Settlers are not an obstacle to peace - opinion

The argument that Jews living, building, and developing towns in Judea and Samaria are the obstacle to peace is based on a misconception

 Interfaith march in Jerusalem, May 11, 2023. (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR)
Interfaith march in Jerusalem, May 11, 2023.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR)

I am a firm advocate of peace. I’m an Israeli, an American, and some would call me a settler. None of these identities contradicts my desire for peace. As an American citizen and a Jew living in Judea and Samaria, I was dismayed by the United States State Department spokesman Matthew Miller’s recent reaction to Israel’s announcement to build more homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria, the region the world commonly calls the “West Bank.”

Miller said, “The United States is deeply troubled by Israel’s decision to promote approximately 4,500 housing units in the West Bank, and by the reports of changes in the administration of the settlements that accelerate the planning and approval of construction. We oppose the expansion of settlements and unilateral actions that constitute an obstacle to peace, and make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve.” 

I’m not ignorant or naïve, I recognize this isn’t the first, nor the last time America will object to homes being built in Judea and Samaria. In fact, every American administration since President Carter, including both Democrats and Republicans, has objected to Israel’s settlement building, and seen them as unproductive.

Many have gone so far as to call them an obstacle to peace. This seems to be the Biden administration’s current position. Objections to our building haven’t stopped Israel or my community from growing, and it never will. 

What I object to, is being called an “obstacle to peace.” My vision of Israel isn’t laid out like many experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My vision of this land is centered on peace. It sees two people, with many shared values like monotheism, chesed (kindness), and charity getting along as family.

 Population of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley 2012-2022 (credit: YESHA COUNCIL)
Population of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley 2012-2022 (credit: YESHA COUNCIL)

I work as an interfaith chaplain at a Catholic hospital in Jerusalem, and my coworkers are from nations around the world, and comprise all the world’s major religions. I include Palestinians and Israelis among the people I spend time with each week, and I love our time together. 

The argument that Jews living, building, and developing homes and towns in Judea and Samaria are the obstacle to peace is based on the misconception that if Jews continue to build on the land of Israel, they are predetermining the final status of borders and will therefore derail the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This position usually accompanies the position that the two-state solution is the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This line of reasoning, where one preposition is built on another preposition, all while assuming there’s no other viable approach, is at worst intellectually dishonest, but it’s also faulty logic. It is incorrect assumptions like these, and the refusal to entertain other ideas, that have pushed off truly viable solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for close to a century. 

Israel already gave land back

WHEN ISRAEL signed peace deals with Egypt and Jordan, it was clearly understood that the impediment to peace between the nations was the state of war between the respective parties. To reach peace, the state of war had to end. To incentivize the ending of the state of war between Israel and the Egyptians and Jordanians, land was exchanged, but no one imagined it was the land that impeded peace. In fact, when Egypt held the Sinai from 1948 to 1967, it didn’t have peace and was at war with Israel.

The same is true of the Palestinians. The Palestinians have carried out terror attacks and participated in wars against Israel well before 1967 when Israel began building in Judea and Samaria. Israel doesn’t have peace with the Palestinians because there is a state of violence between the two sides. For peace to exist between the Israelis and Palestinians, the violence must end. 

In any eventual peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, there may have to be exchanges of land as there were between Israel and Egypt, and Israelis might have to be evicted from their homes, as they were from Gaza. The final status of land is a contingency to be determined during negotiations, but they do not impede peace.

An honest look at what is holding up peace between the Palestinians and Israelis is clear. Palestinian refusal to negotiate sincerely and their support of terrorism, are holding up peace. If Palestinians would cease all terror attacks and enter earnest negotiations with Israel, a peace deal could be reached. It is Palestinian intransigence that has been the obstacle to peace. 

I find the notion that I can’t live in Judea and Samaria, the historic heartland of the Jewish people, simply because I am a Jew, abhorrent. Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was interviewed by Sky News who pushed him on my community and those like it being an obstacle to peace.

He responded, “What you’re saying is that if a Jew buys property on private land and wants to live in areas next to Palestinians that is a criminal action and we must sanitize the area [of Jews], we have to make it ethnically cleansed.

“If I said to you Jews cannot buy land anywhere in the world, in London, or Paris, you would be outraged. But if a Jew buys private land in a disputed territory whose political future has not been determined yet, Jews should not live there because it obstructs the peace?

“Why do a million Arabs sit in Israel as citizens of Israel, live in Israel, and we don’t say that’s not possible, but the idea that Jews should live next to Palestinians, that obviates the peace? That conception is the danger to peace. The idea that the presence of Jews on their ancestral homeland, which has been their homeland for 3,000 years, that Jews should not live there, that it should be Judenrein?”

I AM proud of where I live. I have followed my ancestors back to the land that was promised to the Jewish people and where they lived for thousands of years. I am inspired by the Zionist pioneers that came before me and I follow their example. I dedicate hours of every single day to developing my town and my nation and there isn’t a foreign notion or nation that will impede our growth.

I also pray for peace three times every single day and I look forward to the day when I can live peacefully with my Palestinian neighbors. I am ready for peace, but it will only happen when the Palestinians sincerely want to end the conflict with Israel. 

If Palestinians want to continue using my home and town as a pretext to justify their intransigence and support of terror, that is their mistake, and they will suffer the consequences. My neighbors and I will keep building and developing our towns – and we will create new ones. Time is on our side; the longer Palestinians delay making peace with Israel the more they will lose.

My vision of a peaceful Israel, with Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, living side by side, is too strong to be ruined by cynical or shortsighted people. I will keep praying and dreaming of peace, and I am confident that I will live to see the day peace is reached in our land.

The writer is a certified interfaith hospice chaplain in Jerusalem and the mayor of Mitzpe Yericho, Israel. She lives with her husband and six children.