They Say, We Say: "Why shouldn’t Israel be able to build in areas that everyone – including the Palestinians - knows Israel will keep in any future peace agreement?"
We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state.
You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.
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Are settlements really a problem?
Why shouldn’t Israel be able to build in areas that everyone – including the Palestinians - knows Israel will keep in any future peace agreement? These areas are port of the Israeli national consensus; opposing construction in the blocs transforms a non-issue into an excuse for Palestinian intransigence and for people to unfairly criticize Israel.
Construction inside the “blocs” isn’t a non-issue. When Israeli and Palestinian negotiators start talking seriously about settlements, they won’t be spending a lot of time debating the future of isolated settlements, because these settlements would unquestionably have to be removed under a peace agreement. The real negotiations, the very difficult ones, will be over the so-called “settlement blocs”: their size and contours, the way they will be connected to Israel, and the land swaps that will be used to offset them. This is why settlement expansion in these areas is equally if not more harmful to the two-state solution than construction in the isolated settlements.
Given the facts on the ground that exist today, reaching agreement on these blocs will already be challenging. Expansion of these blocs – of the settlements in them and of the blocs themselves (both to include outlying settlements and to create new blocs, like the “Beit El bloc” that has recently been raised in pro-settlement talking points) – threatens to make the issue even harder, if not impossible, to resolve. And notably, the blocs – which are actually large land enclaves – include not only settlements but large numbers of Palestinians.
Some have suggested that confining settlement construction to the blocs would demonstrate an Israeli commitment to peace and the two-state solution. Such suggestions are either mistaken or disingenuous. A policy of building “only in the blocs” would directly threaten the potential for the future development of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. This is true both on the ground and in the political sphere, where settlement activity discredits peace efforts and undermines Palestinian leaders who support negotiations and a two-state solution. Moreover, gerrymandering Israel’s border for the benefit of settlements comes at the cost of vital Israeli interests. It not only undermines the possibility of a two-state solution – without which Israel cannot remain both a democracy and a Jewish state – but it also sacrifices Israeli security, leaving Israel with a long, convoluted border running near or through the heart of Palestinian populated areas, and leaves large numbers of Palestinians within Israel’s lines of defense.
Today it is commonly said that the settlement blocs are part of the Israeli national consensus. While broadly speaking this is true, it is also true that most Israelis probably have no idea what is meant by the term “settlement bloc.” Many if not most Israelis almost certainly could not identify what is or is not part of a “settlement bloc” on a map, or mark on a map the areas of the West Bank they believe are part of this so-called national consensus. Indeed, it wasn’t long ago that the whole idea of settlement blocs being part of a national consensus simply didn’t exist. Back in 1993, at the start of the peace process, the large settlements that are today considered part of the national consensus, like Beitar Illit, Modiin Illit, and Ma’ale Adumim, were many magnitudes smaller, both in population and footprint on the ground, and there was not national consensus – real or purported – in support of keeping these settlements, even at the cost of a peace agreement.