Israel''s settlement policy has returned to the headlines with a ministerial decision to convert three West Bank outposts (Rehalim, Bruchin, and Sansana) into legal settlements, and to find a solution for a neighborhood of Beit El that the Supreme Court has ruled to be illegally located on Palestinian land. Also on the table is the unresolved issue of the settlement Migron.
No surprise that Israeli moves have brought forth a chorus of opposition from a number of European governments, plus officials of the United States, the Palestine Authority, and Jordan.
We do not know how the government--whose Prime Minister has said time and again that he respects the decisions of the Supreme Court--and the Court will deal with one another over the next few days. Nonetheless, this has the louder noise of a routine exercise that we have seen time and again. That is, Palestinians and the international community protest, and Israel continues to support settlement on what others view as Palestinian land.
In most of these cases there are disputes as to whether a specific parcel was properly sold, or the payments made to individuals who forged documents or who later claimed they were swindled in order to avoid Palestinian death threats about selling land to Jews.
The details are difficult or impossible to know with absolute clarity. Moreover, they are less important than a big picture, which includes these elements:
- The present Israeli government supports settlement activities, even while it refrains from substantial expansions that might go a step too far in offending great powers.
- Support for settlement is not simply a program of right-of-center Likud. Its history has firm roots in Labor party activity during the periods of its governments, and activities by predecessors of the Labor party going back before the creation of the Israeli state.
- Currently Likud and some of its coalition partners may be in front of Labor and other centrist or left-of-center parties on the issue of supporting settlements.
- The most recent poll shows Likud getting twice the votes of any other party if an election were to be held in the near future.
- Consistent with this, the idea of demolishing substantial settlements--or perhaps even anything more than the smallest of them--has little support in Israel.
- Involved in the indifference or support of settlements shown by many Israelis is the violent Palestinian response to withdrawing settlements from Gaza, and the repeated rejections by Palestinians of proposals made by left-of-center or centrist parties (i.e., Labor led by Barak in 2000 or Kadima led by Olmert in 2008).
The principal dynamic apparent in this situation is Israeli frustration at Palestinian rejectionism, which seems to flow from elements widespread in the Palestinian community that cannot bring themselves to accept Israel''s legitimacy.
It is appropriate to say that the problem is Islam, despite the lack of political correctness attached to that view among many western politicians and political activists.
There are important nuances here.
The problem is not so much Muslims, many or even the vast majority of whom do not seem to care, but the nature of Islam in formulations currently fashionable that lead enthusiasts and extremists to reject any concessions to a non-Muslim entity on what is viewed as Muslim land.
Several items have come into my mailbox in recent days that shed light on what is happening.
One is an insightful analysis of post-World War II responses to the Holocaust by Daniel Greenfield, in which he contrasts "Never again," with "Teach Tolerance." The first he finds to prevail in Israel, and the second in Jewish communities and elsewhere outside of Israel. He recognizes that not a few Israeli Jews fit into what he calls "Teach Tolerance," while many Jews and others outside of Israel fit the model of "Never again." One can also call the two responses right and left of center, or a more aggressive mode of defence against continuing threats as opposed to a humanitarian view of how to deal with ethnic tensions, competition, and violence in the Middle East and elsewhere.
One doesn''t have to subscribe to all of Greefield''s analysis to accept the view that Israelis are more likely to express a posture of aggressive defense to hostile others, reinforced by a learned distrust of Palestinian intentions. One result is apparent in the government''s policy in support of settlements.
Another item comes from one of the camps in Islamic extremism, as revealed in an interview put on the Internet by the Christian Broadcasting Network. We might not want to rely on the Christian Broadcasting Network anymore than on the prophecies of religiously intense Jewish settlers, but a CBN interview with an articulate Muslim shows his confidence is the eventual spread of Sharia law throughout Europe and beyond.
How does this fit into Israel''s settlement policy?
The Muslim''s confidence of eventual victory is parallel to the posture of Israelis sitting in positions of authority, with considerable support in the population.
Don''t get me wrong. I know of no Israeli Jew outside of a mental institution who wants or expects the Jews to rule the world or even the entire area of the West Bank. I personally do not endorse turning every small settlement into a legal extension of Israel despite doubts about Palestinian property rights, or challenging the anti-settlement policies of the great powers. I view as foolhardy the aggressive movement of religiously motivated Jews into the heart of hostile Arab communities.
On the other hand, I understand Israelis who are confident of maintaining existing settlements, thickening them with additional construction, and inching outward to vacant land alongside existing settlements. Call it Judaic encroachment on Palestinian land if you will, but the policy has justified itself over the course of 45 years in the presence of Palestinian inflexibility and nothing more than lip service in opposition from Western governments and political activists.
The Palestinians have consistently violated the basic rule of negotiations that produces little for those who demand too much. Their rejectionism provides the best explanation of their getting nothing more than lip service from Western governments.
Explanations of what has been happening since 1967, and continues, ought to start with Islam, if it is possible to overcome the mantra that the problem is not Islam.
Religious practice changes. Islam has its humanitarian and tolerant elements, but they are not currently prominent. One should be wary about predicting the spread of Sharia throughout Europe and elsewhere, but Islam has a firm position in the Middle East, where it is unpopular among political activists to advocate concessions to Israel, or even among many to accept Israel''s legitimacy.
Israel''s future may lie somewhere in the space between the Muslims who would rather not sacrifice themselves for what they say is their faith, and political figures who dare not challenge enthusiasts with overt concessions to the Jews.
Israel''s situation is delicate. Thus, the concern one hears, even among religious nationalists, about not going too far, too fast, with settlement expansion, and their doubts about Messianic Jews who wish to establish their outposts in the midst of hostile Arabs.
Iran and the implications of Arab spring may be weighty, but are still amorphous, and only of potential importance.
Jews as well as Arabs who demand too much may end up as losers, but so far it is the Palestinians who have been violating that rule.