Settlements and East Jerusalem

This is my topic. At least it is my advertised topic. In fact, I will be writing only about the West Bank. And even then, only about the region conceptually rather than empirically. I will really be writing about whether conceptual disputes contribute to or impede the forging  of a peace agreement.

With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there has been an oft-quoted saying.: “The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to prevent a peace agreement when they had the possibility of achieving peace.” That is not the correct wording, but my mind is totally fuzzy this morning and I cannot recall the precise words. But it does not matter. For it is equally true that when the Israelis had a real opportunity to achieve peace, with the time lapse between the last negotiations and next, they never missed an opportunity to reject the peace that was available based on the last negotiations. Instead, they insisted on a peace agreement that took the new realities into account. And, thereby, shifted the goal posts.

I wrote that the two assertions were equally true. They are also both equally false. For the Israelis and Palestinians have never been so aligned that they could make peace, even if the time gap had been eliminated. Peace has never been around the next corner and was never around the corner just passed.  I am not going to defend such an assertion. Because each of them deals with possible worlds and subjunctive conditionals. Until a deal is made, we do not know what conditions would be necessary to forge a deal. And blaming one side or another, as both assertions do alternatively, is itself a major obstacle to peace.

Speculation about what could have been or what could be is of no help. Commentators write that the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the controversies over Jerusalem have been the two major obstacles to a peace agreement.  But they were not in 1948 after the war. And there was no peace, They were obstacles in the 1920s when the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the desire of Zionists to settle anywhere in the land.  What is possibly true is that the Palestinian leadership has always rejected the implication of the Zionist program of settlement and the Zionist program of settlement has always been at the heart of Zionism even when there were divisions between the left and the right over the meaning of this claim.

Settlements are without a doubt a major obstacle to peace. Settlements are also about the right of Jews to buy land and live anywhere in their historical homeland. The two propositions have always been at war. They continue to be at the present time. And I can write from now to time immemorial and I do not think I can reconcile the two positions. At least, until they are reconciled. That is, until the Jews in historic Palestine say enough is enough. And the Palestinians concur and agree that enough is enough but no more.  

But is this even true? I have always opposed Jewish settlements being planted in the midst of the Palestinian population. This was not only true in the post-1967 period, but in the period of the 1920s to the 1940s. For though I was not a responsible adult even during the very end of that period, in retrospect I had been an anti-Zionist. It was not until just before the Six Day War in 1967 that I began to question my views.  And it was only in the 1970s, after I first took my family to visit Israel before the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, that I became a Zionist sympathizer.

But even then, I was a dove. I was willing to have Israel go back to the 1967 armistice lines if that would have meant a peace agreement. What chutzpah!  I lived in Canada. I had no real input into Israeli policy. And I did not have to live with the consequences of my position. But my position remained dovish even when I moved to Israel with my family for a year. However, could it not be said from one perspective that such an attitude itself contributed to reinforcing the intractability of the Palestinians? On the other hand, I am pretty sure that my attitude had virtually no influence on either the Jews or the Palestinians in Israel even though I had written a great deal on the matter.

Over the past five decades, the dovish position has shrunk to irrelevancy. Even Merav Michaeli, the new leader of the Labor Party running in the current election, agrees that the large settlement blocs will have to be incorporated into Israel for there to be a peace agreement. Israelis will not tolerate uprooting 600,000 Jews from their homes in the West Bank. During the last five decades, the Israeli voters have shifted decidedly to the right. Two-thirds of the Knesset members in the coming election will be on the right. The majority of the rest of the representatives will be centrists opposed to expanding the settlements, but not in favour of leaving them behind following a peace   agreement. And even the majority of the small rump of the left has finally acceded and publicly admitted that no peace agreement can be made based on uprooting the vast majority of settlements. 

In other words, that is the will of the vast majority of Jewish Israelis. Is it not a fact, is it not a reality, that those on the left who insist that the Green Line be the reference for the drawing of a line between Israel and the State of Palestine, is it not true that they help reinforce this position and make it, rather than the settlements, the major obstacle to a peace agreement? Holding out the chimera of an armistice line following a war as the reference line for a political border seems now to be totally unreal. Yet it is the official position of most of the international community, an international community that has itself proven over the last century to have been impotent in resolving the problem.

So where and how can we identify the obstacles to peace? In the settlements? Or in those who have rejected settlements even after they have become solid facts on the ground?  Or must the doves not finally concede that, in terms of reality, the right has won? The real issue is whether the extreme right will now eventually win because there is insufficient support among the Jews in Israel, among the Palestinians, and in the international community for drawing a line through Area C in the West Bank and conjoining the large expanse of Jewish settlements to Israel in return for recognizing a Palestinian state with perhaps other territory given to that state in exchange for the land annexed to Israel?

However, is that not the problem in itself? The rump of the left in Israel and the much larger rump of Jews in the diaspora are unwilling to concede that the right won? Certainly, the Palestinians have not made that concession. Understandably. And a good part of the international community now sympathizes with the Palestinians. But even though those two are now aligned, Palestinian resistance and international sentiment, even working in concert, are in no position to deliver a peace agreement.

Israel is now too powerful diplomatically, too successful economically, too proficient even diplomatically when it counts in dealing with Arab states, to be pushed into a position where it does not wish to go. How does it help to bring about a peace agreement if one bases one’s position in favour of a peace agreement on a line drawn between the parties over half a century ago? Are we leftists, are we sympathizers with the continuous squeeze on the Palestinians, not a significant part of the difficulty in forging a peace agreement?  

Personally, I do not think so. I do not think it is any more helpful to blame peaceniks or blame Palestinians any more than blaming hawks. The blame game itself is a major obstacle to peace. And all the words thrown in accusation by one side against the other are useless in getting a peace agreement.

However, is the Biden administration not correct in its assessment that the time is not ripe for such an agreement? But if one adopts such a posture, does not than mean favouring the creeping annexationists? Not if your position is against the founding of new settlements. Not if one’s position favours steps that move in the direction of peace even while those steps do not in themselves result in peace.

But is this not a cop out? No, I suggest that it is now the only realistic position that will prevent total victory by the hawks. Now that total victory is in sight as a real possibility, one can expect the hard right to grow more adamant, more assertive, more stubborn and less likely to be amenable to compromise? Then in the face of such resistance and the anticipated increased strength of such a position, would it not be wiser for Palestinians to offer maximum resistance – peaceful, of course, given the asymmetry at the present time?

Such questions will be behind my explorations and probes next week into the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the issue of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Are there steps that can be taken towards a peace agreement even if a peace agreement is not in sight? Or must peaceniks fall back on shibboleths or slip into silence on the sidelines as history marches ahead?

I hope my sight, that is so fuzzy this morning that I am relying on a larger font and bold typeface on the screen to read, and my insight as well will clear up sufficiently to make a small contribution.


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