Self-defense, not occupation

Settlements are not a security asset - they are a liability, a drain on our military.

idf checkpoint 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
idf checkpoint 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
In my January 30 op-ed in The Jerusalem Post, I contended that our settlements weaken rather than strengthen us by seriously eroding both our own and the world's belief in the justice of our cause. That cause is asserting the right of the Jewish people to a sovereign state in their ancient homeland. In over 100 "talkbacks" on, letters to the editor, and some personal communications, my views were mostly attacked, though occasionally supported. Let me address some of the criticisms of my argument. Security and strategic depth are the most salient objections to any withdrawal from the West Bank. The continued shelling of Sderot following Israel's exit from Gaza is regarded as the conclusive proof of the foolishness of any attempt to compromise with the Palestinians. Israel's Right argues that standing pat on the West Bank is thus our safest, indeed our only course. Heavy Israeli presence on the ground, plus the security wall, have significantly reduced terrorist incidents - that is a fact. BUT THERE are three questions: How much of this is attributable to the settlements? Opposite the benefits, what are the costs? And can these benefits be achieved in any other way? The settlements are not a security asset; they are rather a liability, a drain on our military capability. They constitute a multiplicity of "soft" civilian targets which require enormous military resources to defend, resources which could be deployed much better elsewhere. We can achieve better anti-terrorism results without them. And the cost of maintaining them? The huge economic cost, at a time when Israel's health, educational and welfare systems are all in massive disarray, is a topic deserving another article. Let us focus on the political cost and its implications. Jews and Israelis know that we cannot depend on the goodwill of the world to protect us, but neither can we survive for long without it. Those are the facts of of life. The struggle over public opinion is deadly serious for us. It is not a matter of "currying favor" with the gentiles, as some of our mindless patriots pretend. It is rather about winning, which we must do, in a world more interdependent and online than any in the history of the human race. THE STRATEGY of our enemies, pursued with ever-greater sophistication since 1967, is to portray Israel as another apartheid South Africa, doomed to the oblivion of other colonial regimes. Their narrative has made inroads among elites and opinion-molders - among academia, the media, religious movements (there are a lot more religious Americans than just Evangelicals), the international NGOs, trade unions and elsewhere. Among others, it has touched many younger Jews and helped distance them from Israel and their own Jewishness. For all these audiences, the central exhibits are precisely the settlements and Israel's ongoing occupation of Palestinian civilians. Compared to these, Israel's struggle against its genocidal enemies is increasingly belittled, and its truthfulness cast into doubt. We often hear complaints about the failure of Israel's public relations to counter this long-term campaign to destroy us. Whatever happened to our common sense? We can make a compelling case for self-defense, without apology, as the assertion of a natural human right. When we try to justify annexation, the game is lost before it has begun. Not only that: By subordinating our public relations to the cause of the settlements, we severely damage our own case for self-defense. This generates international political pressures which tie our hands and cripple our ability to fight terrorism effectively. What a boomerang! The settlements are a boon to our enemies, and harmful to us. BUT WON'T leaving them subject the rest of Israel to Sderot- like bombardment? This can be seriously minimized by a negotiated withdrawal with the appropriate security provisions, including surveillance, milestones, clear casus belli understandings and international guarantees. But you would have to be delusional to imagine that this removes all risk. Without doubt, a very strong self-defense capacity will be required for a long time, bolstered by an international climate in which we would be much freer to use it, if necessary. What best serves Israel's long-term interests? The certainty of Israel's increasing isolation and delegitimization as the inevitable cost of hanging on to the settlements, or the risks of cutting a deal with the Palestinian Authority, backed up by security arrangements on the ground and various international guarantees? That is the substantive national debate we need to have. Moreover, the real antidote to Palestinian terror is Palestinian economic development, which cannot happen when we have to maintain over 500 checkpoints on West Bank roads. Most of them are designed to protect the settlements rather than to interdict terrorism aimed at Israel. THIS ARGUMENT has related purely to concrete strategic considerations since that is what we must address in the present. But there is a moral dimension as well: Since 1948, defenselessness and powerlessness are no longer acceptable models for Jewish collective existence. But neither is power wielded without morality. This is first and foremost for our own sakes, because of who we are called upon to be, and because of the frightening consequences of neglecting that. Our self-determination is not negotiable, but it must be implemented without dispossessing our neighbors. The Land of Israel is critical for us, but it is still only the means to an end. The end is the liberation of the Jewish people from an intolerable human condition, and their creation of a just society. If we defile this Land by immoral behavior - so our prophets warned - it will surely cast us out. Its sacredness is not intrinsic, but conferred by our ethical actions. It is much less important for us to control Hebron than it is to deal justly with the widow, the orphan and the stranger. The writer, a Ra'anana-based businessman, is a native of Montreal who made aliya in 1976.