The Jewish neighborhood of Neveh Ya’acov with the settlement of Psagot in the background.
(photo credit: ANAV SILVERMAN)
Israel’s responses to terrorism have developed over the years to the point where the tiny Jewish State has become an internationally acknowledged authority on the subject.
Even a world power like the US has learned – and continues to learn – from Israel’s unique tactical and technological responses to fighting Palestinian terrorism while maintaining an open society and a vibrant democracy.
During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic trip to the African continent, one of the central issues he will discuss with the heads of state he meets will be security cooperation, particularly counterintelligence efforts visa- vis Islamist terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram.
Israel has also launched bold, creative diplomatic initiatives over the decades in attempt after attempt to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israeli statesmen such as Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin have shown courage and boldness in their pursuit of peace.
One of the least successful and counterproductive Israeli responses to Palestinian terrorism, however, is settlement building. Nevertheless, our political leaders continue to use new building in Judea and Samaria as a form of punishment or a deterrent for Palestinian terrorism.
At the funeral for 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel, murdered by a Palestinian youth motivated by a nihilistic Islamist ideology, Education Minister Naftali Bennett called on the government to build in the settlements. A few days later, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman approved the publication of a tender to build 42 additional homes in Kiryat Arba.
Days later the two also approved the building of 560 units in Ma’aleh Adumim, also over the Green Line, and 240 units in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot, Gilo and Har Homa.
Netanyahu made it clear that the announcements on renewed settlement building were connected to Ariel’s murder and the fatal drive-by shooting attack Friday that killed Rabbi Michael “Miki” Mark and seriously wounded his wife and children. News reports say he was influenced by pressure from ministers to launch a major building push in Judea and Samaria after the terrorist attacks.
Netanyahu’s government has done this before. In November 2012, when the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade “Palestine” to non-member observer, it took less than 24 hours for the government to announce plans for 3,000 housing units in east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
We argued then and we argue now that transforming the building of houses into a form of punishment or a deterrent is wrongheaded for a number of reasons.
First, it undermines Israel’s argument that settlements are not an obstacle to peace. By building settlements in response to terrorist attacks as a form of punishment, we buy into the false claim that the expansion of Jewish communities on the West Bank prevents the creation of a Palestinian state there. The existence of Jews in geographic areas which hold strong historical, religious and cultural resonance for them does not preclude the existence of Palestinians there as well.
The move also unfairly paints Israel – at least in the eyes of the international community – as the guilty party in the ongoing deadlock in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The recently published Quartet report on the diplomatic process wrongly took Israel to task for preventing a peace settlement through its settlement building efforts.
But it also blamed Palestinian incitement and the split in Palestinian leadership between Gaza and the West Bank.
Our job should be to convince the world to focus on the last two reasons, not draw attention to and acknowledge the first. We build in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, such as Pisgat Ze’ev and Gilo, or in consensus settlement blocs like Gush Etzion and Ariel, not out of a desire to punish Palestinians, but rather out of a real need to supply housing for a fast-growing population. Unlike the vast majority of Western countries, Israel enjoys brisk natural population growth. Indeed, our high fertility rate combined with our high standard of living is one of many signs of Israel’s promising future.
Building housing is not a form of punishment, nor is it a tactic for blocking the creation of a Palestinian state. It is an expression of Israel’s unique connection to this land and a reflection of Israeli society’s remarkable health and vitality.