Opinion

Jewish Settlements: A Good Choice For Lasting Peace?

Alan Keyes Former Assistant Secretary of State

From Israel National News comes the following report:

J Street, which states that it is a pro-Israel organization, has circulated a sample letter among its members that it recommends be sent to their Senators. The members are asked to “strongly urge” their Senators to “reject Donald Trump’s choice to be the next US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.”

J Street states that Mr. Friedman is “hostile” to the two-state solution, which it terms the “only way to ensure Israel’s future as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.”…J street further accused Friedman of being a “friend of the settlement movement,” and even of having “made the case of Israel’s annexation of the West Bank.”  Being a “friend of the settlement movement” is apparently a crime in J Street’s book.

The “two state solution” that is still, nominally, the basis for the Middle East peace process is predicated on the notion that, as part of a negotiated settlement, Jewish Settlements in Judea and Samaria surrounded by Arab majorities, must be returned to Palestinian administration.  Many assume this means dismantlement of the settlements, with settlers forced to move within Israel’s borders. This is what transpired in the Sinai Peninsula in 1982, and in Gaza about a dozen years ago.  It would accord with Palestinian demands.  But is such suppression of Jewish settlements the best choice for lasting peace?”

Given the demographic facts, it’s hard to understand why advocates of the two-state solution are so hostile to the idea that both states should include people of Jewish and Arab extraction.  To be sure, –assuming that both states maintain democratically elected, representative governments— for some generations it will make sense to pay attention to the respective demographic balance between Arabs and Jews in each state.

But at present the respective proportions of total population those groups represent in each state poses no threat that majority rule will wrest political control of its homeland from either one.  Israel’s population is about 20% Arab.  The population of areas that a negotiated settlement could leave under PLO or Hamas administration is about 10% Jewish.  Assuming that in both states, citizens will enjoy the equal protection of the law, why should either state’s minority population live in fear?

Indeed, in the context of democratically elected representative governments, the best result might be a to have a significant minority presence in each state.  It should be large enough to assure that, with sensible management of its political participation, each minority develops mutually advantageous ties with elements of the majority population, so that the latter benefit politically, and so have a stake in assuring fair treatment for the minority.

Increasing Jewish settlements could thus be construed as a way of increasing the prospect that their political participation will be a magnet for cooperation with elements of the Arab Palestinian majority, and a safeguard against maltreatment.  This is aside from the lesson it is fair to draw from the history of the Jewish diaspora throughout the world; which is that Jewish minorities spur economic and social development everywhere they live, even when they have been treated with only a bare modicum of decency. (In this regard, the Word of the Lord again proves true, for He said to Abraham “And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 26:4)

How does this prospect fail to make a positive contribution to peace? It does so only so if we assume that a) anti-Jewish hostility is so strong and intractable among Arab Palestinians that they will never be able to refrain from attacking and persecuting their Jewish neighbors; and b) Islamic religious tenets preclude the possibility that Muslims will accord their Jewish fellow citizen equal protection of the laws.  If these assumptions are true, Arab Palestinian racism and religious fanaticism are the obstacles to peace, not Jewish settlements.

Tragically, taking this dim view of Arab Palestinians makes it hard to see how a two-state solution can come about, except by catering to Arab Palestinian racism and religious bigotry.   But wouldn’t this require what has been justly decried as ethnic cleansing?  Forcing all Jews to leave the Arab Palestinian state would be contrary to the tenets of human right and dignity both Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians profess to uphold? Don’t both accept the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?  And don’t demands that abrogate those tenets, agreed upon by almost all the world, pose an insurmountable obstacle to peace?

The opposition to settlements thus appears to embrace or countenance highly derogatory assumptions about the Arab Palestinians. It bespeaks a frame of mind unwilling to risk letting go of fears and prejudices engendered by years of war, including ruthless terrorist attacks against Israelis.   On the other hand, the positive view of settlements shows a willingness to assume that Arab Palestinians are capable of the sort of goodwill that has allowed Israel’s politics to accommodate the participation of Arab Palestinian citizens, even though Arab Palestinians comprise a larger proportion of Israel’s population than Jews comprise of the population in areas that would be, under Arab Palestinian administration.

How do proponents of the two-state solution who oppose the Jewish settlements in question, escape the obvious implication that their opposition derives from fear of, or tolerance for Arab Palestinian racism, or intransigent religious bigotry?  How do they rebut the conclusion that this fear is so great that they cannot conceive of the possibility that an Arab-Palestinian majority government will assure security and fair treatment for people of Jewish heritage?

Given the negative assumptions about Arab Palestinians that feed this fear, how dare they impute racism or ill will to people who see Jewish settlements aa token of positive goodwill, likely to enhance the prospects for developing real trust and cooperation between Jews and Arab Palestinians in the course of generations to come?

The notion that Arab Palestinians cannot be trusted to deal justly with the Jewish minority in their state, even though Palestinians have trusted Israelis to treat an Arab Palestinian minority justly, involves an invidious distinction. It implicitly invalidates the very idea of a peace process in the region, since negotiated settlements are impossible in the absence of a crucial modicum of mutual respect.

If Jews and Arab Palestinians cannot live as neighbors in the same country how, as peoples, will they develop enough trust in one another to live at peace in the same region?  For in the end, in this as in most human affairs, good will begins in the hearts and minds of individuals.  The Jews and Arabs willing to live under an administration of government mainly led by the other, could be the living seeds of such good will.  If negotiations cannot rise to the task of embracing and cultivating those seeds, how will true peace ever take root?