I recently renewed contact with a secular friend from Tel Aviv on Facebook. He asked if we’re ever in Tel Aviv so our families can meet each other. I said we’re not there often, and at the moment don’t all fit into our 5-seater sedan to drive there (despite Banana’s helpful suggestion that we strap Bill’s carseat to the roof of the car). I asked him, in turn, whether he and his family would come to see us in Efrat, and he responded that they couldn’t, that it’s Palestine, and that he would have to bring a passport. He followed it up with a little lopsided smiley-face (colon-close parenthesis).
I know the settlements are a popular whipping-boy these days. There are those who like to say that they are the chief object that stands between humanity and Middle East peace. They like to say that settlements are a shameless land grab on the part of the Israelis in an effort to deny the Palestinians their rightful land for their rightful (and as yet imaginary) state. There is even a European who works with the Arabs in “Palestine” who encourages Israel to continue building the settlements so they’ll have something substantial to give up on the day when the Arabs finally pull their finger out and decide to concede Israel’s right to exist.
But I’d like to point out a few things about settlements for those who may not have thought the issue through very carefully.
First of all, settlements didn’t exist in British Mandatory Palestine. There were Jews and Arabs dotted all over the landscape. There were times and places where they got along and even went into business together, and there were times when they did not, when the Arabs became violent and slaughtered Jews under the unconcerned nose of the British.
Settlements were also a non-issue in 1948 and 1967 when surrounding Arab nations decided to gang up on Israel in the hope of taking the rest of the land, something they (except for Egypt and Jordan, in popularly unsupported peace treaties with Israel) never gave up on to this day.
Settlements only became an issue when the Jews had control of land lost by Arabs in their desperate bid to destroy the Jewish State. This was a “humiliation” for the Arabs, a major loss of face, and their further attempts to topple Israel from the outside (the Yom Kippur War) and the inside (two terror wars, popularly known as “intifadas”) show their insistence on getting what they imagine is theirs back.
But it’s not theirs. Not anymore. The Bible says it’s ours. The archeological evidence of Jewish life everywhere say it’s ours. The British Mandate said it’s ours. Our presence here for thousands of years says it’s ours. And our win—and their loss—say it’s ours.
This is not to say that there aren’t some Israelis interested in a two-state solution. But this does not involve restoring a sovereign nation to its land; it’s giving a gift of land to a people to whom it doesn’t currently belong. It’s not the right of aggressors who lose to have land held for them in escrow indefinitely. If anything, the settlements should be seen as an incentive for the Arabs to come to the peace table. The longer they wait, the more we’ll build in the settlements. They are not a bargaining chip; they are a ticking clock. And if the Arabs choose to dally instead of make peace with us, eventually there should be no land left for them, and they should consider going elsewhere to establish their national home.
Contrary to the way the West chooses to view Arabs, they are grown-ups, they are smart, and they are capable of seeing that their choices come with consequences. To behave toward them as though they are tantrumming toddlers, possessed of limited faculties, is patronizing. They are like anyone else; they respond to incentives. If you make clear to them that they stand to gain if they act in their own interests now, you may be more successful than if you coddle and do their bargaining for them, scold and humiliate the Israelis, and do everything else possible to maintain political and diplomatic instability in the region.
Settlements are not the issue, and never have been. As Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon said in a recent interview, “In Judea and Samaria, if you are talking about peace, there is enough place for Jews and Arabs. If you are talking about war, it is more complicated. How much open space do you have in Judea and Samaria? Quite a bit. What percentage of the territory do the Jews control? Five percent. That is what everything hinges on?” In Ya’alon’s view, even in the eventuality of a land gift to the Arabs, not one settlement should be uprooted: “I don’t even want to talk about territorial withdrawals in an age in which the withdrawal from Lebanon strengthened Hizbullah, and the withdrawal from Gaza strengthened Hamas to the point where we have the second Islamic republic in the Middle East – the first in Iran, and the second in Gaza: Hamastan. That is opposed to our strategic interest, and to the strategic interests of the west.”
It’s time to stop perseverating on settlements and start perseverating on what is REALLY the issue: peace.