No Chance of Peace With Settlements Around
This article orignally appeared on the New York Times' Room for Debate on 2 September 2010.
If the Obama administration accepts the myth that dismantling settlements is impossible for Israel, there are no prospects for peace. The settlements are illegal under international law. Yet settlers have been pampered for more than 40 years, and their violence against Palestinians is consistently tolerated. Peace depends on the Israeli government rectifying the problem they and their predecessors created. The settler enterprise is a deliberate strategic creation of Israel, beginning with the occupation in 1967. This enterprise has been indulged and enlarged by every Israeli government since then.
From the outset, this was a project to colonize and control Palestinian land. It still is. As Ariel Sharon said in 1998: "Everybody has to move; run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don't grab will go to them.”
Today, there are nearly 500,000 settlers living illegally in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The U.S. has only occasionally and timidly objected. This irresoluteness, coupled with millions in tax-exempt funding, amounts to complicity in the 40-fold expansion of settlements since 1972.
The U.S. and Israel demand that the Palestinians engage in everything short of civil war (including torture and repression) to protect Israel's security, and yet American leaders fail to demand that Israel confront its own Frankenstein. While a minority of settlers may resist a peace deal requiring their departure, many are there because of generous government subsidies. These settlers would leave if provided with suitable incentives. The U.S. could withhold some of the $3 billion given to Israel as military aid annually and divert it toward housing settlers within Israel's own borders.
But so long as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to break with settler leaders, including his own foreign minister, and the U.S. vacillates on this issue, a just peace is far away.