Israel’s Irrealism on Settlements

This paragraph from a Jerusalem Post editorial on US-Israeli relations in the Obama years highlights the extent to which Israel desperately needs a U.S. administration that’s willing to tell it some stuff it doesn’t want to hear:

There are other issues that may cause stress in the US-Israel relationship. Settlements, always a sore point, take on greater importance when American diplomats believe a diplomatic breakthrough with the Palestinians is achievable. There is little support in Israel today for relinquishing control of the West Bank, given its bitter experience after removing all soldiers and settlers from Gaza. Israelis no longer believe that territorial concessions on their part will bring peace with the Palestinians. Most believe that the real issue blocking “peace” with Hamas and its allies is Israel’s existence, not its settlements. With Hamas in firm control of Gaza and growing in strength on the West Bank, it stretches credulity to believe that the Israeli public can be persuaded to entrust its security to agreements signed with Palestinian leaders who can’t or won’t honor commitments.


Obviously, there’s a wide range of disagreement about how central the continued existence and expansion of Israel’s settlements are to preventing the emergence of peace. I would say they’re quite central. The Post, most Israelis, Jon Chait, and others disagree. But what the Post doesn’t have here is any kind of actual reason why Israel should continue expanding settlements or why it would be smart for Israel to resist U.S. pressure to halt their expansion. Whether or not Israel can or should “entrust its security to agreements signed with Palestinian leaders” it’s certainly not the case that Israel can trust its security to the settlements; they don’t help. And, again, whether or not the settlements are the crucial issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, they’re definitely an issue. And they’re a diplomatic issue for Israel in its relationship with relatively friendly regional states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey and in world public opinion more generally. And they’re expensive! And, as the editorial notes, a perennial source of friction with the United States. A smart Israeli government would halt settlement activity and expansion and perhaps even begin to dismantle some settlements. But it’s clear that that’s not going to happen if the logic of Israeli politics and policy just plays out autonomously so the United States needs to step in with some firm pressure.