Rattling the Cage: The fierce urgency of a settlement freeze

It's now or never - and that's the optimistic view.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Most Israelis, I think, are not ready to accept the idea that the occupation will go on forever. They don't like the radical settler movement and its power. They know, even if they bury the knowledge, that lots of IDF soldiers have been doing terrible things to innocent Palestinians all these years. They know that our rule over the West Bank - as well as our remote control over Gaza - will always be a provocation to the Arabs and never be accepted by the West. They know, too, that whatever you call the system we're running in Judea and Samaria, you can't call it democracy. So most Israelis, myself included, think of the occupation as provisional - here for now but not necessarily forever. Something whose status is undetermined, that can still be dismantled. This belief is made out of about 2 percent rational analysis and 98% hope. For most of us, it is simply unthinkable that we will always be the overlords and the Palestinians our subjects. Unthinkable both morally and practically. If we try to imagine what Israel will be like in another two or three generations if we're still fighting to keep the settlers in their place and the Palestinians in theirs - that's not a country we want for our descendants. Maybe it is for the settlers and their supporters, but for the rest of us, the majority, if we become convinced that we'll never be free of this ball-and-chain called the occupation, that it's only going to get heavier, then we will lose hope. And people can't live without hope. So we cling to the belief that it's provisional, that it can be undone. Rationally, I think there's a still a chance - a very slim one. But among people who think a lot about this subject, I'm one of the optimists; many others have concluded it's a done deal, that for several reasons, but above all the entrenched, forbidding presence of about 75,000 radical settlers in the heart of the West Bank, Israel and its army will be in there forever. Either very slim or none at all - those do seem to be the chances for ending 42 years of occupation. But there comes a time when even willed optimism is impossible, when the best efforts of well-intentioned, hard-working people have been defeated once too often, when you can no longer say with a straight face that it's just provisional, when hope becomes a lie that you can't convince yourself to believe anymore. TODAY, WE are just about there. If this latest attempt by Washington fails, it's finished; there's nothing left. If the Obama administration strikes out like every other US administration before, who will be left to say there's still a chance to change destiny? As settlements spread and Palestinians get more radical and Israelis get more right-wing, as an administration as liberal and popular even as Barack Obama's throws up its hands, who will still be able to say, seriously, that we shouldn't give up hope? No, it's now or never - and that's the optimistic view. Which means that for those who do not want the occupation to be our destiny, this is no time to quibble about natural growth or differentiating between this settlement and that. The US wants a total freeze on construction over the Green Line, even in post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhoods like East Talpiot and Gilo - and that's what Israel has to do. This doesn't mean that mothers there have to stop having babies. At the absolute worst it may mean that a few young, growing families may have to move out of their homes because they need more space. This is no tragedy; young, growing families do it all the time, in Israel and everywhere else. A total settlement freeze doesn't mean Israel is going to give up any of the Jerusalem neighborhoods or any of the large West Bank settlements just over the Green Line - we're not going to. There would be hundreds of thousands of people to relocate. The Palestinians accept this; that's why they've been negotiating land swaps with us ever since Camp David. Obama's demand for a settlement freeze is the first test of his determination to do what's necessary to end this conflict; he will have many, many more if he gets past this one. If he means to succeed where his predecessors failed, he will have to go to extraordinary lengths - in my opinion, to be prepared to present Israel with the choice of keeping the settlements or keeping America's support. If he goes easy on the Netanyahu government, if he does no more than grumble over settlement growth like every president except George H.W. Bush did before, he will fail. And at that moment, finally, no honest person will still be able to say the occupation is provisional. For those who dread such a moment, who find it unthinkable, now is not the time to worry about whether a family in French Hill should be allowed to add on a room or not. Rather, it's time to worry that the future of this country will go down the tubes very shortly if Obama loses the fight over the settlement freeze and Netanyahu wins. This is no time, either, to be afraid of being called a traitor by a bunch of right-wing blowhards. To everyone who knows that the settlements are a disaster - morally, practically and every other way - you have a choice. You can either stand up for this misbegotten Israeli government, or you can stand up for Israel. If there's any hope left - and there may not be - the one we've got riding on Obama is the last one. This is not just about the "fierce urgency of now" - this is do or die.