Opinion: David Suissa’s settlements crisis

This op-ed is a response to a column by David Suissa. To read his piece, click here or see his response below.

David Suissa wants us to believe that settlements aren’t an obstacle to peace because their physical “footprint,” their built-up area, represents “only” around 1% of the West Bank.

That’s like saying that North America isn’t dominated by the presence of U.S. citizens because “only” about 2% of our great country is built up or paved over.  Or that Finland isn’t dominated by Finns and Sweden by Swedes because “only” 1.3% of those countries’ land area has been built-up or paved.  Or, more tellingly, that Israel – within the 1967 lines – isn’t dominated by the presence of Israelis, since “only” six percent of its land is built up or paved.

You get the point. The built-up “footprint” of people on the land is meaningless as a measure of the actual impact of their presence.

One percent of the West Bank isn’t a small number at all, especially when it’s measured in bits and pieces spread across the entire area, rather than in one neat chunk (and this one percent doesn’t include roads, security buffers, Israel’s separation barrier, East Jerusalem, etc.).  Travel across the West Bank and you’ll see the real impact of this 1% – more than 300,000 Israeli settlers whose presence to a great extent dominates and even dictates life for the more than 2.3 million Palestinians living there. 

Mr. Suissa would do well to go and see it for himself.  He can take a tour of the West Bank with my colleagues at Israel’s Peace Now movement and see the vast construction, the millions of tons of brick, mortar, and asphalt.  He can appreciate the huge security presence which, rather than protecting sovereign Israel, is devoted to protecting settlements (and which is attacked by the settlers when they feel it is interfering with their efforts).  He can consider the billions of shekels that have been poured into settlements, at the expense of needs inside Israel.  And then he can think about the monumental amount of political will that it would take to reverse these facts on the ground.

But let’s set that aside for a moment, and go to the heart of the matter. 

The settlements – and in particular the ones located deep inside the West Bank – were established with one goal in mind: to make a two-state peace agreement impossible.  The settlers aren’t shy about admitting that this has always been their objective. 

Mr. Suissa is right – Israeli control over all or most of the West Bank could be ended with a stroke of a pen.  But not the presence of more than 100 settlements.  Absent a peace agreement that resolves borders, every new brick laid in a West Bank settlement, every outpost to which Israel turns a blind eye or seeks to legalize, every new settler who moves to the West Bank and every new baby born to a settler already there – these all serve one interest only: to block a two-state solution and cement what some hope will be permanent Jewish control over the West Bank.

The architects of this effort are not ashamed to say so.  American Jews who wish to defend settlements should be similarly forthright. 

Then we could stop having artificial debates over whether what is important is the 1% that is the part of the West Bank taken up by settlement construction, or the 42% of the West Bank that it under settler control, or the 50% of the West Bank that has been expropriated by Israel by various means, or the 100% of the West Bank which Israel still holds in what the Israeli Supreme Court calls “belligerent military occupation.”  This is shorthand for a dictatorship in which the Israeli Defense minister is king, Palestinians have no rights, and Israeli settlers are the lords of the land, enjoying the full rights of Israeli citizens, including the right to bear arms, and bolstered by an army, police, and Israeli politicians who either fear to challenge them or, for ideological or crass political reasons, cater to their whims.

At that point, we could have an honest debate about an end game over which we may indeed strongly disagree.  On one side of this debate would be those of us who love Israel and who know Israel must end the occupation, urgently, or it will soon cease to be a Jewish state and a democracy.  On the other side would be those who prefer the dream of Greater Israel to the reality of democratic, Jewish Israel, and who value settlements and land over peace, human life and human dignity, and even over security.

David Suissa responds:
The occupation that really kills any hope for peace is the longtime occupation of Palestinian hearts and minds by Jew hatred—a deep, genocidal, well-documented Jew hatred that predates the settlements and refuses to stomach the “catastrophe” of a Jewish state within any borders. This hatred helps explain why Palestinian leaders have repeatedly rejected Israeli offers to end the occupation.

If Ms Friedman is serious about achieving peace, instead of joining the hypocritical global campaign against Jewish settlements in 1% of the West Bank, she ought to join the brave people trying to dismantle the Jew hatred being sponsored by our “peace partners” and by Hamas in 100% of Palestinian society—a hatred that is, by far, the biggest obstacle to peace.

Israel has shown in the past its willingness and ability to dismantle settlements for the sake of peace. Until the Palestinians show their own ability and willingness to dismantle the Jew hatred and incitement to violence that pervades their culture, peace has no chance, now or ever.