Israel Israeli occupation Israeli settlements Middle East peace process Palestinians

The best line ever written about Israeli settlements…

Lords of the Land, by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, is one of the most heartbreaking books I have ever read (or, more accurately, started to read, as I am half-way through). Written in 2005 and just released in translation by Nation Books, it tells us everything Diaspora and Israeli Jews must be forced to confront about the Israeli settlement movement, including the compliance of almost every conceivable sector of Israeli society. Labor Party “doves,” both inside and outside the government are not exempted. Neither is the U.S. government or, usually by implication, mainstream American Jewry.

But while it documents the bevy of centrist and leftwing actors that either overtly allowed the settlements to grow or conciously decided to passively accept them, it touches on something even more complex and saddening: a process that took on a life of its own, a slow, sometimes barely conscious descent into utter stupidity. Here is a haunting line about settlement growth:

“Almost out of sight, out of mind, it is going on with the full cooperation of the State of Israel and its institutions, as though it were an involuntary, unconsidered movement of a body that has lost its mind.”

That’s it. They’ve nailed it.

And what they leave unsaid is even more tragic. The patient, in this case, has had periods of great lucidity. Sometimes she has been rational enough, and sane enough, to know that something drastic had to be done about the disease, and that, with an arduous regimen of medications and surgery, it might have been possible to stop this unvoluntary, unconsidered movement. For example, if Barak and Arafat had fully accepted the Clinton parameters, and both leaders had been politically powerful enough to survive, most Israelis would have been ready and willing to take the cure.

For many reasons –Israel’s dysfunctional political system, Arafat’s recalcitrance, the intifadeh, the dearth of forceful U.S. diplomacy– they didn’t get the chance. It is hard to believe they will get a better one any time soon, unless Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas and Condi Rice astonish us by making concrete progress at Annapolis.

For more on Eldar, check out a report of his talk in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem in Swords and Plougshares, an incisive blog I’ve just discovered:

The case made by Eldar was not a bleeding-heart plea for Palestinian civil rights. Rather, he demonstrated how the settlements and the apparatus associated with them are undermining the security and foundations of Israeli society and, thus, Zionism. Eldar’s thesis is that the settlements are antithetical to the key tenets of the 1948 Declaration of Independence which avowed that the State of Israel is to be: Jewish, Democratic, Safe, Reaching for Peace, and Just.

25 thoughts on “The best line ever written about Israeli settlements…

  1. Too late, I’m afraid. Too many roads built under, and around, and over the Palestinians. Too many gated communities with people who never remove their gates. Too many olive groves shredded, and walls and fences built. The authors are recounting a tragedy that cannot be undone unless, and until, Israeli Jews themselves choose to undo it. Given the propensity of even Labor leaders to let these settlements grow, I can’t see that relinquishing more than a few “outposts” here and there is something the Israelis would ever do willingly…

  2. Some would argue that it is not just the settlement enterprise that is “antithetical” to the principles of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Some would argue that it was the very concept of a “democratic Jewish state” wrested by force from another people that was antithetical to those principles. Compared to other non-Zionists, I am more sympathetic to the impulses that drove European Jews to Palestine. They did what they felt they had to do because, often, no other choice was available. But this insistence on having it both ways, to be socialist and humane and also ban Arab workers from Zionist enterprises (i.e., Avoda Ivrit), this insistence that equal rights were possible when clearly they were not possible….That sticks in my craw.

  3. Everybody screwed up on the issue of the settlements.

    The sequence of history screwed up.

    There is no beginning point to assess it, even critically.

    Objectively, in the current prospect of actual sincere discussions for a mutual peace, the settlements are an obstacle and an opportunity.

    Historically, although much valid criticism has been levied against Israel for the settlement program, in fact the Jordanian government also conducted or accepted an ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank between 1948 and 1967.

    Most of the West Bank has been predominately Arab for a few hundred years, but there was significant Jewish populations in Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and other less prominent West Bank locales.

    In Israel, MANY Palestinians were forcefully removed in some degree of coercion, yet 20+% of Israel remains Palestinian.

    Currently, in the West Bank (if one includes the suburbs of Jerusalem that is in the Palestinian side of the green line), there are roughly 400,000 Jews residing, comprising 8% of the population of the region.

    It constructs a significant minority, that would embellish the multi-cultural nature of Palestine, assuming that it desires to be democratic in the multi-cultural sense.

    It is an imbalance. Israel multi-cultural but criticized horridly contrasted with Palestine uni-cultural but somehow regarded as more democratic.

    I would suggest that a fair outcome would be Palestine at roughly the green line, with settlers allowed to remain if they adopt Palestinian citizenship and perfect the title to land that currently has ambiguous title. (Ambiguous because of the odd ways that the land was justified as annexed, in the gradual general sequence from military reserve, to base, to leased base, to Jewish National Fund, to discrimminatory permanent leasehold or outright sale.)

    But, fourty years into the enterprise, there is now no just way to simply remove the Jews from land that families have now bought from other families.

    For me, the biggest reasons for Israel to renounce sovereignty over the settlement areas, are twofold.

    1. The moral and financial cost of occupation

    2. The military indefensibility of the maze.

    These are practical, not rhetorical, concerns, that have the potential of convincing Israel to sincerely negotiate a fair peace, rather than a subordinating one.

    If Palestine can make a path, in accepting the settlers as Palestinian citizens (those that don’t desire to can migrate to Israel), then the goals of a sovereign contiguous (not including Gaza) Palestine are feasible.

    If not, then the issue becomes again intractable.

  4. Richard, all of that *sounds* reasonable, but I hope that even you upon reflection can see how absurd it really is. Unless, that is, you’re willing to accept a “one state” solution. Make everyone free citizens of a single democratic state or split the territory in into two states with strong ethnic majorities who can and will work to maintain both their majority status and their determining power. I suppose in some ideal political universe we might expect a Palestinian majority to grant title to Jews who were forced out of, say Hebron or the Etzion block in ’48 or before, but why should such a majority accept Jews who took title to other lands after ’67?

    A movement back into Israel of either the population of the settlements or the territory itself–with swaps etc–is the only feasible way forward other than a dissolution of any ethnic definition for either state.

  5. Let me add that in that imagined ideal political world I mention, the Palestinian majority in their new state would only be apt to grant pre-’48 title to particular lands to Jews if the Jewish State granted such title to Arabs who were forced to leave, say Jaffa, at around the same time.


  6. Richard,

    Trying to make Sense makes sense. You have criticized, if I’m not mistaken, the one-state advocates for being impractical (or at least Dan has criticized them), for advocating a solution that forces the Israelis to give up their enduring, collective mythology and everything they have been taught to believe since they were little kids.

    Your idea is only a little less practical, for the reasons Trying to make Sense has provided. Plus, there are settlers who are not the hard core fanatic ideologues but are still tied into a Zionist/religious ideology in which the Land of Israel plays a major role. Sovereignty over the Land is important to them. Finally, it is hard to believe they would allow themselves to bossed around by Fatah police officers and firemen and municipal authorities.

  7. The suggestion stems from two assertions:

    1. Each side recognizes that the other is not going to disappear, both in their neighbors’ land AND in their own (Israel and Palestine)

    2. That each people wish to live in a cosmopolitan world with inter-community trade, cultural exchange, democratic institutions.

    If these goals are important to each state, then it is likely that they can reconcile EVERY tangible difficulty.

    If those that represent the states in the negotiations conclude that there is some future prospect of an Arab-free greater Israel, or a Jew-free greater Palestine, then reconciliation will fail.

    And, if the states conclude that in the internal discussion of the tensions between nationalist or religious vs civil emphasis in law, resulting in no equivalent of 14th amendment in either (equal due process under the law), then reconciliation will fail.

    Two commitments. Two clarifications.

    The most convincing Palestinians that I’ve gotten to dialog with, were firmly committed to civil institutions and equal due process for all.

    Even though the settlers are a strong symbolic and tangible political force, for the purposes of negotiations they should be in effect, ignored.

    Settlers will and should do hard thinking about what their Zionism is.

    There are other options than “the state is the messiah” (or integral part of the messianic process).

    These are not the times of Joshua. Noone is commanded to smite or forcefully remove the other, at least not by God.

    If anything, Jews are commanded to “love thy neighbor as thyself” in conformance with “If you keep my commandments, I will give you the rain in its time….”

  8. Your response still doesn’t explain why as part of any settlement, the Palestinians should accept–in addition to everything else they’ve lost–the additional imposition of a Jewish population not only on lands owned by Jews before ’48, but on a considerable amount of land upon which no Jews were living before ’48. Particularly in the absence of an equal right of purchase and settlement on lands that were occupied by Palestinians prior to ’48. Should they accept it merely because a succession of Israeli governments allowed, aided, and abetted it?

    How is enforcing such a settlement on the Palestinians a form of “loving thy neighbor?” I’m all for loving all around, but I fear that love will not grow until some form of justice is done. Let justice flow like a river” (that’s Amos 5), and it might float us back to a state where we can follow the law as written in Leviticus.

  9. It makes a reconciliation possible, whereas if the settlers were strictly forced off the land, it would be unlikely to be accepted by Israel, or the settlers themselves, and we’d be at square one.

    Square one is a disaster for Palestinians, and has resulted in incremental suppression, which would likely not stop, even if the Israeli government sought to.

    Setting the present as guide to residence, rather than an arbitrary past starting point, structures a path for perfection of title with compensation, probably some funded by the individuals themelves, some by the Israeli government.

    If there is a means to perfect title for the settlers, then parity on the Israeli side would be compensation to Palestinians for land taken through whatever degree of coercion, within Israel.

    I would expect any solution would include some removal of some settlers, and some adjustment of boundaries, hopefully to preserve the contiguity of Palestine.

    ANY consistent definition of law, affords a purchaser and developer of land with compromised title some rights, not none.

    If Palestine desires to establish equal due process under the law as its norm, to negate settlers’ rights would conflict with that.

    Justice is NOT the result of collective anger. That is NOT justice perse. Justice is reconciliation, compromise that enables a path. It is NOT satisfaction itself.

    Each have good basis to be angry with the other, and to seek retribution and call it “justice” if a misnomer.

    Israel and Israelis have to make significant compromises from their wishes. Palestinians will have to similarly, even if they do already.

  10. I have always been under the impression that there is a Palestinian school of thought that says, “if the settlers want to stay and be citizens of a Palestinian state, they can do so.” Richard’s ideas may be too ambitious, but they are not less ambitious than a great many schemes that have been proposed and discussed over the years…

  11. To construct a peace requires seeing beyond positions.

    Positions are what people claim they will not accept. Those don’t touch now. Noone’s demand is acceptable to the other.

    On the other hand, a peacemaker must represent needs, not positions, and construct a peace that is possible that firms structures of respect and reconciliation of conflicts, if not solves them magically currently.

    Needs are uncompromisable.

    Positions are negotiable.

  12. Granted, but why are the settlements “needs?”

    Needs for what?

    Also, I grant that “a purchaser and developer of land with compromised title” has some rights if they were granted title to that land by an authority that turns out to have never had the authority to do so. But I don’t see what’s just about granting them the title anyway, rather than simply granting them compensation when the title reverts to either its rightful owner or to whomever the political settlement points to as its just owner.

    I have no problem with settlers being told that if they want to live in Hebron, they are going to have to do so under a Palestinian political regime, not an Israeli one. I can even imagine, as you do, a settlement of the title to property being decided in the favor of Jewish claimants in cases where those claims are made by Jews who can show that they actually owned land in the area before ’48 and that they or someone to whom they are heir were forced off it (it’s not enough that it was just owned by a Jew. But how much land actually falls into that category? You can’t, for example, claim a right to a given property just because another Jew owned it 60 years ago. And then there’s all that land that falls outside even that inadequate claim to Jewish right.

    Many of the Jews who might be offered a chance to stay in the new Palestinian state, would for very good reasons that have nothing to do with collective anger would and should expect to be dispossessed.


  13. Noone should be dispossessed of their homes.

    How can you be so callous?

    It is not a trivial action. It should not have been done unnecessarily to Palestinians, and should not be done to Jews.

    I expect that some settlers will be forced to migrate, that have little or no basis of title.

    For those that have homes valued at $100,000 on land that is valued at $10,000, that would be forced from those homes, it would be MORE JUST to allow them to perfect their title to land, than to dispossess them and give some other the benefits of a forced expulsion.

    To site an exagerated example, Jews in Germany were forced to give up their property on the basis that they were not “original” inhabitants. They could still sell their homes, but nearly always at enormously reduced prices, with an opportunist at the other end.

    Lets not repeat that injustice. Lets find another way.

    Vengeance in any spirit is NOT justice.

    For Palestine, if it settles at a national exclusion basis of title, then progressives will have been instrumental in creating a fascist state.

    In contrast, Israel IS multi-cultural, and therefore in practise more democratic than the Palestine that radicals propose to support.

  14. I think I understand better something I didn’t understand very well in my earlier responses. By “perfect their title” do you mean a mechanism by which the settlers can be granted title to the land and homes they now possess, presumably through compensation to whomever the new, negotiated legal and political regime identifies as the original or rightful or just owners of that land? That would be the price of allowing the settlers to live where they’re living as citizens of the new Palestinian state, to which they would presumably pay taxes and to whose economic and political they would be contributing. I assume that the money for this transaction would come from some combination of Israeli and foreign funds, yes?

    If that’s what you mean, then I agree that it would be just. And I can see the advantages this would represent for the new state.

    But it still seems more than a little unlikely, given the religious, ideological, and economic motives that drove the various parts of the settlement enterprise. Those who stayed under these conditions would get none of the things they came for, and forced migration will be the norm (and perceived as injustice by the forced).

  15. “By “perfect their title” do you mean a mechanism by which the settlers can be granted title to the land and homes they now possess, presumably through compensation to whomever the new, negotiated legal and political regime identifies as the original or rightful or just owners of that land? That would be the price of allowing the settlers to live where they’re living as citizens of the new Palestinian state, to which they would presumably pay taxes and to whose economic and political they would be contributing. I assume that the money for this transaction would come from some combination of Israeli and foreign funds, yes?”


    I don’t know how many would stay versus leave. In some ways it is very good that Sharon is in a coma. He personally recruited many of the most zealous settlers, and made the promises that you are referring to. (That Israel will NEVER relinquish title nor sovereignty.)

    But, those promises were not contracted, and even if they were, a state has the right of eminent domain: to fairly compensate, in exchange for “forced removal” for demonstrated prevailing public purposes.

    ANY agreement will be contentious. The depth of divisions between Palestinians mirror the depth of division between Israelis.

    A decade ago Rabin was assassinated. Rabin was a hero, widely loved. Yet, his assassin was not “burned at the stake”. His political and philosophical allies were not chased out of town.

    Some of them got elected to the knesset (I don’t know names).

    Are you familiar with the period of the Kings. Saul (civil war), David (suppression of dissidence, stability), Solomon (empire), I forgot the names of those that followed, but things fell apart. Two generations later, the nation formally split. It continued for a couple hundred year periods two or three times, then conquered, exiled, returned.

    Our “best of times” didn’t last long, and the state of those times were not utopian by any stretch.

  16. There’s no doubt that any agreement will be contentious, and some more than others. A particularly stark portrait of the intricate–and I fear intractable–complexity of contentions that would need to be faced down by any agreement is painted in Avishai Margalit’s recent review of David Shulman’s *Dark Hope* in the New York Review of Books Read it at:

  17. That the prospect is so contentious is one of the reasons that so much of negotiation happens behind the scene, and that weaker politicians are usually unable to make it happen.

    The reasons to work for peace for both Israelis and Palestinians are compelling and to take EVERY opportunity to make it happen.

    The reasons to work for peace are NOT particularly compelling for militant oriented parties, that only have validity in times of contention. They will ALL turn up the heat before the event to distract.

    Its probably planned to not disclose the date until the last minute (to delay the violence and rhetoric until it is containable and useless).

  18. “Noone (sic) should be dispossessed of their homes.

    How can you be so callous?”

    But, my dear boy, isn’t the dispossession of the Palestianians of their homes the very premise of Zionism?

    Your compassion is selective, to say the least.

  19. The very premise of Zionism is survival and self-governance.

    The ethical way to do that is to live and let live.

    My compassion is in the present. What can be done NOW?

  20. Anon,

    “my dear boy, isn’t the dispossession of the Palestianians of their homes the very premise of Zionism?”

    This now ranks on my top ten list of the most inane things ever said by an anti-Israelist.

    I presume you don’t believe that the “very premise of affirmative action” in this country is to kick white Americans out of their jobs or deny them college admissions. There is much blame that can be placed on the political Zionists for their behavior, but “disposession” was not the “premise” or the “goal;” it ended up being a consequence, and one for which Palestinian leaders, other Arabs, the Ottomans and the rest of the international commmunity also bear responsibility.

  21. I concede that the “very premise of Zionism” was most inaptly phrased. “Inevitable consequence of Zionism” would have been more appropriate.

    Your wording “ended up being a consequence” is hardly better. It is disingenuous as there was nothing unforeseeable about what Zionism would entail in terms of facts on the ground.

    Further, your laundry list of others who bear responsibility for the dispossession of the Palestinians doesn’t convincingly exculpate the party that was, and continues to be, primarily responsible. It is not Palestinian leaders, other Arabs, the Ottomans and the rest of the international community who are building settlements on the West Bank. (The siege of the Gaza Strip we will leave aside for the moment.)

    The dilemma of liberal Zionists is that your belief system is an oxymoron.  And so, you are tied up in moral knots.

  22. Anon,
    Study some history. Talk to some knowledgable Palestinians. The Palestinians have been second-class members of EVERY Arab society that they have tried to integrate into.

    They are victims of the SAME logic that Jews have been. “You are not native, LEAVE.”

    Zionism is liberation compared to that assertion.

    Liberal Zionism, that actively encourages the formation of a viable Palestinian state, next to a viable Jewish state results in the liberation, the self-governance of TWO peoples.

    Compared to the previous status of the suppression of those two peoples.


  23. Zionism as Palestinian liberation theology? A novel concept indeed!

    I am out of my depth so must yield to your superior grasp of history.

  24. Liberal Zionism is that.

    Are you an advocate for “equal due process under the law”?

    Or do you favor suppression of the blamed?

  25. I get it.

    The reference to “history” is reactionary, by definition.

    In contrast, the reference to benevolent goal is truly progressive.

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