A stop sign is seen outside a West Bank Jewish settlement.
(photo credit: Reuters)
It is widely assumed that every new house built for settlers in the West Bank is
another nail in the coffin of the two-state solution. The settlers and their
supporters are naturally happy to encourage this impression. The political price
that Israel is paying for this internationally is huge. People look at the map
of settlements and say to us: You can’t be serious when you claim – as Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does – that you support a two-state
The expansion of settlements goes far beyond any settlement
blocs near the Green Line that might conceivably become part of Israel under a
negotiated deal, and the number of settlers there is far higher than on previous
occasions when Israel evacuated settlements in Sinai and in Gaza. Many believe
that we are fast approaching – if we have not already passed – the point of no
return, when the two-state solution becomes infeasible. Some are driven by this
assessment to consider the one-state option; others are only too happy to do so
precisely because it is obvious that this “one state” will not be
But all this is based on the assumption that expanding
settlements is tantamount, on Israel’s part, to eating up the areas where the
building is taking place and removing them from the territory of the future
Palestinian state. That, of course, is the intention behind the settlement
drive. But why should supporters of the two-state solution go along with the
settlers’ intentions? Let us assume that they are now too numerous to be
removed; does this fact also give them the right to determine forever the
political status of the areas where they live? By what title can they lay claim
to this, the mother of all unprecedented privileges? And if we are talking about
real peace, why can’t there be a Jewish minority in a Palestinian state? The
future peace treaty will draw a border between two independent states – Israel
and Palestine. The treaty should recognize the right of those Jews who will find
themselves on the Palestinian side of the border to continue living there – not
under some extraterritorial regime, but as a minority under Palestinian
Nobody will have to be dragged from their homes, and nobody
will be able to prevent the IDF from withdrawing to Israel’s recognized
boundaries. Many of the people in question will, no doubt, choose to move to
Israel – but this will be their choice.
Will such a solution be
acceptable to the Palestinians? There have been indications that it may be,
provided that Palestinian sovereignty is ensured. Palestinian representatives
have repeatedly said that no settlers will be allowed to remain in the future
Palestinian state. But under the scenario suggested here, these people will no
longer be “settlers.” The Palestinians will face no demographic problem in their
state – the overwhelming Arab majority there is guaranteed. Most settlers will,
under territorial swaps that can realistically be envisaged, find themselves in
Israel. There is no telling how many Jews would choose to remain under
Palestinian sovereignty. This would depend on the atmosphere that prevails when
the peace treaty is signed, which is difficult to predict today.
problem of land grab presented by the settlements results not from houses where
people live, which cover only a minuscule part of the West Bank, but from the
wide municipal boundaries assigned to the settlements by Israel, and from the
“security perimeters” around them. Under Palestinian sovereignty, these matters
will naturally be up to the Palestinian authorities.
dwelling places in question will no longer be purely Jewish.
infrastructure for the settlements built by Israel, including roads, will
present a significant economic boon to the Palestinian state.
be able to live under Palestinian sovereignty? It is true that precedents for
Jews living under Arab sovereignty, in the decades since Israel’s independence,
are not encouraging: No Jewish community has been able to survive anywhere in
the Arab world. The Zionist state, which is accused of being intrinsically
predisposed to ethnic cleansing, is the only place in the Middle East where Jews
and Arabs live together in considerable numbers.
Of course, what happened
to Jews in Arab countries was influenced by the conflict. But what happened to
Arabs in this country was also influenced by the conflict, which after all,
raged here, and not in Baghdad or Alexandria.
But apart from the fact
that Israel will be close by and its borders open to any Jew, we are talking
about peace. The Palestinian government, under the scenario discussed here, will
be one that will have signed a peace treaty with Israel, exposing itself to the
inevitable charges of betrayal by Palestinian extremists (above all, on the
issue of the right of return). It will be vitally interested in turning the
Palestinian state into a success story, and, hence, in preventing attacks
against its Jewish inhabitants. Of course, there is no foolproof guarantee
against acts of terrorism.
Nor is there a guarantee against acts of
terrorism and violence by Jewish extremists. But the greatest danger of Jewish
terrorism against Palestinians, in an aggravated version of the notorious “price
tag” attacks, is probably presented by the scenario of a wide-scale forcible
removal of settlers.
The option suggested here raises various questions
that would have to be sorted out. But it seems to be the only way, at this
point, of deflating the issue of settlements and turning it into simply one of
the issues to be resolved, rather than being, as it is widely perceived today, a
threatening shadow over the chance of ever achieving a solution that realizes
the right of both peoples to national independence.
Today’s settlers may
in the end be able to go on living in Judea and Samaria – there is no reason why
they shouldn’t, but they should not get to decide, at their sole discretion, the
future of the country and the fate of its two peoples.
Yakobson is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a member of
the iEngage Project team. Learn more about iEngage at iengage.org.il