Settling Zion
Published on: March 25, 2010
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  • TJ

    Interesting analysis, but why are you ignoring the seemingly more obvious issue of strategic depth?

  • Luke Lea

    Either the right of return, or something else in return. It will have to be of equal value, not in the eyes of the Palestinian elites, but in the eyes of the Palestinian street.

    I know if I were a Palestinian I would settle for nothing less than a Western standard of living in a country (or countries) in which I were guaranteed the same civil and human rights enjoyed by the citizens of Israel and other Western democracies.

    Would you? Who would? Would anyone in their shoes? It is time to get real, world.

  • PetraMB

    A very fair description of the settlements, and an equally fair and in my view accurate assessment of their political impact — though I do have a few minor reservations:
    1) The maps, the maps … British Mandate Palestine of course originally included Jordan, which nowadays is a point often raised by the settlers. The “Occupied Territories” map is a trifle outdated…
    2) It’s true that among the ideologically motivated settlers, there are some who have views that are not more endearing than the worst of Hamas, but very different from Hamas, they don’t have any popular support worth mentioning.
    3) The expansion/land grab myth: in the past 10 years, no new settlements were established. In 2002, the Israeli human rights group B’tselem issued a report documenting that the built-up area of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, amounted to less than 2 percent of the territory beyond the “Green Line”, i.e. the pre-1967 border. The settlements have since then not been expanded outward (though there has been construction within the settlements), i.e. not more land has been “grabbed” for construction. Even Palestinian figures from last year put the total of all built-up areas at about 3 percent of the entire Westbank/East Jerusalem territory.
    4) WRT where different people think Israel’s borders should be, how about the Muslim tradition:
    “As for the borders of ‘the Holy Land,’ some scholars says its northern border is the Mount [Hermon] and its surroundings, and for others in also includes a part of the Land of Sham [the Golan]. Others say it extends from the territory of the Philistines [Gaza] until Damascus and a part of Urvum. Some say that God presented to Abraham this Land as an inheritance for his children when he went up to the mountain and said to him: ‘Look around as far as your gaze can reach. Every place reached by your eyes will be theirs.’”

  • Dear Mr Mead,

    thanks a lot for your enlightening remarks, that were very interesting for me, being a staunch opponent of the Israeli settlement movement in the Palestinian Territories.

    However, I find it hard to believe, that the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are more a less a tool to make the Palestinians accept the 1967 borders. Today more than 600.000 people are living in settlements beyond the borders of 1967, many of them deep inside the Palestinian Territories of the West Bank, miles away from the Green Line.

    The settlements have created facts on the ground, that make the foundation of a viable Palestininan state (almost) impossible. In my humble opinion, there is no alternative to the abandonment of a major part of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. However, I don’t see any Israeli party or politician who is a) willing to commit to initiate a significant pull-out from the settlements and b) strong and popular enough to pursue such a policy against the settler movement and its lobby.

    Thus, I believe that the settlements are one of the biggest obstacles for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

  • telaviv

    great analysis, again. i think it is a fair presentation though i would have come down in the end on the side of the settlements as a strategic weapon. you come down on the side that overall the settlements are a negative for israel but i think the argument you make for settlements is actually the stronger one.

    the other issue is that you must note that religiously for Hamas and for many palestinians it is unconceivable (as B.Lewis) points out that muslims will give up israel as dar-al-harb and accept israeli-muslims living under jewish rule. this goes against the entire muslim tradition of competing for dominance over the other two religions. if you add the religious factor to your national/territorial argument i think it gives a fuller picture. also should see halevy’s recent piece in tnr if you already havn’t.

  • Tynam

    An excellent and well-targeted analysis. Would benefit from comparison of the historical maps to a modern one.

    telaliv: You’ve missed the point. As WRM says, the settlements’ negotiating value is as a strategic threat to Palestinian interests. But threatening people is only a useful tool if you can _choose_ whether or not to carry it out. A threat that you can’t back down from is every bit as useless as a threat that you can’t carry out, because it isn’t a threat at all; it’s an expensive military commitment.

    Every increase in settlement increases the power of the settlement lobby; turning the settlements from a tool to an end in themselves – a ball and chain tied around Israel’s strategic choices.

  • Dimitry

    A very refreshing analysis in the Western papers/blogs.
    This is, of course, just a blog post, and thus it has limited space and misses some of the nuances of the issue. The issues of the settlments aren’t clear cut. Not all settlments were born the same, for the same reason and carry the same significance. There are settlments with strategic military importance. Those will not be used as a political bargaining chip. There are settlments with a historical and moral backing — such as the one in Hebron. It is politically bad and will be vacated in any agreement, despite the history, but you can’t deny that history, nor you can erase the underlying problem — the Mearat haMachpela and not the settlment. Jerusalem is indeed a separate matter, and few Israelis view it as a bargaining chip. Etc.
    Still, a good post

  • Albin

    The premise seems to be that there is a controlling contingent of Israelis who support expanding the settlements and populating them with fanatical settlers, on some reasonable expectation they can be traded later. The premise lacks both rational soundness and evidence.

  • skip

    Good article. However:

    “Second . . . [d]eclining sympathy for Israel among American liberals and among Europeans is due to the settlements more than to any other single factor.”

    I wonder how you come to that conclusion.

  • fw

    I think all the settlements essentially have to go; the few that are sufficiently entrenched, by implicit agreement, need to be made up for with land swaps. However, I don’t see how this is any different from what has already been put on the table by Barak and Olmert, and so I’m not sure what will induce the Palestinians to come around this time.

    I think Walter has a point that these are bargaining chips, that can be traded, but I don’t have a huge amount of confidence that the strategy is that deliberate. I think it is the messy upshot of coalition politics.

    In Netanyahu’s favor, I would say that just as the United States needs to appear strong, so does Israel; Iran knows that the U.S. is pressuring Israel not to launch a strike against its nuclear facilities. If Netanyahu bucks Obama, he preserves the credible threat of military action, which is a necessary complement to diplomacy. Most fools in the blogging world don’t understand this–“Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments,” as Frederick the Great had it. Sabre-rattling is pressure to resolve an issue through negotiation.

    On a pessimistic note, Europe will never love Israel. Antisemitism, as a manifestation of a fundamental instinct to blame, is too deeply rooted, and will always find a pretext. Take away the settlements, establish a peace agreement, and there will still be Europenas execrating Israel, for some other reason they’ll happily discover.

  • fw

    I would add that Israel has been hugely disincentivized from taking action to remove settlement by the response to its withdrawal from Gaza.

    The military removed uncooperative and hostile settlers, prompting even some expressions of understanding from Palestinians.

    What happened? Hamas escalated its suicide attacks, and then began its fusillade if rockets.

    I still think the settlements should be removed, but I think the Palestinians are responsible for the ascent of the right wing in Israeli politics.

  • fw

    And here’s the man who was formerly the world’s most famous advocate for the Palestinians, throwing a stone at Israeli soldiers AFTER they withdrew from Lebanon.

    That was a really great message from the highest profile, pro-Palestinian advocate. You retreated to your border, that’s not good enough, we will not relent in our attacks.

  • dmitry

    Et tu, Brutus? I wonder – how amused would the editors at Ha’aretz be when they see their paper being described as “moderately dovish”? After all, they are unapologetic about having an ideological mission on behalf of Mapai, peace camp, and fellow travelers. Ha’aretz often and willingly plants trial balloons, misinformation and sensational headlines at strategic moments to achieve political goals of a particular political movement in Israel, and is quite open about it. Calling that paper “moderately dovish” is like calling MoveOn “moderately liberal” or the Tea Party “moderately libertarian” in US politics. Since this is obvious to any knowledgeable, honest observer of Israeli politics, one must ask – why the opening paragraph deception? The rest of the article is then, alas, devalued…

  • Roy

    I wonder if all the current jockeying on both sides, and between both parties isn’t all ephemera, and whether truly meaningful change will only arrive when we wean ourselves from our petroleum-based economy. It’s a theme Thomas Friedman has written about.

    Deprive Middle Eastern rules of their ability to leverage their petro-muscle, and to provide the necessary financial support to the terrorist groups they use as proxies in their conflicts with one another, and we could treat this part of the world as we would any other troubled region. Let it revert to conditions prevailing in the nineteenth century, when Jerusalem was the backwater that Mark Twain described it as being, before it had any genuine significance for the Arabs and there was a Jewish majority.

    For starters, without their oil money, the region’s autocrats might be more amenable to the Israeli presence, and to participating in a meaningful way in the international economy. And in the interests of that participation, they might stop funding terrorist groups, who rely on their support.

  • Isaac Moddel

    From the very beginning his article is filled with errors and half truths. His first mistake its calling it an “occupation”, which it clearly is not. Secondly, he is forgetting about the strategic importance for the defense of Israel to maintain these “settlements”, from the Judean hills, which act as a buffer from incoming armies, to the aqueducts where Israel pulls are vast amount of water for the state. A lot of these “settlements” are positioned to maintain strategic interests in Judea and Samaria. Thirdly, he claims that the settlements are exacerbating the situation with the Arabs, but that follows no logic. The Jewish people were attacked by Arabs starting in the late 1800’s, then 1922, 1929, 1936 – 39, 1947, the fedayeen before the 1956 war, and 1967 before Israel had any “settlement” policy. The PLO with all its factions were established in 1964 before there was any “settlement” policy. So, his reasoning is a historical lie. Furthermore, Hamas is not opposed to Israel because of the “settlements”, for they view Tel Aviv as a settlement, and quite simply so do the PLO. Lastly, Zionism without Jerusalem is not Zionism. Israel will lose its purpose for being when people cannot connect to their Jewish roots in places like Hevron, Beit Lechem, Shilo, and so on.
    Thus, this article is a article that has barely any relevance on reality, and I think it is about time that this guy actually opened his eyes to the truth of the situation.

    On a final note, this entire article does not even mention the dangers an Israeli pullout, and assumes that it will work out well. This too is not grounded in historical precedent.

  • Roy

    So long as we are talking about the short-term, I wonder when in history there has been a durable peace established between warring parties, when one of them hasn’t been defeated decisively.

    Maybe I’m mistaken, but it seems to me that conditions at the time of peace-making are usually asymmetrical. One party—be it the Japanese, Germans, or the Confederates—has been essentially deprived of its ability to continue war, and therefore is compelled to agree to terms, favorable or not.

    The Israelis, because of world pressure, have never been able to deliver the coup de grace that would force the hand of the Palestinians. Every time the Palestinian war machine is in its death throes, it gets resurrected, and then balks at the proposals for peace.

    Israelis are always told they are using disproportionate force, that there was no valid casus belli (Gaza, Lebanon), that they are being inhuman and must cease all hostilities and pull back.

    Even after Arafat supported Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, and lost his Soviet patron after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world set him up as the leader of the Palestinians, and said that any resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be equitable and fair, to an exacting measure.

    Could we have achieved peace in World War II if this had been the case? If we had kept waiting for Hitler to come around and agree to terms?

    It just seems to me that peace is never quite fair; it is imposed on a losing party externally by a stronger one, and that so long as the world keeps coming to the rescue of the Palestinians, it prevents them from surrendering and accept a peace deal that would benefit them in the long run. Japan and Germany flourished after World War II, and we still have military bases there, (and the Germans want them to remain.)

    It’s funny. The U.S. is always accused of backing Israel, and keeping it viable by supporting it.

    What people neglect is that the U.S. also restrains Israel, and has on multiple occasions, and that Israel might really deal a crushing blow to its neighbors without that restraint.

    What if the world said to the Palestinians, you lost, accept the deal, it’s the best you’re going to get, it’s not bad, (divided sovereignty in Jerusalem, more than 95% of the West Bank), and if you don’t, you’re on your own?

    Wouldn’t the Palestinians have been better off?

  • Norm

    It’s been speculated that one of President Obama’s objectives is to fracture Netanyahu’s coalition and bring a less recalcitrant government to power in Jerusalem. If the Israeli government concludes that the USA is not an honest broker in the negotiations by failing to compel comparable and equally public concessions on the part of the Arabs, what’s to prevent the current government from digging in and attempting to manipulate events to undercut the Obama administration by encouraging a GOP congressional victory this fall that would be more sympathetic to Israeli security concerns and arms purchases?

  • “But there is a serious case to be made that the settlements in the occupied territories are an important element of Israel’s diplomatic strategy.”

    If you mean intra-Israeli diplomacy (politics), fine. But what could possibly be diplomatic about breaking a Geneva Convention? What part of “settlements in the occupied territories” do you think is diplomatic? They are illegal. Fourth Geneva Convention, Article III, Section 49:

    “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

    Israel has been a party to this convention since 1951.

  • WRM has never even included the word “illegal” in any of his posts on Israel.

    I swear that map was on the inside cover of my childhood bible. The huge blob of orange during the 10th century BCE is just a bit misleading. Also note the Hasmonaeans ruled for 26 years. Read Juan Cole’s recent post on the history of the land of Palestine.

  • “The return of millions of Palestinian refugees — or anything more than a symbolic number — is a complete non-starter for virtually all Jewish Israelis.”

    The blockade of Gaza is a complete non-starter for virtually all Palestinians, including Arab Israelis. However, that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, does it? You can’t just state the Israeli position as accept it as a given. You have to justify it. I hope you give this a try sometime soon.

    “In 1947 the Palestinians rejected a partition plan that included much more territory than they retained after the 1948 war.” This is a perfect example of something that is not a justification of anything but raw power. Even granting your Israeli position on the rejection of the partition plan (it was the Palestinians fault, if they took their lumps up front, everything would be rosy right now), which I don’t, it is outlandish to suggest that an army should determine the boundaries between peoples. It didn’t exactly work for Saddam in Kuwait, why should it work for the Israelis?

  • “The 1967 boundaries that Palestinians now criticize Israelis for violating were considered illegitimate until the Six Day War made them obsolete.”

    Again, what war makes national boundaries obsolete? Did the line on the map get redrawn in the Balkans? Or in the Caucasus?

  • Roy

    Incidentally, by the terms of the agreement, at least three-quarters of our aid to Israel must be used to purchase American manufactured goods—fighter jets, missiles, tractors, bulldozers, mainframes, etc.

    It is essentially, a domestic subsidy that is run through Israeli accounts and back to the U.S.

    Because those billions stimulate U.S. corporate profits, and employment rolls, there is a significant incentive, on the part of other parties besides the vaunted Israel Lobby, to see that they continue unabated.

  • fw

    Juan Cole is on the record opposing the existence of the state of Israel, as presently constituted as a Jewish state.

    Whatever his other expertise, his accounts of Israel’s history are inaccurate at best, highly tendentious, and have been debunked, repeatedly.

    If you hate Israel, why not just come out once and scream it, to paraphrase Bobby Zimmerman, rather than refer to pseudo history?

  • billct

    The settlements are a Ziono-fascist land grab. Historically there was Israel-Sammaria and Judea. This lasted for over a 150 years. Why this was never used as a starting point is beyond me. The Zionists never came in peace. They always had the intention of ultimately taking greater Israel.

  • fw – if it’s on the record, provide the record.

  • Either way you will always have people on both sides of the issue. For this area of the world it seems to be always a heated debate. But I would remind you, treat your enemies with respect or they will never be your friend.

  • telaviv

    Norwegian Shooter, your arguments are laughable, but would be right at home if posted on al-manar or a hamas or fatah website. they only justify a response as you continue to fill up every article with empty garble. the essence of the issue is the 1948 rejection by the arabs and that continues until this very day. according to your narrative the palestinians are a non-entity, not a player, but passive victims.

  • Jack

    Mr. Mead,

    What settlements in the Gaza Strip are you referring to?

    My understanding is that the Gaza Strip is now Judenrein, the Israelis having left in 2005.

    And how many rockets have been fired from Gaza since 2005?

    Must be some Jewish plot to force those Palestinian peace-nicks to fire thousands of rockets into Israel. And it is of interest that you mention Gaza as though it is currently occupied by Israel. No doubt the State Department is grateful that you are on message.

    And what kind of beef do you have with domestic servants? It seems that they only exist to be a silent foil for your rapier wit.

    I wonder if you pay them legally. Do you supply them W2s? Do you pay social security taxes for them, as required by law? Or do you just make fun of them behind their backs?

    As you blithely ignore the fact that Israel removed all settlements from Gaza in 2005, and reaped a vast sowing of rockets aimed at killing civilians, I can only imagine how easy it is for you to be oblivious to your own ritual mocking of the employees who clean your bathroom, and the usual, though in your case, elite, effluvia you leave behind.

    Why don’t you just say what you’re really thinking: “The peasants are revolting and you can’t get grateful ones anymore. Especially my peasants.”

    As for getting the “Arabs to work hard to settle this dispute”, please expand on that. Can you show us anything at all, anything, that shows the Arabs are at all interested in settling this dispute? Other than by implementing a ‘final solution?’

  • nadine

    Israel is routinely accused for stealing more land of settlements, even though settlement expansion stopped after Oslo. They are also accused of still occupying the WB and Gaza, even though they no longer occupy Gaza and haven’t occupied the population centers of the WB for over 15 years.

    Combine the fact that the bad PR the Palestinians give the Israelis doesn’t change even after Israeli concessions with the fact that the Palestinians’ real grievances are ‘1948 issues’, not ‘1967 issues’, and it is clear that Israel won’t gain diplomatically from settlement concessions. Concessions they don’t change Palestinian complaints, which are always received uncritically by the Left in Europe and America.

    So if the Israelis are doomed to pay the “costs of the settlement policy” whether they continue it or not, they might as well continue it and get the tangible benefits.

  • marty

    Norwegian Shooter should pay closer attention to what he writes:

    He asks what borders were established by force of arms: The answer is essentially all of them, as most any student of history knows. He mentions the Balkans specifically; has he ever heard of World War I?

    And his point begs a significant question: If, somehow, the Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims destroy Israel by force of arms would he also insist that they withdraw? And to what lines?If not, why should he not be dismissed as a simple racist?

    His reading of the Geneva Convention is also faulty: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

    “Deport” and “Transfer,” like all other words, have actual meanings. Unfortunately for him, they don’t mean what he wants them to. Israel hasn’t deported or transferred anyone to the settlements; if they had, why would there be a settler lobby in Israel? “Settlers” go to these communities for various reasons. Some go because of religion; some for affordable housing; some for quality of life. None of these is covered by the meaning of “deport” or “transfer.”

    The bottom line is fairly simple: The Palestinians continue to be more interested in denying rights to Jews than they are in gaining a state for themselves. That approach makes the Middle East a zero-sum conflict. Until that changes, there is no possibility of peace. And if there isn’t going to be peace, why should Israel care what the Palestinians want?

  • Joe

    Very penetrating analysis, and yet two points remained unmentioned:

    1. The factor of Islam. To treat Palestinian problem without the jihad is to miss a large part of it. Islam commands juhad against Jews, settlements notwithstanding. That’s why Arafat and Abbas didn’t grab an incredibly good deals offered by America and left-leaning Israeli prime ministers. They couldn’t bring themselves to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state on any part of Palestine.

    2. The “Auschwitz borders”. The majority of Israelis emphatically DO NOT agree to go back to 1949 armistice lines, and so not all the settlements are bargaining chips.

  • marty,

    You are right about WWI and all earlier wars, they did establish borders. But since WWII, territorial integrity has been a fundamental bedrock of the international order. UN Charter Chapter I, Article 2, 4:

    “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

    Your question: “If, somehow, the Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims destroy Israel by force of arms would he also insist that they withdraw? And to what lines?” Of course I would deplore any Palestinian incursion over the 1967 borders. That likelihood is virtually nil, but still, it would be wrong.

    Wikipedia has a good summary of international law and the settlements. The International Court of Justice said:

    “”That provision [article 49(6)] prohibits not only deportations or forced transfers of population such as those carried out during the Second World War, but also any measures taken by an occupying Power in order to organize or encourage transfers of parts of its own population into the occupied territory” and “concludes that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law”. The dissenting judge Thomas Buergenthal agreed that “this provision applies to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and that their existence violates Article 49, paragraph 6″”

    Note also the ICRC’s commentary:

    “It further notes “that in this paragraph the meaning of the words ‘transfer’ and ‘deport’ is rather different from that in which they are used in the other paragraphs of Article 49 since they do not refer to the movement of protected persons but to that of nationals of the occupying Power”. The Committee has on several occasions described the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

  • UtterlyDisgusted

    Unfortunately, this spectacle is not new, and it will be covered up and forgotten in a couple of weeks. For decades, the United States has been the true enabler (financially, diplomatically, and militarily) behind the Zionist colonial project.

    Israel: We’re confiscating yet more Palestinian land to build Jews-only settlements. (Jim Crow wasn’t really that bad. Apartheid is fine.

    Obama: That isn’t helpful. (We are seen as your enabler; please keep it down and don’t embarrass us.)

    Gen. David Petraeus and VP Biden: Israeli actions are endangering our troops.

    Israel: So? What you gonna do about it, black boy?

    Obama: I’ll …um.. say so.

    Israel/AIPAC: How dare you even mention it, you anti-Semite! You do not want to declare your loyalty to the Zionist enterprise, subordinate US interests to Zionist thievery and greed, and lick our A*S, that’s fine. Our Israel-firsters and bought-and-paid-for Congress always come through; they will keep the money and political support flowing. They will continue to spend US blood and treasure to defend the zionist apartheid enterprise.

    Mead: (drawing on George Orwell’s inspiration). In my view, Zionist colonization is a “strategy for peace”! “Ignorance is strength” “war is peace” “slavery is freedom”

  • Where is the analysis of Islam in this Israel-Palestinian-Arab-Muslim problem?

    The existence of Israel on even one square inch of the Ummah is blasphemy. Jews in a superior position to Muslims is a double blasphemy. It is not necessary for all Muslims to believe this (although this is mainstream theology) but Hamas definitely does and for that reason the settlements are not the cause of warfare but the excuse.

    If (and I believe when) the Islamists repeat in the Palestinian Authority their success in Gaza it will be the settlements that allow the IDF to remain and in the process protect 80% of the Israeli population that will fall within range of Palestinian artillery.

    Citizen Abbas won’t make any counter offer to Israel’s because he knows the majority of his population will see it as blasphemy. Obama simply did him a favour by providing him with an excuse to withdraw.

  • nadine

    The mayor of Jerusalem notes that the current municipal building projects in East Jerusalem are two thirds of Jews and one thirds for Arabs. Do you want all building stopped, ‘UtterlyDisgusted’, or just for Jews?

  • UtterlyDisgusted

    “The mayor of Jerusalem notes that the current municipal building projects in East Jerusalem are two thirds of Jews and one thirds for Arabs. Do you want all building stopped, ‘UtterlyDisgusted’, or just for Jews?”

    Assuming this is true, I have a great deal for you, Nadine. I will takeover your house, set-aside two-thirds for my exclusive use and you and your family can live live in the remaining third. Deal?

    You obviously miss the point. The settlements (Jews-only colonies) are illegal under international law. Land theft is illegal. Aparthied is illegal, not to mention morally repugnant.

  • petra duffy

    i suppose.

    Brought this to mind when I read the original article,

    It isnt Iranian diplomacy the U.S. president is banking on; its the widespread unease over Irans nuclear program and its support of militant Islamic movements, which U.

  • asama

    [vulgar epithets and incitements to genocide deleted; name of vicious and depraved commentator left in shame –ed]

    Note to readers: the comments page on this blog is not available to those who wish to spread racial or religious hatred.

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