‘Settlements Are Reversible’ Is A Cynical Defense

Steven Walt writes that Israel’s relentless expansion of settlements is steadily making a two-state solution impossible. Ezra Klein agrees, and asks the Israel hawks to “tell me what’s wrong with Stephen Walt’s logic.” Jon Chait responds “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s wrong is that settlements are reversible.”

To make peace with Egypt, Israel abandoned settlements in the Sinai peninsula, forcibly uprooting residents there. It did the same when withdrawing from Gaza recently. It was prepared to do the same in the West Bank in 2000 and 2001, though it never had to follow through because negotiations collapsed.[…]

If Israel’s government and population can be convinced that a real peace is attainable, then they should be able to dismantle the settlements.

It’s true, the settlements are reversible. I’ve heard this frequently from Israel hawks, and it’s always struck me as a brutally cynical argument. Leaving aside the myriad other ways in which settlements negatively impact the conflict, the fact is that there are people and families making their homes in these places, in many cases having been encouraged to do so by their own government. “Dismantling the settlements” doesn’t just mean taking down buildings and houses, it means breaking up neighborhoods and support networks that have been built up over many years. It makes no sense to me that someone would offer the prospect of the eventual destruction and expulsion of these communities — that is, of course, what their “reversal” entails — as some kind of mitigating factor. To my mind, this only compounds the immorality of the settlement enterprise.