Between two different articles published by Haaretz regarding the evacuation of West Bank settlements, I feel the necessity to include my outlook on the subject. Having just finished a 50pg seminar paper (as part of my Master’s Program at Hebrew University) I came across thousands upon thousands of pages regarding settlements, mostly in the West Bank, and their destructive inability to be relocated. Now as I argue in my paper and will do here, there are 4 main issues that will prohibit a Two State Solution from coming about. These four issues are the fate of Jerusalem, Refugees (the most important), Settlements, and Economics (namely, water).
Today there are over 500,000 settlers in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) which makes up almost 10% of the Jewish population of Israel. Over $18 billion dollars has been spent on them and this number is climbing every year. There are plenty of issues regarding settlements that I could spend 50pgs on (and still not give a full picture of them). There are all sorts of settlements from Ultra-Orthodox to Secular Nationalists. What they all share is a general desire to be there, the government did not force anyone to move there and these people had to think about, fill out paperwork for, etc to be there. They received very nice subsidies from the government which if nothing else includes free land, and a subsidized mortgage.
When the Israeli government evacuates or talks about evacuating I suddenly get this angry dismissive attitude. First because it is always inadequate concerning international law which demands the evacuation of all settlements. The second reason is because the government does little to prepare settlers and the Israeli public for their dismantling. Various authors (Kimmerling, Grinsberg) document the history of Zionism and the pioneering spirit and their interconnection with the land. Politicians instead of trying to educate or change the public perception word the evacuations in terms of “maintaining a Jewish state” and for political chip playing.
When Begin evacuated the Sinai he did so to curry favor with the US and take Egypt out of the Palestine/Middle East Question. In addition he wished to solidify control of the West Bank and bring minimal criticism upon himself for doing it. When Sharon evacuated Gaza in 2005 he did so under pressure from the US and again to solidify the settlements in the West Bank as facts on the ground. Netanyahu is under a similar dilemma but not from the US so much as the international community who after 44 years of Israeli colonization of the West Bank are fed up and looking for alternatives to solve the issue. The most prominent idea floating is a unilateral declaration of independence on June 5th, 1967 borders by the Palestinians and the recognition by the UN and its member states.
Personally I do not think this is the way to go, the other Chris on this blog has named many reasons which I agree with among others. To Netanyahu though this is a challenge for he, like most Israeli politicians, wishes to keep as many settlements and military locations as possible. The Sinai and Gaza evacuations went smoothly considering the circumstances but in each they took out a maximum of 8000 settlers from places with minimal national and religious justification. The West Bank is another story and its full evacuation in addition to seeming politically impractical considering the power balance is economically, environmentally, and socially unacceptable. The US would have to foot the bill, it would destroy the hilltops of the West Bank and the public is not ready for something like this. Without a vast change in speech and education the Israeli people will not be ready to accept such a massive evacuation.
Netanyahu may use a partial pullout of around 5,000 settlers from strategically unhelpful settlements or outposts to deflect international pressure but it would only be a bandaid on an issue that needs reconciliation. This may please the US and certain EU countries but will not remove the issue of Palestine from the international forums. For anyone that wishes to have more information on many arguments may comment below with email addresses and I will gladly email them my seminar article.
Chris will be traveling for the next few weeks. Chrisw11 is a masters student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and will be providing his opinions in the meantime.