A settler’s ‘reality’ in a universe far, far away

When it comes to the Israeli settlement enterprise, settlers and Peace Now activists seem to exist in parallel realities.

Construction (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Welcome to the parallel universe of the Israeli settlement enterprise.
Your key to entry is Nahi Eyal’s recent op-ed in The Jerusalem Post (“The real root of the housing shortage,” July 26 p.14) in which he constructs an alternate reality that provides him and his ideological brethren shelter from all the real-world facts standing in the way of their arguments for continued settlement expansion.
In Mr. Eyal’s alternate reality, the supposed lack of settlement construction in the West Bank is the primary reason for the housing shortage in Israel, and the widespread protests it has prompted. In Eyal’s eyes, this dearth of settlement construction is due to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s fear of Peace Now and other organizations on the left that oppose settlement construction.

In Eyal’s universe, the results of this fear include the prime minister’s abstention “from even permitting building tenders in Jerusalem,” while instituting a “building cessation” in the West Bank.
Unfortunately, in the real world, these examples of Netanyahu’s submission to the will of Peace Now (although actually serving Israel’s own best interests) are nowhere to be found.
Of course, one can be forgiven for seeing fear of Israeli civil society organizations in the actions of the Netanyahu government.
Why else would it be pushing for new laws intended to shut down protest against settlements, and other lines of dissent? Why else would it take every opportunity to attack and demonize these groups, with members of his government going so far as to call them terrorist organizations?
However, in the real world, building tenders for 238 housing units in East Jerusalem have been published this year, according to Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann. Over 2,100 units in East Jerusalem have been included in plans deposited for public review (the last step before approval and validation) this year. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, construction has started on some 2,000 housing units in 75 different settlements since September 2010, with 11,000 more able to be built without any further government approval.
Other unfortunate facts highlight Eyal’s flight to his own parallel universe. There, all the undeveloped land within sovereign Israel appears to be permanently unavailable for housing construction. Maybe it has all been designated a grazing area in order to increase cottage cheese production? Regardless, Eyal’s only option for new real estate development is the West Bank.
In his eyes, the government’s refusal to massively develop this land for Israeli residential use is at the root of the increased housing prices in settlements as well.
Back here in the real world, we know that, over the past decade, 50 percent of public building has occurred in the West Bank, while only three percent has been within Israel proper. Moreover, anyone wishing to move to a settlement deemed to be within a “preferred development area” can count on a range of subsidies and incentives from six different government ministries. Furthermore, there is plenty of land to build on inside Israel, if the government of Israel so desires.
Returning to Eyal’s reality, we are told in his piece that the typical student protester who also supports Peace Now “doesn’t understand” that this organization is partly to blame for the housing crisis. But in reality, supporters of Peace Now understand all too well that resources have been invested in the settlement enterprise at the expense of providing housing in Israel proper. We understand that maintaining the settlement enterprise costs Israel civilians an estimated NIS 8 billion annually.
We understand how the settlement enterprise further entrenches an occupation which threatens Israel’s existence as a secure, Jewish and democratic state. We also understand that, unlike Mr. Eyal, we don’t have the luxury of creating our own parallel universe.
Aaron Mann is a graduate research assistant with Americans for Peace Now.