Commentary Magazine


Why the Settlements Should Stay

The settlements! If only they didn’t exist! If only Israel understood the folly of them! They have been a ruinous drain on its resources, a flagrant violation of international law, a systematic effort to dispossess the Palestinians, an intolerable presence on Palestinian soil, and, in short, “the greatest Israeli obstacle to peace,” as the New York Times recently put it in hardly its first editorial on the subject. For the sake of peace, they will have to be uprooted.

Such, today, is the conventional wisdom even among most of Israel’s friends, even among many Israelis. Like all wisdom of its kind, it is self-perpetuating. And like all wisdom of its kind, it needs a second look.

Such a look might begin with the word “settlement” itself, which implies a small and easily removable community. Most people, when they imagine the Palestinian West Bank, in which are to be found close to three-quarters of the roughly 175 Jewish settlements built on territory occupied by Israel in 1967, and 90 percent of their total population of 250,000, see a series of isolated outposts surrounded by hostile Arab towns and villages.1 Such outposts, numbering several hundred inhabitants or fewer, do exist, from the Hebron hills in the southern West Bank, traditionally known to Jews and Christians as Judea, to the fringes of Jenin in the northern West Bank or Samaria.2 Most of them, however, are surrounded by empty space rather than by Arab towns and villages.

But other settlements, as the Times noted in the same editorial, are the size of large towns, and some are approaching small cities. Ma’aleh Adumim, in the Judean desert east of Jerusalem, has a population of 28,000; Ariel, in the foothills east of Tel Aviv, 18,000; Betar Illit, an ultra-Orthodox community south of Jerusalem, has passed 15,000. Standing in the center of such places, one has a view not of hostile Palestinians but of Jewish houses, streets, parks, shops, and businesses as far as the eye can see.

If the settlements were a bad idea, they were indeed a great waste of public funds. Huge amounts have been invested in them by Israeli governments for construction and infrastructure, only a part of which has been recovered through the sale of housing, real-estate and commercial taxes, and other revenue. And yet, apart from this construction having been an important source of income to those engaged in it, especially to many thousands of Palestinian workers, evacuating the settlements today would be far more expensive than building them.

Assuming, for instance, 7,000 dwelling units in Ma’aleh Adumim, a suburb populated largely by young families coming from and working in Jerusalem, and modestly estimating the price of equivalent housing in Jerusalem at $250,000 per family unit, the cost of relocating Ma’aleh Adumim’s residents, and of paying compensation to its shop-owners and businesses, would come to over $2 billion. The total cost of evacuating all the settlements could easily—talk of ruinous!—exceed $20 billion.

We are assured that Israel will not have to pay for this. The international community, it is said, will be glad to finance peace by footing the bill and resettling Palestinian refugees in the evacuated homes, thus helping to solve two problems at once. This, however, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, $20 billion is not in evidence. Nor is there likely to be much enthusiasm for writing a check in that amount on the part of taxpayers in America, Europe, and Japan, who have been hearing for the past 35 years that the settlements are illegal. Why pay the price of Israel’s crimes?

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That the settlements are illegal, the conventional wisdom says, is obvious. But it is far from obvious—even if, like many a commonplace, it has been remarked upon so often that it has attained the status of a universally acknowledged truth.

The case for the illegality of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank rests largely on a single source: article 49(6) in the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. This article states that an occupying military power “shall not deport or transfer part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Yet, as a number of international jurists have pointed out, not only has Israel “deported” or “transferred” no one to the settlements, whose inhabitants are there of their own free will, it is by no means clear that Israel was ever, legally, in the position of being an occupying power.

This is because, in 1967, Israel had as good a claim as anyone to the West Bank, which in effect belonged to no government. The Jordanian annexation of the area, while acquiesced in by the same Palestinian leadership that had rejected the 1947 UN partition resolution, was unrecognized by most of the world, and Jordan itself had refused to make peace with Israel or to consider their joint border more than a temporary cease-fire line. A reasonable case could thus be made that, as the sole sovereign state to have emerged from British-mandated Palestine, Israel had not only the right but the duty to act as the West Bank’s civil administrator pending determination of the area’s status.

The conventional wisdom is also wrong in asserting—a frequently made claim—that continued settlement activity on the part of Israel is a violation of the 1993 Oslo accords. The plain fact of the matter is that nowhere in that agreement was there any reference to the settlements, apart from a single paragraph stating that—along with Jerusalem, refugees, and “other issues of common interest”—their fate was to be settled in final-status negotiations. This was hardly an oversight. The Palestinians wanted a settlement freeze and fought for one at Oslo; if they did not get it, this is only because in the end they accepted the Israeli refusal to agree to one. In repeatedly demanding one anyway over the ensuing years, it is they, not the Israelis, who have gone back on the document they signed.

And yet whatever the legality of the settlements, the debate over it is incapable of adjudication, since international law, especially with regard to disputes between countries, remains in large measure a fiction lacking courts to interpret it impartially. Nor, it must be admitted, did questions of legality especially exercise Israel when it established the settlements in the first place. It is therefore worth recalling why, when, and where it did establish them.

Even though settling Jews on available land was a Zionist reflex, if not the supreme imperative of Jewish policy in the historic land of Israel from the late 19th century on, the immediate reaction of the Labor-party government of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day war of June 1967 was to bar Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Caught by surprise both by the war and by the extent of the Arab defeat, the Eshkol government adopted this position in the expectation that peace talks with Jordan would soon commence and lead to the return of most of the area to King Hussein.

Apart from annexing East Jerusalem, Israel undertook no settlement activity at all in the first months after the fighting, during which the government countenanced, at most, several privately initiated ventures on the Golan Heights and in the Etsion Bloc southwest of Jerusalem—where, in 1948, a cluster of kibbutzim had been destroyed by the Arab Legion after fierce resistance. (Both areas had great emotional resonance for the Israeli public, the Golan because of long years of Syrian shelling from it, the “Bloc” as a symbol of Jewish heroism and loss in the War of Independence.) Similarly, when, in April 1968, ten months after the Six-Day war, a group of religious Jews moved into and refused to leave a hotel in the Judean city of Hebron, in which an ancient Jewish community had existed until driven out by a pogrom in 1929, no action was taken to evict them.

But by the spring of 1968, Israel’s situation had changed. The “three no’s”—to peace with Israel, to recognition of Israel, and to negotiations with Israel—of the pan-Arab conference in Khartoum that ended in September 1967, plus the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 in November, deliberately phrased to call for Israeli withdrawal to “secure and recognized borders” from “occupied” rather than from “the occupied” territories, had convinced Israel of two things: that peace talks were not imminent, and that, were they to become so, the world would agree to Israeli retention of a minimum of territory needed for its security. The result was the “Allon Plan,” named for Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon. Israel’s first formulation of a coherent West Bank strategy, it called for Jewish settlements surrounding Jerusalem, in the foothills of Samaria just east of the 1967 border, and in the sparsely inhabited Jordan Valley—and nowhere else. Eighty percent of the West Bank, including its most heavily populated regions, would remain out of bounds to Jews.

The Allon Plan, though it came under heavy domestic criticism as a British-Mandate-style “White Paper” banning Jews from living in their own homeland, determined settlement policy until 1974. Then, shortly after the Yom Kippur war, which ended with a battered and disillusioned Israel seemingly further away from peace than ever, a first wedge was driven in it. Demanding that the government of Yitzhak Rabin recognize the right of Jews to settle anywhere in Judea and Samaria, a militant group named Gush Emunim staged a “live-in” at Sebastia, the site of the biblical city of Shomron. The Rabin government, though at first inclined to evict the squatters, was persuaded by Defense Minister Shimon Peres to negotiate with them, leading to the founding of the settlement of Kedumim in the heart of Samaria. Subsequently, the Allon Plan’s restrictions on Jewish settlement began to crumble.

Nevertheless, at the time of the momentous defeat of Labor in the elections of 1977 by Menachem Begin’s Likud party, there were barely ten thousand Jews living in the West Bank. Soon after these elections, Egypt’s president Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem on his peace overture. Had there been at this time the slightest willingness on the part of Jordanians or Palestinians to join the Egyptian-Israeli peace talks, these few settlers would have been an obstacle to nothing. (Their number was indeed only slightly greater than the number of Israelis in the Sinai that would be evacuated by the Begin government in 1981.) But the Jordanians stood aloof from the proposal for West Bank autonomy made by Begin to Sadat; the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) assailed it; and more and more settlers, encouraged by Likud policy, began moving into the West Bank.

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Were they an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians? The historical record shows that, at least up to the Oslo Agreement of 1993, they were the opposite: not an obstacle but an impetus to peace.

This can be confirmed, first of all, empirically. From 1977 on, as West Bank settlement grew by leaps and bounds, passing the 100,000 mark in 1990, Arab and Palestinian attitudes toward Israel became steadily more flexible. The year 1979 marked the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. In 1985 the PLO, which had hitherto called for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a “secular, democratic” (i.e., non-Jewish) state in all of Palestine, suggested forming a joint delegation with Jordan to negotiate the return of the West Bank and Gaza Strip alone; in 1988, it announced its acceptance of Resolution 242 and its willingness to recognize Israel; in 1992, it went to Oslo with the Rabin government.

Of course, there were other reasons for this, too. They included the peace between Israel and Egypt; the defeat of the PLO in Lebanon in 1982; the PLO’s financial and political debacle in the Gulf war; the waning of the first intifada, which broke out in 1987 and had begun to subside by the early 1990′s; and the growing popularity in the occupied territories of Islamic groups challenging PLO supremacy. But of all these factors, it may be that nothing convinced the PLO that time was against it so much as the growth of the settlements. As long as the number of people in them was negligible, they did not seem likely to prevent Israel from ever surrendering control of the West Bank. Now that they were expanding by 10,000 inhabitants a year, the PLO feared the approach of a point of no return. This fear was, in the 1980′s and early 90′s, a factor working for, not against, peace.

One might consider a counter-factual proposition. Suppose that every Israeli government, from 1967 until the present, had done what the conventional wisdom says it should have done. Suppose it had declared, “Not a single Jew will be allowed to live in the West Bank until there is peace, and we intend to hold the area in escrow for the Palestinians for as long as this takes. Let it be ten years. Let it be twenty. Let it be 50 or 100. The Arab world can rest assured that, whenever it is tired of fighting, it will get this territory back as we received it, free of Jews.”

Would this have hastened peace talks or moderated the PLO? Why should it have? Common sense dictates that the Palestinian and Arab reaction would have been, “Well, then, there’s no need to hurry. We have all the time in the world. First, let us go on trying to destroy Israel. If we succeed, so much the better. If we fail, we will have lost nothing.”

In point of fact, however, Israel could never have kept such a promise even had it made it. As the months after the June 1967 victory lengthened into years, no Israeli government would have lasted if it told its people: “No matter how long the Arabs refuse to make peace with us, you are forever barred from living in any part of the land of Israel beyond the 1967 borders that the Arabs refuse to recognize.” The Allon Plan was initially acceptable to most Israelis because, while pragmatic, it did not in principle deny the right of Jews to live beyond those borders. A policy of declaring the West Bank entirely Judenrein would have toppled Labor and brought the Likud to power well before 1977.

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There is indeed something unacceptable about telling Jews that although they may live anywhere they wish, in New York and London, in Moscow and Buenos Aires, there is one part of the world they may not live in—namely, Judea and Samaria, those regions of the land of Israel most intimately connected with the Bible, with the Second Temple period, and with Jewish historical memory, and most longed-for by the Jewish people over the ages.

It is a matter of historical irony that, when Israel’s 1948 War of Independence ended, it found the Jews heavily concentrated in the narrow lowland of Palestine’s coastal strip, where the biblical Philistines once lived, and the Arabs mainly in the hill country of the interior, where the ancient Jews once lived. Yet this is also a matter of historical consistency. All over the world, and throughout time, more technologically advanced peoples have ended up occupying the plains and valleys, where a high degree of agricultural, political, and military organization is most effective, leaving the hills to their less advanced rivals. In biblical times, the hill people of Palestine were the Israelites. In 1948, they were the Palestinians.

Be that as it may, Jordan, Israel’s main military adversary in 1948, saw to it that the West Bank it annexed had not a Jew in it. It was thus inevitable, following the 1967 victory, that there should have been widespread sentiment in Israel for opening Judea and Samaria to Jewish settlement. The ensuing debate had not two sides but three, which might be labeled the “pros,” the “cons,” and the “halfways.” In simplified form, combining arguments that received different degrees of prominence at different times and in different circumstances, the debate went like this:

Pros: “Jews have an absolute right to live anywhere in their historic homeland. For a Jewish government to deny this right would be monstrous.”

Cons: “There is a difference between a right and its implementation. In theory, the Palestinian refugees also have the right to return to the homes they fled in 1948, but in practice there are good grounds for opposing this. The same can be said of Jews and the West Bank. Jewish settlements there will take away more land from a Palestinian people that already lost most of its territory in 1948. They will create resentment and anger among this people and inflame anti-Israel feeling. And they will make it impossible to exchange the West Bank for peace, thus precluding a political solution. Israel can exist without Judea and Samaria. For the Palestinians, this is all they have left. Keeping it for them is both the prudent and the moral thing to do.”

Pros: “Israel can not exist without Jews in Judea and Samaria. This is so physically, because a return to the 1967 borders, which at their narrowest left the country six miles wide between the West Bank and the sea, will render it militarily indefensible. And it is so psychologically, because, while you can divide the land of Israel on a map, you cannot divide it as a concept. Either it belongs to the Jewish people or it does not. The Arabs say it does not. If Jews concede today that they have no place in Judea and Samaria, they will concede tomorrow that they have none in Haifa and Tel Aviv.”

Cons: “That is absurd. Jews are in Haifa and Tel Aviv. They need no historical justification for being there. And there are other ways of making Israel defensible. A Palestinian state can be demilitarized. Modern technology permits early-warning systems and military responses that make distances on the ground irrelevant.”

Pros: “Demilitarization will be a farce if Israel does not control the Palestinian border with the Arab world in the Jordan Valley. So will any early-warning system. Arab tanks could enter a Palestinian state through that valley and cut Israel in half literally overnight.”

Halfways: “That is why there is a need to compromise on something like the Allon Plan. It is the optimal solution.”

Cons: “It is no solution at all. Neither the Palestinians nor any Arab country will accept the Allon Plan, or anything less than a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines. No settlements at all—that is the only game in town.”

Pros: “You’ve just given the best reason for settlements everywhere. Why forbid Jews to live in their own land if a defensible Israel will not result from a full withdrawal in any case?”

Halfways: “You’re forgetting demography. There are two million Arabs living in the West Bank. Adding them to the population of Israel would be the end of Israel as a Jewish state.”

Pros: “You don’t have to add them. They can be citizens of Jordan or of Palestine.”

Cons: “You mean Arab Bantus in an Israeli Bantustan.”

Pros: “We mean Israelis and Palestinians living together. If they can do so on the old Israeli side of the 1967 border, why can’t they do so on the old Jordanian side?”

Cons: “There is no analogy. The Palestinians in Israel were there before the Jews. The Israelis on the West Bank are intruders. They have robbed the West Bankers of their property. They constitute an insufferable provocation. ‘They deprive the Palestinians’—permit me to quote from a New York Times editorial—‘of prime land and water, break up Palestinian geographic continuity, are hard to defend against Palestinian attack, and complicate the establishment of a clear, secure Israeli border.’ How can you argue with that?”

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Perhaps by beginning with the Palestinians’ own statistics.

Jewish settlers in the West Bank number, as I have said, some 225,000 people—or about a tenth of the area’s total population. (By comparison, the one million Palestinians now living in Israel form close to a fifth of its population.) According to Palestinian figures, the built-up area currently occupied by the settlements constitutes 2 percent of the West Bank.3 Another 2.2 percent has been set apart by the Israeli government for future expansion, and an additional 1.5 percent has been used for 190 miles of roads leading to, or connecting, the settlements. All in all, the Jewish tenth of the West Bank’s population lives on one-fiftieth of its area, has title to another fiftieth, and travels on a special sixty-fifth.

Whatever the percentages, the Palestinians claim that all land used by the settlements has been stolen from them and must be relinquished. Israel, for its part, contends that this land has been acquired legally. Both sides agree that its transfer to Jewish ownership has been conducted by three basic mechanisms.

One has been direct sales by Palestinian owners to Israeli buyers. (Many of these, the Palestinians say, were fraudulent or performed under duress.) A second has been the allotment, by Israel to the settlers, of unowned or former Jordanian state-owned land. (The Palestinians insist that Israel had no proprietary rights to either.) A third has been the confiscation of private Palestinian land for “public purposes.” (Which, the Palestinians contend, has consistently meant only Jewish purposes.) Although neither Palestinian nor Israeli sources offer a breakdown by category, the last-named—confiscations—probably comprises the smallest of the three.

The Palestinians also point out that the settlements occupy far more land per capita than do Palestinian towns and cities, whose built-up area, for a population ten times greater, is less than twice as large—a disparity in population density that is due partly to larger Palestinian families’ living in more crowded quarters and partly to the settlements’ having more extensive private and public spaces. Still, the 5.7 percent of the West Bank apportioned to settlement activity now and in the future, while not insignificant, hardly constitutes a major takeover of what the Times calls “prime Palestinian land.”4

The same holds true for water. Although many Palestinian localities do suffer acute water shortages during the dry summer months, the settlements, despite their far greater per-capita domestic consumption of water, are not directly to blame. Unlike the Palestinians, the settlers are for the most part linked to the central Israeli water grid and do not pump their water from local wells, and Israeli restrictions on Palestinian pumping, however onerous, have been aimed at protecting Israeli aquifers in general rather than at diverting water specifically to the settlements. If the Jewish inhabitants of the settlements were all moved to the coastal plain tomorrow, they would be drawing the same amount of water from these aquifers as today.

On the other hand, the settlements do, as the Times says, “break up Palestinian geographic continuity,” since no part of the West Bank is without them. The Times is right, too, that many of them, because small and reached by vulnerable roads, “are hard to defend against Palestinian attack.” It has been the need to protect them against such attack that has led to the proliferation of Israeli army patrols and military checkpoints that Palestinian drivers and their passengers, often held up several times in the course of short journeys, have found particularly harassing and humiliating. Certainly, a permanent situation in which this continued would be incompatible with Palestinian sovereignty in any meaningful sense. No Palestinian state could allow the Israeli army to be everywhere in its territory (as opposed to in limited bases in the Jordan Valley).

The Times is also right that the settlements, in their present locations, “complicate the establishment of a clear, secure Israeli border.” In fact, if such a border had to include all the settlements within it, it would be impossible to draw. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s current “interim agreement” proposal, which calls for keeping all the settlements under Israeli control while giving only 40 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians, illustrates the dilemma: the border would have to take in large amounts of land not belonging to the settlements in order to encompass them all. The noncontiguous cantons thereby left to the Palestinians would indeed be the equivalent of Bantustans, and there is no conceivable reason why the Palestinians should accept them.

To sum up: the great majority of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not there because of Israel’s original post-1967 policy and would not have been built at all had the Arabs been prepared to negotiate a peace treaty in the aftermath of the 1967 war. They are not necessarily illegal, and they have probably, over the years, furthered peace more than they have hindered it. Relocating their inhabitants would cost enormous sums. Moreover, they express a deep Jewish imperative that cannot be challenged without calling into question the Jewish historical attachment to Palestine that validates the state of Israel. And although many of them are built on land taken from the Palestinians against their will, their physical dimension is not intolerable from a Palestinian point of view.

What is intolerable is both the discriminatory asymmetry behind the settlements—that is, the assumption that, whereas Jews have a right to live in all of the historic land of Israel, Palestinian refugees do not have a right to live in all of historic Palestine—and the practical consequences of Palestinian hostility to them. If not for such hostility, no Israeli army would be needed to defend them, and if no Israeli army were needed to defend them, they could exist in a Palestinian state.

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Over a year-and-a-half into the cruelest fighting that the Jewish-Arab conflict in Palestine has known, and in which the settlers have been a main target of Palestinian violence, the notion that they could live in a Palestinian state may seem laughably quixotic.

This may be what it is. But if it is, so is the notion of a genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace (as opposed to either a permanently ongoing conflict or a tense state of nonbelligerency with closed borders and no economic or other relationships). Is it possible, after all, to imagine a Palestine and Israel with friendly relations and open borders, tourism and trade, Palestinian workers coming every day to earn their livelihood in Israel, Israeli and Palestinian products being exchanged back and forth, and over a million Palestinian citizens of Israel regularly hosting and visiting friends and families in a Palestinian West Bank in which no Jews are allowed to live?

It has been suggested that, although Jews might indeed live in a Palestinian state some day, the currently inflamed emotions on both sides, and the extreme anti-settler sentiments of the Palestinians, make speaking of this at the present moment an instance of placing the cart before the horse. First, the two peoples must be separated, with Israelis on one side of a recognized border and Palestinians on the other. Then, as the old passions subside and the wounds of enmity are healed, they can begin to mix again.

Good fences, in other words, will make good neighbors. And yet the idea that the best way of enabling Jews to live in Judea and Samaria is to begin by removing 225,000 of them from there is not only curiously Rube-Goldbergish, it will not even lead to the desired separation, since there will still be over a million Palestinians, most of them identified with the Palestinian state, living in Israel. If the purpose of evacuating Jewish settlers to the Israeli side of the border is an amicable divorce, this should logically be accompanied by moving Israel’s Arabs to the Palestinian side. Those who attack the asymmetrical injustice of granting Jewish settlers a historical right denied to Palestinian refugees overlook the similar injustice of relocating the settlers alone.

Perfect symmetry between Israelis and Palestinians is no longer attainable. It was proposed in 1947 by the United Nations, which voted to divide Mandate Palestine in half, and rejected then by the Arabs. But without some symmetry, an Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation is unattainable, too. One element in achieving it might therefore be to let the 225,000 settlers remain in a Palestinian state while allowing a similar number of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel and fairly compensating all those who cannot. (This might also be a far better use of $20 billion.) To prevent the returnees from adversely affecting Israel’s demographic balance, it would then be necessary to create another symmetry: just as the Jewish settlers and their offspring in a Palestinian state could live there as permanent residents while remaining Israeli citizens and voting in Israeli elections, so returning Palestinian refugees resettled in Israel would remain citizens of Palestine.

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Is it conceivable that, after the events of the last year-and-a-half, Jewish settlers would be prepared to risk their lives in a Palestinian state? That would depend on many things, most of all on whether this state could guarantee their safety and enable them to live normally. As a collective body, the settlers have, over the years, exhibited a remarkable courage and attachment to their homes, which suggests that many of them would be prepared to try braving such an arrangement.

Amid the nasty demonization of the settlers that has taken place in the world media, the astounding fact has gone largely unnoticed that their population in the West Bank, even over the past eighteen months, during which they have been shot at daily on the roads and lived in perpetual insecurity, has grown faster than the population of Israel in general, increasing in 2001 by 5 percent. Although, needless to say, they would prefer the protection of the Israeli army to the protection of the Palestinian police, they will not necessarily cut and run if, as part of a larger resolution, the army pulls out.

A bigger question is the Palestinians themselves. While there will always be militants among them who will want the settlers out under any circumstances (and the Jews out of Tel Aviv and Haifa), these may be controllable if a clear majority of Palestinians desire—as they do not today—to let the settlers live in peace. To do so, they would have to be convinced that this is fair and beneficial to themselves.

Fairness is a matter of the right symmetries. But the benefits of open borders, with Jews and Arabs living on both sides of them, would be much greater for Palestinians than for Israelis. Israel can prosper without Palestine. A Palestinian state without Israel to employ its labor force and buy its agricultural products will continue to be an economic basket case. And a Palestinian state separated from a Jewish state by a wall, literal or figurative, will mean a Palestinian people walled off from itself.

Ultimately, though, the benefit would be great for both sides. It would enable each to live in its own state and under its own government while together inhabiting one country that is an indivisible geographical and historical unit and inalienable to the memories of both. What matters most to Jews is not that they rule over an undivided land of Israel, but that they be allowed to be freely at home in it. What matters most to Arabs in Palestine, one trusts, is the same thing.

Of course, this may be a Utopian fantasy. Whether or not to explore it represents a crossroads that Palestinian and Israeli negotiators will have to come to. It is noteworthy that, thus far, official Israeli and Palestinian positions have simply ignored the possibility of Jewish settlers living under Palestinian sovereignty, which may be taken either as an indication that neither side rules it out or as an indication that neither side thinks it remotely feasible.

It would also, if it came to that, represent a crossroads for the Israeli public. Since the inception of the Zionist project, two alternative models have competed for adoption, often confusingly and without a sufficiently clear sense of their mutual contradictoriness: that of Jewish-Arab separation and that of Jewish-Arab integration. It may well be the case—as it has given every sign of being so far—that the latter idea consists of too much romance and too little realism. What needs to be asked is whether it could be given one last, comprehensive chance.

One thing should be clear. A West Bank without Jews means a Palestine and Israel without a normal relationship. If this is what it comes to, Israel will have to ask many or most of the settlers to pack their bags and will then withdraw to a defensive line of its own choosing, which will not be that of 1967 and will not meet Palestinian demands. After that, the fences will go up. They will not make good neighbors.

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Footnotes

1 The figure of 250,000 does not include the roughly 200,000 Jewish residents of East Jerusalem, considered by the Palestinians to be “settlers” too. It does include some 25,000 Jews who live today in the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip. The political, geographical, and demographic problematics of these three areas, however, are vastly different from those of the West Bank; for the most part, this article deals only with the latter.

2 Contrary to a widely disseminated misconception, “Judea” and “Samaria”—Yehudah and Shomron in Hebrew—are not archaic biblical terms revived by Israel after 1967 to justify a Jewish presence in the hill country south and north of Jerusalem. They are the geographical names for these areas that have always been used by Jews and that, until replaced by “West Bank” after the Jordanian annexation of 1951, were standard in the Christian world as well.

3 These statistics were supplied by Jad Ishak, director of the Palestinian-run Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem. Mr. Ishak has served as an adviser on the settlements to the Palestinian Authority.

4 One reason it does not is that, outside the Jordan Valley, all of the West Bank settlements are compact bedroom communities that neither engage in agriculture nor are rurally zoned.

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About the Author

Hillel Halkin is a columnist for the New York Sun and a veteran contributor to COMMENTARY. Portions of the present essay were delivered at Northwestern University in March as the Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization.




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