Men work on the roof of a house under construction in the outpost of Havat Gilad, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, November 5, 2013. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo.
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
Less than a month after Palestinian terrorists shot dead Rabbi Raziel Shevach as he was driving home to Havat Gilad, the cabinet voted Sunday to create a new West Bank settlement. Ahead of the unanimous cabinet vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he spoke with Shevach’s widow, Yael, by phone and explained the government’s response to the murder.
“I told her that our policy is being carried out in two spheres: First, to exact justice.... We will not rest until we bring them [Shevach’s murderers] to justice. And we will bring them all to justice,” he said. “Our second policy guideline is to strengthen settlement. Whoever thinks that through the reprehensible murder of a resident of Havat Gilad, a father of six, he can break our spirit and weaken us, is making a bitter mistake.”
We completely agree with the first “sphere” of the Netanyahu government’s policy goals. Our security forces must pursue Shevach’s murderers and bring them to justice. But the second policy guideline – “strengthening settlements” – is illogical. Israel’s settlement policy should be an organic outgrowth of Israel’s broader policy goals vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not a hot-headed response to cold-blooded murder.
If according to criteria set by the government in Judea and Samaria, the Havat Gilad community should be authorized as a fully-approved, legalized settlement, this should be done. The sudden change of mind regarding the authorization of Havat Gilad or the creation of another settlement adjacent to it – designed as Netanyahu stated to “normalize” the lives of its residents – reveals this government’s inability to provide a comprehensive vision for Israel’s future in Judea and Samaria. This lack of vision creates confusion and legal ambiguity.
Since 2002, when Havat Gilad was first established in response to the brutal murder of Gilad Zar, the government has repeatedly demolished homes and evacuated parts of the settlement. But the government’s equivocating enabled the rebuilding of Havat Gilad.
Failing to decide what to do is also a decision and carries with it consequences. It encourages lawlessness, a winkand- nod culture, when illegal actions are authorized retroactively after the government is “forced” to change course. Approving Havat Gilad in the wake of the tragic murder of Shevach, a decade-and-a-half after it was first established, is problematic on a number of levels.
All the suffering caused by repeated demolitions of homes in Havat Gilad and forcible evacuations of its residents was for naught. Tt turns out, there was no real reason not to authorize Havat Gilad long ago. Similarly, the violent destruction of homes on other outposts throughout Judea and Samaria seems nonsensical, since the government could very well decide in another week or month to authorize additional communities which were previously considered illegal.
The decision also seems to imply that the critical factor determining Israeli settlement policy is Palestinian violence. If a terrorist attack is brutal enough, it will lead to more Israeli building, regardless of whether this government thinks the building of additional communities in outlying areas is good for Israel.
We believe other considerations should be weighed. If Netanyahu and his government envision the eventual annexation of all of Judea and Samaria, the authorization of Havat Gilad makes perfect sense. But the government should explain what it plans to do with the large Palestinian population that lives there and what status they would have.
If, on the other hand, Netanyahu continues to envision some form of two-state solution or limited autonomy for Palestinians, he should explain how Sunday’s cabinet decision on Havat Gilad fits this vision.
For too long – from well before Netanyahu became prime minister – ambiguity has characterized Israeli settlement policy. Various right-wing groups, unencumbered by such indecision, have taken advantage of the situation to force consecutive governments to approve building. Left-wing groups, meanwhile, motivated by a two-state vision and citing international law, have pushed in the opposite direction, extracting demolition orders and evacuations that have caused suffering to thousands of Israelis.
Zionism’s most basic premise is that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination. After more than 50 years of de facto rule over Judea and Samaria, the time has come for Israel’s leaders to exercise that right and decide what it is they really want.