Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Settlements – An Unpopular View

First let me say that I am a big fan of peace. There is nothing that I want more for my people, the people of Israel, than that. So when it comes to the peace process I tend to support efforts in that direction. I am sick and tired of seeing my people die, whether on the battle field, by a rocket attack, or by a suicide bomber.

My view on the peace process is that we must pursue a policy that will end the violence against us even if it means giving up land. To me life is more precious than land. I believe that Israel can exist as a Jewish state in the Middle East and finally be accepted by its Arab neighbors. At least in theory.

What about our rights to all of Eretz Yisroel via God’s promise? It would be my preference to assert that right. But not at the expense of all the blood that would be spilled in that cause – with no guarantee of success. So that will have to wait until messianic times. Right now Halacha dictates that Pikuach Nefesh is the greater consideration.

There has been a lot of discussion of late about President Obama’s position on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The focus has been on what many see as a more pro Palestinian shift. Not that US policy has changed. But that the President’s emphasis has. In his recent address to the Muslim world in Cairo he strongly condemned Israel’s continued construction policy in West Bank cities – even those that are well established and even if it was only to accommodate natural growth.

This is being criticized because the President has not given equal emphasis to Palestinian responsibilities vis-à-vis its commitments. Fair enough.

But let us analyze the issue more fully. The administration is asking Israel to stop all settlement construction – even in well established border cities, and even for natural growth. For those who do not understand what is meant by natural growth – an example would be families who live there and have children who then get married and want to stay ‘in the neighborhood’. They need a place to live so they build a house. That is natural growth.

Israel maintains that when it agreed to stop settlement activity in its commitment to the peace process that it included exceptions for natural growth construction. Obviously this is an eminently fair position. It does not want to see a thriving city that has normal and natural population growth come to a dead halt.

I would normally agree with this position. But I am going to say something that I know will cause me much grief. I believe that all construction should stop. I can already see the angry rebuttals - even from those who usually support me. Nonetheless as a follower of Emes - I still believe that stopping all settlement activity is in the best interests of Israel at this moment in time.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not in any way support giving up any of these well established cities that are on border areas to the Palestinians in any kind of peace deal. Even Oslo didn’t do that. I firmly believe that unfettered construction in these cities will one day again take place in these cities – one way or the other. If a miracle happens and there would be a peace treaty, we already know that Palestinians would agree to swap those cities for undeveloped land so that Israel could absorb them into a sovereign nation - recognized by its Arab neighbors. Palestinians agreed to such a deal at Oslo. Cities like Maaleh Adumim, Beitar, and Kiryat Sefer would be a sovereign part of Israel in any peace deal.

As much as I realize the remoteness of arriving at any real peace deal between the Arabs and Israel in the foreseeable future I think Israel has no choice but to take that extra step right now and stop all construction. I know it will hurt. But Israel needs to throw down the gauntlet now and put the ball in the Palestinian court.

By stopping all construction the onus will be on the Palestinians to make the next move. The Obama administration has clearly said time and again that it supports Israel’s right exist and that the relationship between our two countries is unbreakable. Stopping all settlement activity would mean that the Palestinians would have no excuse to not fulfill their commitments to end all violence.

No one will be able to say that settlements are an obstacle to peace.

Palestinians will have to put up or - shut up. They will have to stop all violence. If violence continues – after a period of time Israel can say that they went the extra mile and all they got in return was bullets. They can then return to natural growth construction.

I see it as win/win. Because if they somehow do manage to end all hostilities and make peace, then Israel will have all of its border settlements anyway and will be able to build to its heart’s content.

I know I am going to suffer many slings and arrows for taking this position. But this is what I believe. Stopping all construction does not mean giving up a single inch of territory. What it does accomplish is to say, ‘Your turn’ to the Arabs.

Unfortunately, this will not bring peace any time soon - in my view. There are just too many rejectionist fundamentalist fanatic groups like Hamas and Hezbollah s who are willing to kill Jews and even their own people just to sabotage any progress towards peace.

On that note, I would be remiss if I did not mention that I have not heard about any Palestinian violence in quite a while. Not about suicide bombings and not about rocket attacks from Gaza. I think that is attributable to Israeli vigilance and the fact that the Gaza war may have dealt Hamas a bigger blow militarily than previously thought. I hope that media silence is indicative of the lack of violence rather than just a lack of reporting it.

To sum up - stopping all settlement activity will have the effect of throwing down the gauntlet. It will put Israel squarely on the side of administration policy - who will see that Israel is now keeping its part of the bargain completely without any exceptions. I really believe that this is the prudent way to proceed. There is nothing to be gained by being contentious on this one issue with the United States and everything to gain by accepting it.