Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israeli settlers

Settler Leader’s Wrongheaded Proposal

Yesha Chairman Dani Dayan’s New York Times op-ed is sure to rankle Mideast watchers on both sides of the issue. Dayan writes that not only is the two-state solution dead, but it should be declared so and the settlement movement should be free to expand throughout the West Bank. Although Dayan makes a couple of important points about the weakness of the current push for a two-state solution, he ignores both an accepted reality and the Palestinian people, and two of his ideas contained in the op-ed would be, if accepted, detrimental to the American foreign policy doctrine that results in such steadfast American support for Israel.

First and foremost, a majority of Israelis (usually around the 60 percent mark, sometimes higher) consistently support the two-state solution, even at a time when that proposal is clearly at a post-Oslo low point. So Dayan need not appeal to readers of the New York Times; he is far from convincing his own countrymen to join him. It is much easier to understand why the Times chose to publish the op-ed: the American left would like to frame the debate as consisting of two points of view–Dayan’s and J Street’s. Both are outside the mainstream consensus on this issue, and it is only up against Dayan’s arguments that the hard-left can appear reasonable. With regard to Dayan, there are three questions he should be asked after writing this op-ed.

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Yesha Chairman Dani Dayan’s New York Times op-ed is sure to rankle Mideast watchers on both sides of the issue. Dayan writes that not only is the two-state solution dead, but it should be declared so and the settlement movement should be free to expand throughout the West Bank. Although Dayan makes a couple of important points about the weakness of the current push for a two-state solution, he ignores both an accepted reality and the Palestinian people, and two of his ideas contained in the op-ed would be, if accepted, detrimental to the American foreign policy doctrine that results in such steadfast American support for Israel.

First and foremost, a majority of Israelis (usually around the 60 percent mark, sometimes higher) consistently support the two-state solution, even at a time when that proposal is clearly at a post-Oslo low point. So Dayan need not appeal to readers of the New York Times; he is far from convincing his own countrymen to join him. It is much easier to understand why the Times chose to publish the op-ed: the American left would like to frame the debate as consisting of two points of view–Dayan’s and J Street’s. Both are outside the mainstream consensus on this issue, and it is only up against Dayan’s arguments that the hard-left can appear reasonable. With regard to Dayan, there are three questions he should be asked after writing this op-ed.

First, the obvious: What about the Palestinians? Dayan doesn’t say Israel should give the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria voting rights. If he would, is he not concerned about the demographics at play? If he would not, is he suggesting that the Palestinians should be a permanently stateless people and that Israel would be permanently without clear national borders? He writes that Israeli security should be paramount, but the Judea and Samaria he envisions would be a long-term security nightmare for Israel.

Second, has he thought through the implications to U.S. foreign policy of his proposal? Specifically, he seems to want the U.S.–a principal external force on the peace process–to ignore its own dedication to the right of self-determination for the Palestinians. But that would mean weakening American devotion to the general principle of self-determination, which is a major driving force behind continued American support for Israel. Does Dayan, as a political figure in a country whose right to exist is constantly being questioned by a resurging global anti-Semitism, not just in the Arab states but all over Europe, really want to weaken American support for the idea of a right to self-determination?

Additionally, Dayan writes that the return of the Palestinian refugees from around the Arab world to the Palestinian state would be a major security threat. But he also acknowledges that those Palestinian refugees are treated as second-class citizens in those countries and kept in squalor elsewhere (chiefly by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Should they stay that way? And isn’t a primary goal of Israeli national policy to convince the Palestinians to return to a Palestinian state, not Israel? Humanitarian concerns often clash with security concerns, but that doesn’t mean we ignore the humanitarian concerns altogether–it means we go back to the drawing board and get creative, not give up.

And finally: Dayan claims removing the settlers would be impossible. Why? Today there are no settlers in Gaza. He’s also moving the goal posts; many of the settlements would remain in Israel as part of any final-status agreement. Israel’s critics often dishonestly ignore this when speaking in broad terms about The Settlers. Dayan is making the same mistake, and playing right into their hands.

The fact is, Dayan is right that the current Palestinian leadership prefers the status quo, and are not making the effort needed to secure a deal. He’s also right that a Hamas takeover of all of the future state of Palestine would immediately nullify the peace deal, and anyone who thinks Hamas isn’t still dedicated to Israel’s destruction is not paying attention. But it would be more constructive if Dayan made these critiques of Mideast policy as part of an effort to reform the current structure of the two-state solution in ways that might make it more workable, not less.

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How History Weighs on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In September 1993, Yasir Arafat told one of recent history’s most significant lies. At the time, Arafat still resided where he certainly belonged: on the State Department’s terrorism list. But the date of the White House ceremony announcing the signing of the declaration of principles was nearing, and the Clinton administration had given up its earlier resistance to asking Yitzhak Rabin to shake the bloodstained hand of the committed murderer on the White House lawn so everyone could have their “historic” moment in the sun.

So Arafat wrote a letter. He would–scout’s honor–end his campaign to annihilate the Jewish people. “Our lawyers judged this written renunciation as sufficient grounds for the president to take Arafat and the PLO off the State Department’s terrorism list,” wrote Martin Indyk in his memoir of the Clinton administration’s Middle East diplomacy. The rest, as they say, is history.

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In September 1993, Yasir Arafat told one of recent history’s most significant lies. At the time, Arafat still resided where he certainly belonged: on the State Department’s terrorism list. But the date of the White House ceremony announcing the signing of the declaration of principles was nearing, and the Clinton administration had given up its earlier resistance to asking Yitzhak Rabin to shake the bloodstained hand of the committed murderer on the White House lawn so everyone could have their “historic” moment in the sun.

So Arafat wrote a letter. He would–scout’s honor–end his campaign to annihilate the Jewish people. “Our lawyers judged this written renunciation as sufficient grounds for the president to take Arafat and the PLO off the State Department’s terrorism list,” wrote Martin Indyk in his memoir of the Clinton administration’s Middle East diplomacy. The rest, as they say, is history.

I recount this story not to take a gratuitous swipe at the naïveté of the Clinton administration nor at the cavalier way Israeli security concerns were put in a box in the White House attic so Clinton could mug for the cameras. The point is that allowing Arafat to hijack and destroy the chances for peace cannot be so easily undone, even if we’ve learned something from these mistakes.

Aaron David Miller, a member of the Clinton team, is now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a regular columnist for Foreign Policy, and has used his perch to attempt to atone for the mistakes of the Clinton administration. It is an honorable and laudable act. And yesterday at the center, Miller moderated an interesting discussion between former Shin Bet director Ami Ayalon and former Obama campaign adviser Robert Malley. The event was ostensibly about how the old negotiations paradigm has become somewhat useless and the value of unilateralism in moving forward.

Malley described a strategy of “parallel unilateral steps.” Ayalon mostly agreed, but insisted “this is a friendly unilateralism, not an antagonistic unilateralism.” Neither, however, went on to describe in any great detail what your friendly neighborhood unilateralism would look like in practice. And Malley restated Miller’s own thesis, suggesting that it was difficult to understand how giving up the fiction of a bilateral peace process could possibly be more damaging than maintaining it, at this point.

But there are two problems here. First, Ayalon readily admitted that “we know the parameters” of a final deal, and those would be “the Clinton parameters… and all that was discussed in the last 20 years.” Because the “last 20 years” have been used by the Palestinian leadership to broadcast as loudly and as often as possible that they utterly reject this idea, it’s hard to imagine why Ayalon still thinks this is a workable plan. But his opening seems to be that Israel should conform to those parameters with or without Palestinian cooperation.

This may or may not be worth exploring–I’ve written about “coordinated unilateralism” before, though I’m not sure changing the tactics while keeping the same parameters of a final-status agreement is practical.

But Ayalon does have one revolutionary idea, and it’s one he has been drawing attention to recently. That idea is: treat Israeli settlers like human beings. As Ayalon wrote in the New York Times in April: “We have learned that we must be candid about our proposed plan, discuss the settlers’ concerns and above all not demonize them. They are the ones who would pay the price of being uprooted from their homes and also from their deeply felt mission of settling the land.”

Ayalon repeated this thesis yesterday. This is important, because among mainstream media outlets and left-of-center journalists you will not find such empathy toward the settlers. Nor will you find nuance or complexity.

For his part, Malley wants the settlers at the table too. This is in part because Malley wants everyone at the table–he’s long been a proponent of negotiating with Hamas. But that just makes those who would exclude the settlers look that much more ridiculous. (Among leftists, the idea that you would talk to Hamas but not Orthodox Jews makes perfect sense–which helps explain the marginalization of the Israeli left.)

But this raises an important question: Are you bringing settlers to the table as props, to display your empathy and humanity and ask them to sit there quietly as you pat them on the head? Or are you bringing them to the table to include them in negotiations? Malley, Ayalon, and Miller are all men of the left, so it’s encouraging to hear them talk like this, but the panel was not exactly balanced. And history is, once again, an obstacle–disrespect of the settlers and the whitewashing of violent Palestinian rejectionism have become ingrained elements of the peace process.

During the presentation, Ayalon said he believes “there is no peace without partners.” If that’s true, then based on the behavior of Israel’s “partner,” there is no peace.

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