Thomas Friedman, of the New York Times, has referred to this as “the untouchable arrogance of the settlers”. Why this arrogance? Why this vituperation? It is a combination of fear that Israel’s vaunted position is eroding and also, because of the years of attitude that have been building in the United States, that Israel could do no wrong According to Friedman (a self-hating Jew?), for 40 years, a succession of Israeli governments has misled, manipulated or persuaded naïve U.S. presidents that since Israeli was negotiating to give up significant territory, there was no need to fight over “insignificant” settlements on some territory. Behind this charade, Israeli settlers bit off more and more of the West Bank, creating a huge moral, security and economic burden for Israel and its friends.”
Friedman is right and it took courage for him to state it so bluntly. Since its creation, Israel has tugged at the heart- strings of America and Europe, for the guilt felt for the deaths of 6 million Jews, while they did nothing ( in Canada the official policy on Jewish refugees was “ none is one too many”). The support for the creation of a “homeland” for the dispersed, displaced and desperate survivors was the West’s answer, even though it meant the dispersal, displacement and desperation of hundred of thousands of Palestinians. Some morality!!!
The state of Israel struggled mightily to secure itself from its enemies. The Six Days War gave Israel its biggest security boost, but the consequences would lead, to the erosion of the founding principles of democracy, pluralism and secularism. The erosion of democracy, began when more and more powers was ceded to the military for “national security reasons”. It continued with the treatment of Arab- Israelis (those who did not flee). While they are Israelis citizens, they received less and less from the state for health, education and other services (the arguments by some that they were better off than their Arab cousins was disingenuous, they are citizens entitled to equal rights or it is undemocratic). Yes, they could vote, but were doomed to be in a minority position…..isn’t the measure of a democracy, is how the majority treats the minority? As the years went by, suspicions grew that they were a “fifth column”, not to be trusted. The building of settlements started slowly and was ignored, but it picked up speed after the 1973 war and after religious zealots started to refer to the captured land as Judea and Samaria, the Holy land of ancient Israel. Tens of thousands flocked to the area, subsidized and protected by the government Here is how, Bradley Burston, a columnist with Haaretz put it “ the double standard which for decades has favored settlers with inexpensive housing, heavily subsidized social services, and blind-eye building permits has long been accompanied by a kid-gloves approach regarding settler violence against Palestinians and their property…..Settlers and settlement planners have covertly bent and distorted zoning procedures, military directives and government decrees to boost settlement, block Palestinian construction and access to employment and effectively neutralize measures intended to foster Israeli-Palestinian peace progress”. Subsidy, blind-eye, distortion, violence, and double-standard, all these and more have created an internal threat to Israel’s security, greater than any threat ( even Iran, but which is good for Netanyahu to use to try and deflect attention from the settlements issue), posed by external enemies. He should heed the teachings of the Talmud, which advises that the leader must not tell the people what they cannot hear.., in other words, do not lie to them or mislead them.
The settlements are a threat to Israel and a setback to peace talks, for they are an insidious threat to the economic and security well-being of Israel. It is a giant mill-stone around its neck. It drains not only the economic resources of the state but it depletes the collective will. Young soldiers returning from serving in the OccupiedTerritories are psychologically damaged and bring the violence into their homes. You cannot ask young men and women to degrade, discriminate, dehumanize and in other ways ill-treat men, women and children and not be affected. For years there have been warnings from health officials about the harm being done to these young people. Is it worth it? For how long can this continue?
A solution out of this nightmare, for both Israelis and Palestinians must be found. Obama and his team offer a new beginning. Rather than vicious name-calling, which is a sign of weakness, constructive offers must be made. It has to be understood, that no one wants to show weakness, and that both sides would use bluster and that is how it is. This does not mean that the seemingly intractable is undoable. You do not make peace with friends, you do so with enemies. It will be tough and at times acrimonious. There will be walk-outs and other forms of grand-standing, but it’s all part of the game. The Israelis and the Palestinians must understand, that compromises, no matter how difficult, must be made, that as the Mahatma noted “an eye for an eye would leave the whole world blind”.