate in the negotiations (Netanyahu wisely does his best to keep his racist former chief of staff away from decent society as much as possible), given the extreme rightist, pro-settlement orientation of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, it’s safe to say “the settlers” will very much be at the table.

Barnes goes on to channel the usual settler claims — which mirror Hamas’ claims — of a right to all of historic Palestine, as well as the canard that the West Bank is not “occupied” but rather “disputed,” which is a neat way of saying that, having lost 75% of their homeland, the Palestinians should now have to negotiate over the “disputed” remaining 25%.

Barnes notes that “a Jewish settlement has been established in the heart of Hebron.” He does not note, however, that Palestinians in Hebron are literally forced to live in cages to avoid harassment and violence by radical settlers, who live under the protection of Israeli troops and police. Nor does he note the extent to which that violence is underwritten by American “charities” like the Hebron Fund.

Things take a darker turn, however, when settler spokesman Dani Dayyan, commenting on the prospect of a Palestinian state, “raises the long-discarded idea that Jordan might become that state”:

Though its population is predominantly Palestinian, Jordan is a Hashemite kingdom. But if Hashemite rule were ended, “that would open a new horizon of possible solutions that don’t exist today,” Dayyan says. “That’s a thought for the future.” But not one that’s on the table in the Israeli-Palestinian talks to begin next week.

There are good reasons that this idea has been long discarded. Among them: The Palestinians don’t want it. The Jordanians don’t want it. There’s also the small detail that, in addition to being enormously difficult to carry out, involuntary population transfer is a crime against humanity. So don’t let’s think about it for the future, but let’s do let it be instructive as to how some Israelis (and Americans) think.

A few points. The first, and most obvious, is that there’s simply no analog on the left to this sort of thing. You won’t find writers from The Nation or The American Prospect just breezily writing about how driving the Jews out of Israel “would open a new horizon of possible solutions that don’t exist today.” And that’s a good thing. But it does point to an enormous moral asymmetry between how the American right and left view the conflict, with the mainstream left generally viewing Jewish and Palestinian national claims as equal, to be adjudicated as fairly as possible, and the right viewing Palestinian claims, at best, as an inconvenience. (If anyone brings up Helen Thomas’ recent comments, ask them when Fred Barnes can expect be fired.)

Second, it is very important to understand how difficult removing the settlements will be for Israel, both physically and politically.

Third, that’s the point. Being “difficult to remove” has always been the purpose of the settlements. Since 1967, against the advice of its own legal counsel, successive Israeli governments have used these civilians — some of whom are religious extremists, but the majority of whom have simply responded to incentives like government subsidized housing — essentially as human shields. In addition to pushing Israel’s borders farther and farther out, this has also created a highly motivated constituency against any future attempt to negotiate away the land, an artificially created political red line which subsequent Israeli governments can claim they cannot cross. Extraordinarily cynical and inhumane, yes, but also, unfortunately, effective.

In a decades-long conflict where there’s blame to go around, the settlement problem is unique in that it’s a problem that is entirely of Israel’s own making. The burden of solving it, however, will be shared.