"David Suissa's settlements crisis" by APN's Lara Friedman

This op-ed is a response to a column by David Suissa. To read his piece, click here or see his response.

David Suissa wants us to believe that settlements aren't an obstacle to peace because their physical "footprint," their built-up area, represents "only" around 1% of the West Bank.
That's like saying that North America isn't dominated by the presence of U.S. citizens because "only" about 2% of our great country is built up or paved over.  Or that Finland isn't dominated by Finns and Sweden by Swedes because "only" 1.3% of those countries' land area has been built-up or paved.  Or, more tellingly, that Israel - within the 1967 lines - isn't dominated by the presence of Israelis, since "only" six percent of its land is built up or paved.

You get the point. The built-up "footprint" of people on the land is meaningless as a measure of the actual impact of their presence.

One percent of the West Bank isn't a small number at all, especially when it's measured in bits and pieces spread across the entire area, rather than in one neat chunk (and this one percent doesn't include roads, security buffers, Israel's separation barrier, East Jerusalem, etc.).  Travel across the West Bank and you'll see the real impact of this 1% - more than 300,000 Israeli settlers whose presence to a great extent dominates and even dictates life for the more than 2.3 million Palestinians living there.

Mr. Suissa would do well to go and see it for himself.  He can take a tour of the West Bank with my colleagues at Israel's Peace Now movement and see the vast construction, the millions of tons of brick, mortar, and asphalt.  He can appreciate the huge security presence which, rather than protecting sovereign Israel, is devoted to protecting settlements (and which is attacked by the settlers when they feel it is interfering with their efforts).  He can consider the billions of shekels that have been poured into settlements, at the expense of needs inside Israel.  And then he can think about the monumental amount of political will that it would take to reverse these facts on the ground.

But let's set that aside for a moment, and go to the heart of the matter.

The settlements - and in particular the ones located deep inside the West Bank - were established with one goal in mind: to make a two-state peace agreement impossible.  The settlers aren't shy about admitting that this has always been their objective.

Mr. Suissa is right - Israeli control over all or most of the West Bank could be ended with a stroke of a pen.  But not the presence of more than 100 settlements.  Absent a peace agreement that resolves borders, every new brick laid in a West Bank settlement, every outpost to which Israel turns a blind eye or seeks to legalize, every new settler who moves to the West Bank and every new baby born to a settler already there - these all serve one interest only: to block a two-state solution and cement what some hope will be permanent Jewish control over the West Bank.

The architects of this effort are not ashamed to say so.  American Jews who wish to defend settlements should be similarly forthright.

Then we could stop having artificial debates over whether what is important is the 1% that is the part of the West Bank taken up by settlement construction, or the 42% of the West Bank that it under settler control, or the 50% of the West Bank that has been expropriated by Israel by various means, or the 100% of the West Bank which Israel still holds in what the Israeli Supreme Court calls "belligerent military occupation."  This is shorthand for a dictatorship in which the Israeli Defense minister is king, Palestinians have no rights, and Israeli settlers are the lords of the land, enjoying the full rights of Israeli citizens, including the right to bear arms, and bolstered by an army, police, and Israeli politicians who either fear to challenge them or, for ideological or crass political reasons, cater to their whims.

At that point, we could have an honest debate about an end game over which we may indeed strongly disagree.  On one side of this debate would be those of us who love Israel and who know Israel must end the occupation, urgently, or it will soon cease to be a Jewish state and a democracy.  On the other side would be those who prefer the dream of Greater Israel to the reality of democratic, Jewish Israel, and who value settlements and land over peace, human life and human dignity, and even over security.

Originally published May 31, 2012 at the Jewish Journal.