Encountering Peace: Declare victory and stop building

We, the people of Israel, need to stand up and declare – yes we won, we withstood the world, we are stronger than all the powers of the world combined. Now let’s stop wasting our precious resources on settlements

Let’s face it, the leaders of the settlement movement did not oppose the building moratorium because some young couples couldn’t afford their mortgage. They did not oppose it because a new classroom or nursery school could not be added even if needed as a result of natural growth. They did not oppose it because of the compassion they felt for real-estate developers whose profits were falling.
They opposed the building moratorium for one reason only: because building more settlements, more roads for settlers, more houses for more people means preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
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But few of the settlement leaders have the courage to come out and say it directly. Perhaps their shyness stems from their realization that the creation of a Palestinian state is inevitable, considering not only the international consensus on the issue, but also that 75 percent of the Israeli public recognize that it is an Israeli strategic interest.
When Menachem Begin and his settlement czar Ariel Sharon began their aggressive settlement drive after the Likud victory in 1977, their expressed aim was to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. When Yitzhak Shamir said he was opposed to any negotiations with the PLO, he stated that his opposition was not because Yasser Arafat and the PLO were terrorists, or because they had Jewish blood on their hands, but because negotiating with the PLO meant negotiating over the creation of a Palestinian state.
There is an unexplained, perhaps naïve, perhaps sinister belief (or maybe a plan) that enables the settlers and their leaders to persist in controlling the entire territory of the West Bank while denying the Palestinian people their right to self-determination, liberty and statehood. Do they actually believe that the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank will suddenly drop their demands to end the occupation? Is there a chance that the settlers and their leaders think the Palestinian people will simply acquiesce to continued Israeli domination? Do they actually think that with some economic growth and the removal of some checkpoints, Palestinians will bow down to their landlords and say thank you?
They must realize that even under the completely opposite scenario, during the aftermath of Defensive Shield, when life for Palestinians in the West Bank was close to a living hell, that the Palestinian people did not pick up and wander off to some other land. Palestinians will not leave their land. They will not relinquish their rights. They will not agree to live under occupation. They will not accept some form of personal autonomy. Why should they? If we were in their place, would we?
A PEOPLE’s yearning for freedom is something we should understand. Our own love of the land which we left 2,000 years ago and dreamed about returning to each time we prayed was transformed into a political movement that combined determination, intelligence and pragmatism and that has created Israel in our beloved homeland. Palestinian consciousness of their belonging to this land in which they feel deeply rooted, on which their identity was shaped and for which they have shed blood will not dissipate because the settlers and their leaders have decided to prevent a Palestinian state from being established.
It is time for the settlers and their leaders to understand that their settlement enterprise has succeeded. They have created facts on the ground, a lot of which cannot be undone. In any peace treaty, Israel will annex most of the settlers and their towns and cities. An annexation of 4.1% or 254 square kilometers would accommodate 75.6% or 335,500 of the settlers, leaving about 108,000 in about 94 small settlements outside the annexed areas.
Those settlers would have a number of choices – they could come home to Israel, they could move into the annexed areas – allowing them to remain in parts of Judea and Samaria – or some could apply to become citizens of Palestine, living under Palestinian sovereignty. Or they can continue fighting against the creation of a Palestinian state. This is apparently their choice.
The settlers and their leaders are riding high right now. They think they have won. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remained firm against the pressure of the entire international community. Public opinion surveys clearly show that a large majority of Jewish Israelis opposed the continuation of the settlement- building moratorium. Strangely, a majority also support the two-state solution and are not very sympathetic to the settlers.
How can this contradiction be explained? Simply, Israelis hate being told what to do. It is the davka principle at work. But most Israelis don’t want to see their resources being wasted building roads and buildings in settlements they know will be vacated. When the world told us to leave Gaza, we resisted, but when we came to the decision ourselves, it had the support of the vast majority. With the clock ticking, this is now becoming a “cut off your nose to spite your face” mentality.
The continuation of the settlers’ irresponsible behavior in continuing to build is not only against obligations that the government has agreed to in the road map, it is against the interests of the State of Israel, the Jewish people and the Zionist enterprise. For the sake of Israel, a Palestinian state must be established on 22% of the land between the river and the sea; there is no other possibility if we wish to continue as a state we can take pride in.
The settlers offer no solution, they have no idea how we can occupy all the land and continue to ignore Palestinian rights. Continuation of the settlement enterprise is national suicide wrapped in a veil of divine inspiration, nationalist fervor and militant opposition to the entire world. The settlers and their leaders are prophets whose self-fulfilling belief that the entire world is against us is coming true.
We, the people of Israel, need to stand up and declare – yes we won, we withstood the world, we said no to the US president, we are stronger than all the powers of the world combined. Now let’s stop settlement building. Let’s negotiate real peace in good faith, not because we are being pressured into doing so, but because it’s in our own self interest.
The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.