Israeli Settlements in Palestine – Why They Matter

This post is stimulated by a New York Times op-ed authored by Peter Beinart, advocating for the boycott of Israeli settlement products and cultural interaction.

Peter (forgive my first name familiarity) takes a few important stands that make sense to me.

His primary assertion is that the two-state approach based on the last long applied consented functional Israeli/Arab(Palestinian) border – the green line, remains possible, is a desirable goal, and optimizes social justice.

In contrast to the multiple right and the left-wing versions of single state proposals, the two state approach leaves an Israel that has the potential of remaining a Jewish-majority state, resulting in haven and site of self-governance for the world Jewish community. It also has the potential to affirm the democratic values of its founders, citizens, world’s supporters, and international legal and social institutions.

That combination of national and democratic is a healthy tension, requiring persistent reference to ethical ideals to comprise a real Jewish state, an ideal in practice. It’s intimate, of the logic of families, constructed of emotional intelligence, caring as a verb.

To state the obvious, there is a Jewish majority on the west of the green line that desires to self-govern as a coherent Jewish community. And, there is a Palestinian majority on the east of the green line that desires to self-govern as a coherent Palestinian community.

If that is true, then a two-state approach optimizes self-determination, optimizes consent of the governed.

If the confident majority of the population from river to sea prefer a single state, feel that they do not self-govern in a two-state format, then a single state makes sense. To accomplish tangibly, it would require consent of a super-super majority, to the extent that civil values comprise an undeniable social norm.

If on the other hand, more than an insignificant minority in either community(s) felt that a single state format did not represent them, then internal civil strife or war would ensue, which would comprise a MUCH larger tension than the inherent tension/balance of a democratic nation, “liberal Zionism”.

A viable two-state requires two healthy communities that have the capacity to live as good neighbor to good neighbor. That requires universally vibrant economies, genuine democracy in each community, a sense of national pride in governing and social institutions, and respect and appreciation of the other.

Those are tangible constructions, that with imaginative and well-intended collaborative design, can be reconciled.

The monkey wrench is the settlements.

The settlements function as an Israeli state-expansion strategem. The settlers themselves are human beings/civilians, but the settlement enterprise at nut is a state-sponsored expansion effort. The physical pattern of “fingers” extending into desired territory is the chosen strategy for land settlement that began with the efforts of the yishuv in the 20′s. Its no coincidence that that strategy is continued. (The strategy didn’t originate with Zionists, and is nowhere near unique to Zionists.)

The application of the settlement expansion effort betrays the ethical balance of “enough”. If one does not have enough, then one must struggle to not starve or suffer. When one has enough, but continues to expand, and at others’ expense, then that is of a different moral character. And, much more than just an ethical question, suppressed individuals and communities’ natural state is rage, acted.

The settlement boundaries enacted is an old design. They were designed by Begin and Sharon in the late 70′s and early 80′s. The only new settlements designated since that time have been of renegades, the hilltop youth and religiously motivated.

The significance of the current discussion is of the imprinting of the permanence of the settlements as exclusively Jewish, and nationally as part of Israel.

An annexed West Bank is a rectangle and is “easy” to defend (in the language of likud). The green line is a waist and is defensible only with good background relations between the two states, even with clear borders and accountability of states. The wall is a maze, and is defendable only with the suppression of the Palestinians.

The options are:

  • Single Zionist state from river to sea, requiring a maximum of 25% Palestinian population in the jurisdiction at all, and no legal reconciliation of asserted title, sovereignty, and residency rights of Palestinian refugees. That is the path of slow forced ethnic removal, world denunciation, and continued resentment by Palestinians (and continued excuses by Israelis for suppression)
  • Maze two-states at the wall as boundary, requiring odd forms of Israeli military “defense” of the civilians in the settlements, permanently non-peer Palestinian governance, with no prospect of coherent economy. (As the path to the Mediterranean economy is blocked, the only potential economic growth is through Jordan.)
  • Two-states at or near the green line as consented boundary, allowing the settlers to remain in their homes on the east of the green line, as Palestinian citizens, participating in and obeying Palestinian law, without the protections of Jewish exclusivity, and with likely obligation to fund compensation of Palestinian community to perfect title.
  • Single democratic state with unlimited right of Palestinian return of refugees (soon a majority Palestinian state), hopefully permanently guaranteeing full civil rights to all individuals. America in the Middle East.

In a world without historical trauma, the single state might be possible and desirable. But, both the Jewish Israelis and Palestinians exist as coherent communities because of gross trauma. Healing of trauma doesn’t occur readily in a condition of threat or animosity.

“Boycott the settlements” to accomplish a two-state at the green line? I prefer another path.

And, that is also in the use of language and practice. That is to start acting as if the area east of the green line is Palestine.

Examples would include first marking the border, perhaps with a green thread so it is not forgotten, speaking of the land as Palestine (not as Samaria, not as West Bank, not of non-democratic Israel), seeking a visa from the Palestinian Authority to travel across the green line (even in Jerusalem), voluntarily paying a tax to the Palestinian Authority on all meals consumed in East Jerusalem for example.

Other examples of assertive efforts that a liberal Zionist can pursue are to honor the past residents. Rather than erase prior Palestinian villages (in Israel and in Palestine), liberal Zionists should organize learning, honoring and if sincerely felt, apologizing tours (not as shame, but as self-assertive statements of respect of the other).

And, without question, funding the restoration of now new Palestinian life.

Earning sovereignty, earning friendship.

And, conducted until it is completed, not only until the PR war quiets.

Making peace, not talking so much.

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2 Responses to Israeli Settlements in Palestine – Why They Matter

  1. Koshiro says:

    “liberal Zionists should organize learning, honoring and if sincerely felt, apologizing tours (not as shame, but as self-assertive statements of respect of the other).”
    … but of course they should never, ever allow any Palestinian to ‘settle’ in Israel. While you would allow all Israeli settlers to remain in Palestine, of course.
    Frankly, crying crocodile’s tears about the ‘former inhabitants’ while simultaneously shooting said former inhabitants if they should try to come back is a low point even for you.

    In addition to what I previously wrote about this still-condescending, still-colonialist, still-morally and intellectually bankrupt idea of yours and which I am not going to repeat, there is one additional level of cognitive failure: You think (or at least you say) that settlement expansion is a problem. But at the same time, existing settlements are not. So magically, as soon as a settler moves to the West Bank, he is no longer a problem. So why stop settlement expansion again?
    How many settlers do you want the ‘Palestinian’ state to cope with? 500,000? 750,000? A million?

    • You don’t read clearly Koshiro.

      In expressing the desirability of reconciliation of title claims per the rule of law before color blind courts, that is an assertion of Palestinian rights.

      I refuse to dehumanize the settlers. They are human beings, civilians.

      The assertion that they do not deserve equal protection under the law, the right to their day in court, is a corruption of justice, not an application of justice.

      We are ALL beneficiaries of both earned and unearned benefits.

      A moral effort worthy of the name would seek to find a form of dissent and remedy that does stops the state expansion effort but preserves the status of civilians as civilians.

      I don’t believe that the settlers (in most cases) have perfected title to land and construction, and therefore compensation is a relevant remedy to perfect title.

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