jp fron 1967.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
One of the tenets of
current conventional wisdom has been that “the settlements are
obstacles to peace,” i.e., that getting rid of the West Bank settlements
would mean peace would reign in the Middle East. Prior to the 1967 war
of course, there were no
Israeli settlements. The only territories that were labeled by the Arabs
as being “occupied” were the existing towns and villages within Israel
proper – areas that were not even officially recognized by the Arabs.
The falsehood of proportionate response
accidental blessing that emerged from the present West Bank settlements
is that they displaced their predecessors - the old established
settlements in Israel proper - from the epithet of “occupied.” With the
exception, of course, of extremist groups such as Hamas who continue to
claim that both categories constitute occupied territories. Thus, the
psychosis sweeping the world that purports “imminent peace if settlement
activity is ceased” rings as hollow as a joke that isn't funny.
The negative attitudes
of Arabs towards Israel have never depended on the fortunes of Jewish
settlements in any part of the land; it was always the establishment of
Jewish roots – which for the Arabs signaled permanence – that generated
rejection. The proof of this can be seen today across the Palestinian
spectrum. On one end the “moderate” Palestinian Authority still educates
its children that Israeli cities like Haifa and Tel Aviv are in fact
Palestinian cities, while Hamas on the other, calls for the removal of
the Jewish state from the Arab land of Palestine.
second Camp David in 2000, former prime minister Ehud Barak had offered
former PLO leader Yasser Arafat a near-total withdrawal of Israel from
95% of the territories in return for his commitment to the finality of
the conflict. Of course Arafat refused, because such a withdrawal would
not have put an end to Israel’s rootedness in the land.
Israel went even further by evacuating the Israeli settlements in Gaza
in their entirety, but instead of peace the result was continued
violence against the surrounding Israeli towns. The fatal lesson that
was drawn from the disengagement is that retreating from
“peace-threatening” settlements by no means ensures the safety of towns
in Israel proper.
We know now that fear was one of the chief
factors that propelled former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to venture
into Israel in 1977 and sign a peace treaty. Sadat was consumed with a
very real concern that should he procrastinate any longer, the Israeli
settlements in the Sinai - which housed several thousand Israelis in the
townships of Ophira and Yamit among others - would grow into cities
that would eventually become .impossible to uproot. Sadat understood
that if enough years would elapse, what happened in Ashkelon and Jaffa
after 1948 could also apply to the Sinai., However, Sadat’s fears were
laid to rest when he realized that 15 years of Israeli settlement could
easily be reversed in exchange for a commitment to peace.
Palestinians and the Syrians have failed to learn that lesson. They
thought that because their territories were “inalienable,” they would
lose nothing by continuing to sabotage peace efforts through
procrastination.. In both cases they lost territories as a result of
their own aggression in 1967, but this did little to faze them. They
remained convinced that upon regaining strength they would be able to
gain possession of their bygone territories.
thinking, not only did they become obtuse to the cost of their
aggression - which might have otherwise deterred them from another war
in case they should lose again - but rather were encouraged to keep on
If this is the case, it is up to Israel then to enable
the strategic deterrence of future wars. It can achieve this by making
it understood unequivocally that those who launch war against the Jewish
state will pay the price of losing territories. On the other hand,
Israel will continue to forfeit territory to those who embrace peace
Just like at the end of World War II when the boundaries of
aggressive Germany were curtailed and those of its victims expanded at
its own expense, Israel must permanently
retain parts of the aforementioned territories. Doing so serves
the twin function of punishing aggressors for the cost of war they
precipitated on Israel and deterring future attacks.
of the region must learn that they stand to lose when they attack, and
lands lost may be deemed irretrievable at a future date. Thus, until a
peace agreement is reached, only intensive settlement activity from
Israel can provide a strong enough incentive for the Arabs – be they
Palestinian or Syrian - to hurry back to the negotiating table.
The writer is a professor of Islamic,
Middle Eastern and Chinese history at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem and a member of the steering committee of the Ariel Center
for Policy Research.