Last week, Colorado College was lucky enough to host a talk by Peter Beinart, author of “The Crisis of Zionism.” During the talk, Professor Beinart argued against Israeli settlement policy. If one takes a hard look at the settlements in the West Bank, it’s not hard to see why he’s opposed.
The West Bank was seized by Israel from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War, which represents one of the most decisive victories in military history. Since, the territory has been designated as an Israeli-occupied territory, meaning Israel has not formally annexed it, but it remains under Israeli control. Ever since 1967, Israel has pursued a policy of constructing settlements in the West Bank.
Some Israeli settlers are religiously motivated, believing that God gave the land to them for settlement. In ancient times, the West Bank was the heart of the Kingdom of Israel, so it holds great religious significance. However, many other settlers have moved to the West Bank for economic reasons. The Israeli government provides huge incentives to relocate to the West Bank in the form of tax breaks and direct subsidies. Additional money is provided by tax-exempt American religious organizations.
Israeli settlements cause huge problems for the Palestinians. According to B’Tselem, an Israeli NGO, actual Israeli structures cover only one percent of the land in the West Bank, but the settlements hold jurisdiction over 42 percent of the land. In these areas, Palestinians are subjected to de facto segregation. While Israeli citizens are usually tried in civil courts, Palestinians are tried in military courts where they enjoy fewer rights and face prosecution at a lower burden of proof. In fact, an internal Israeli Defense Force (IDF) document reveals that these courts have a 99.74 percent conviction rate for Palestinians. That’s 25 acquittals out of the 9,524 cases in 2010.
Furthermore, the IDF has set up security checkpoints throughout the West Bank. Israeli citizens can move through these checkpoints freely, but Palestinians require a special permit. This puts a huge restriction on their freedom of movement. Soldiers at checkpoints often abuse and humiliate Palestinians, and there have been numerous cases of pregnant women in labor being stopped. The IDF’s Judge Advocate General admitted that there were a large number of complaints about the behavior of soldiers manning the checkpoint and that such reports “lit a red light” for him.
The settlements also infringe on Palestinian property rights. From 2001 to 2007, 1,663 Palestinian structures were demolished in order to make room for settlements. Some of the structures demolished are key infrastructure sites, including solar panels that provide electricity for several Palestinian villages.
Israel itself is not immune to the political and economic problems that come with settling the West Bank. All of the issues mentioned above cause anger and resentment among Palestinians, fuelling the hate that terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas thrive on. The more anger the settlements cause, the easier it is for terrorists to recruit people, obtain funding, score propaganda victories, and gain popular support. In short, the settlements cause blowback against Israel, hurting its security.
Yet, the Israeli government justifies its settlement policy by saying it’s necessary for national security. The settlements are intended as a buffer in the event of an Arab invasion. However, Professor Beinart argues that defending the settlements would be a “security nightmare” for the IDF. If an invasion did occur, IDF would be stretched thin in attempt to defend the settlements. This is because the scattered nature of the settlements would prevent the Israelis from concentrating their forces into a solid defense. The larger the territory one must defend, the harder it is to hold the line. Furthermore, the fact that the settlements are isolated and surrounded by a hostile population makes them vulnerable to being cut off and encircled in the event of an Arab attack.
Worst of all, the settlements are a major obstacle to peace. An EU report called the settlements “the biggest single threat to the two-state solution.” The two-state solution is the most realistic and most widely accepted solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by far, but the presence of half a million Israelis and IDF forces in the area of any proposed Palestinian state presents a major obstacle to any agreement. No Palestinian negotiator would accept the continued presence of Israeli settlements as part of a deal.
Some argue that evacuating the settlements would be too difficult. However, the Gaza Strip was evacuated in a single day, in spite of lots of talk from the settlers about not leaving. Thus, evicting settlers should not be a major problem.
It is not anti-Israel to criticize Israel’s settlement policy in the same way that it is not anti-American to criticize the Iraq War or the War on Drugs. This is especially true since the settlements hurt Israel as much as anyone. Policies are not the same thing as countries and no country is infallible. Finally, imagine if Mexico or Canada occupied parts of the United States; we would be angry, to say the least. Why should the Israelis do the same thing in the West Bank?
William Kim, Staff Writer