It is amazing that right-wing Israelis and their American enablers have managed to convince even a single person that West Bank settlements are not at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Think about it. The conflict is about who will ultimately control the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. It is no longer about Israel's right to the 78 percent of historic Palestine that is pre-'67 Israel; the PLO conceded Israel's right to statehood in that land 20 years ago and has never backed away from that concession. It is no longer about whether the Palestinians are entitled to a state because Israel conceded that the Palestinians have that right 15 years ago and have never backed away from that concession. It is not about each people's right to live in security (free from terrorism and other military threats) because the two sides have agreed to that principle a half-dozen times since the Oslo agreement was signed. No, the conflict is about who will control the occupied territories. A final status deal must include full security for Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, and everyone knows it. Even Khaled Mashal, the Syria-based political chief of Hamas, said this week that "Palestinians have adopted a joint position regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967." The Arab Initiative (the Saudi-sponsored plan endorsed by every Arab country) not only recognizes Israel's right to the 78 percent of Palestine that is Israel but pledges full recognition and normalization of relations if Palestinians are permitted to establish a state in the other 22 percent. Nevertheless, successive Israeli governments have expanded settlements with truly reckless abandon. And not just Likud governments either. In fact, there has been little difference in settlement policy no matter which party is in power. And now Ehud Olmert's Kadima is continuing the folly by expanding settlements while simultaneously pledging to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians. IT WON'T happen. The negotiations center on the final disposition of the West Bank and Gaza. How then can Israelis be said to be negotiating in good faith while they are simultaneously taking the land? That is like negotiating about the price of a home you want to purchase while your family, your furniture, and your dog are moving in. There will be no peace if the settlements remain in place and everyone knows it. Of course, under any agreement, Jews should be allowed to live in the West Bank exactly as Arabs live in Israel, fully protected but under the laws of the Palestinian governing authority and under its flag. But there can and will be no peace with Israeli settlements smack dab in the middle of the Palestinian state just as Israelis would never tolerate autonomous Palestinian colonies in the midst of Israel. The fact is that a settlement is more than just a bunch of houses. One Israeli anti-settlements activist puts it like this: "A settlement is never just a fortified group of red-roofed villas on the top of an occupied hill.... A settlements also means Israeli soldiers.... It means checkpoints, and roads connecting it with other settlements and with Israel itself. A road is not just land: it is an ever growing 'security belt' on both sides of it, belts of Palestinian fields and buildings swept by Israeli bulldozers. . . . The function of those ever-expanding by-pass roads is not only to serve the settlers but to cut off Palestinian towns and villages from one another, to cantonize the territories and split the Palestinians into minimal separate units ..." Without the settlements, there would be no need for over 500 checkpoints and roadblocks, most of which do not guard entry into Israel but prevent the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank. The settlers do not want to think about the local Palestinians, let alone see them. Between the checkpoints and the bypass highways, settlers can travel from home to job to soccer practice to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv without encountering an Arab. The Arabs on the other hand can barely get between their homes and their jobs without facing humiliating obstacles. Then there are places like Hebron in which the army is deployed to defend a tiny population of settler extremists prone to torment local Palestinian kids. Last time I was there I got to see a terrorized population facing incessant abuse from extremists. (One Israeli government official described the Hebron settlers last week as "the worst of the worst.") Not only that, young Israeli soldiers - hating every minute of their service in Hebron - are themselves continually abused by settlers who think the soldiers should be doing their bidding rather than protecting the local population from them. The irony is that few Israelis have any use for the settlers. Unfortunately, most Israelis do not have a say in the matter. The settlers are organized into powerful lobbies that threaten to bring down any government that defies them. That is why Prime Minister Olmert goes along with settlement expansion. He'd rather be prime minister than be right, which makes him no different than most political leaders. It's all politics. BUT THIS tyranny of the minority cannot be sustained. Recent polls show that Israelis are utterly cynical about their government. Offered a choice for the next prime minister most choose "none of the above." Compare Israel in 2008 to the United States and you see Americans determined to achieve "change" and Israelis resigned to the idea that change just isn't going to happen. This is a pretty dismal place for Israel to be in for its 60th anniversary. No wonder the Israeli media reports that there is so little excitement about the upcoming celebrations. People just can't get excited about an anniversary when the general expectation is that the future is going to be far less glorious than the past. This is tragic. The creation of Israel and its success as the sanctuary for the Jewish people is worthy of tremendous celebration. Sixty-five years after a 24-year-old Jewish hero, Mordechai Anilevicz, led a hopeless uprising against the Nazis in occupied Warsaw, Israel is the fourth strongest military power in the world. It successfully defends itself and, in a real sense, defends Jews everywhere. Modern Hebrew, spoken by not a single person in 1880, is now spoken by millions of Israeli Jews, Palestinians, and "guest workers" from places like Romania and Thailand. Almost seven million Israelis live good, safe lives in a dynamic modern state. How utterly insane to jeopardize this triumph because politicians in Jerusalem are intimidated by fringe elements - not to mention the politicians here who are even more intimidated by the status quo lobby in Washington, DC. Israel deserves so much more than that. Stop jeopardizing everything, stop killing the dream for the sake of a few fanatics. The writer is the director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center.