They Say, We Say: Arabs live in Israel, so why can't Jews live in Palestine?

They Say We Say 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?

They Say:

Why can't the settlers just stay where they are, even under a peace agreement? Arabs live in Israel, so why can't Jews live in Palestine? To reject this is to enforce a double-standard that demands tolerance from Israelis but accepts Arab anti-Semitism.

We Say:

Based on past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, it is clear that many (if not most) West Bank settlers will be able to remain where they are under a future peace treaty, as part of a land-swap agreement. Today, settlements make such an arrangement complicated but not impossible; if settlements continue to expand and proliferate, they will further complicate negotiations and the end result may be worse for Israel.

At the same time, the idea of leaving settlers living under Palestinian sovereignty is untenable, for a number of reasons. These include security: if Israeli citizens were left to live inside Palestine and came under threat, Israel would have an obligation to intervene, raising the possibility of a war between Israel and Palestine. Likewise, if Israeli citizens inside Israel attacked Palestinians, Israel would be loath to permit its citizens to be dealt with by a Palestinian justice system. In other words, establishing a Palestinian state with settlers in its midst is a recipe for serious and otherwise avoidable Israeli-Palestinian security friction.

It is also untenable for reasons of ideology. While land swaps can ensure that most settlers become part of Israel without having to move, the settlers who cannot be accommodated by land swaps are those living in the heartland of the West Bank. These are settlers who for reasons of ideology have long been the most hostile and violent toward Palestinians and the prospects of a Palestinian state. These settlers have a clear track record that demonstrates their inability and unwillingness to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbors, given their view that every inch of the land has been given to them, as Jews, by God, and this claim trumps all other considerations, including law and human rights.

Finally, this proposal is untenable politically. Over the years of the occupation, the Israeli settlement enterprise has been forced on the Palestinians. Settlements and related infrastructure developed at the expense of Palestinian development and Palestinian resources, including water, agricultural land, and construction at key sites across the West Bank. In effect, Israel has treated the West Bank as the spoils of war to be exploited for the exclusive benefit of Israeli settlers. The Palestinians' decision to accept land swaps - swaps whose purpose is to keep alive the possibility of a peace agreement while permitting Israel to hold onto much of its ill-gotten gains in the West Bank - is a highly significant concession. It is virtually inconceivable that any Palestinian leadership would agree, under almost any circumstances, to a further concession that would leave settlers implanted in the heart of a new Palestinian state, with the settlers left in possession of what Palestinians view as stolen resources and land, and representing a permanent slap in the face to Palestinian aspirations for self-determination and independence.