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The "Settlements" Excuse

Oct 4, 2010

By: Alan Levine

This summer, I had the chance to drive from the Croatian-Bosnian border to the Bosnian city of Mostar.  After crossing the border into Bosnia-Herzegovina, I was taken aback.  I saw Croatian flags, Croatian war memorials, and Croat Catholic churches almost the entire way to Mostar.  The flags were on homes and sometimes hung on street lights in an almost official looking manner.

Is the Bosnian stamp on my passport my imagination? Why do I feel like I am still in Croatia? This would have been strange enough at a friendly border like the U.S.-Canada border, let alone a border that was a war zone 15 years ago.

So what gives in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

The answer is that they essentially had a settler issue during the two countries’ fight for independence, much like Israel and the Palestinians.  But now, as part of the peace agreement, the Croat (by definition Catholic) “settlers” live on the Bosnian (majority Muslim Bosniacs) side of the border with dual Croatian and Bosnian citizenship.  The neighborhoods near the border are filled with Croats who are loyal to Croatia but manage to live in peace as Bosnian citizens.

Sounds familiar.  Minus the peace part.

Why can’t the same happen in Israel?  If Israel gives up its legitimate claim on disputed Judea and Samaria—which has essentially been the strategy for peace since the 1993 Oslo Accords—why can’t the Jewish residents there become Jewish citizens of Palestine?

The plan would not necessarily be perfect, not everything would go smoothly, but it is striking that nobody in the Arab world even suggests the idea.

  • There are already over 1 million Arab-Muslim-Palestinian citizens of Israel, why can’t there be a few hundred thousand Jewish citizens of a future Palestine?

  • Why do Jews need to stop building for the Palestinians to make progress? And why do the Jews all need to leave for the Palestinians to have a state?

  • If every other country in the world has minorities, why do the Palestinians refuse to accept one?

The questions are especially puzzling when one considers that these Jewish towns would be the most advanced, most productive towns of the Palestinian economy.  They already employ thousands of Palestinian Arabs.

I can’t answer these questions (nor can any anti-Israel professors on campus), but I do know that Palestinian intransigence, and the refusal of the Arab world—not just the Palestinians—to recognize Israel’s legitimacy is the main obstacle to peace.  They have taught their children to hate and to fight.  The settlements are an excuse.

There were no “settlements” and no “occupation” during Israel’s most dangerous days.  The War of Independence and the Six-Day War—all of which saw Israel defend itself on multiple borders against multiple armies—all occurred prior to “settlements.”  The PLO was founded in 1964—prior to “settlements”—with the goal of destroying Israel, which it calls an “indivisible part of the Arab homeland.”  When settlements were uprooted in Gaza in 2005, Israel received rockets in her neighborhoods, pre-schools, farms, shopping malls, and retirement homes in return.  This is not a chicken vs. egg case; anti-Israel violence came before settlements.  That’s a fact.

The settlements excuse does not hold water in theory either.  How does the act of Jews moving into the wrong neighborhood lead to suicide bombings, rockets, and shootings?  How does an inconveniently placed Jewish neighborhood make extremist Palestinians teach their children to strap bombs to their own bodies?

Though Israelis differ on the strategic value of the settlements, the notion that they are the main obstacle to peace is pure propaganda. The question with these negotiations was never whether Benjamin Netanyahu could extend the settlement moratorium, but whether the Palestinian Authority would be brave and honest enough to forgo the settlement excuse.  The world should stop blaming Israeli settlers and start focusing on the violent extremists who kill them.

The notion that there is some sort of equivalence is absurd; On the one hand you’ve got terrorists with their suicide bombings and rockets, but on the other hand are settlers with cement mixers, shovels, and cranes.

There are plenty of legitimate and intelligent ways to critique Israeli policy, but to cast the settlements as the central issue is not one of them.  That’s because this conflict is not about land.  The ultimate question is whether the Arab world will concede the Jew’s right to at least part of the Jewish ancestral homeland.

If the Palestinians want independence as the Bosnians have, it is incumbent upon them to choose compromise and co-existence.  They must rid themselves of the fantasy that any of the Jews are going away. To protest the building of new homes, schools, and hospitals in Jewish towns is not a good start.



Suggested reading:

Pressure mounts on PM to reject US ‘benefits package’, Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post

Dear Prime Minister: US efforts to keep the peace process on track, David Makovsky, Washington Institute for Near East Policy

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