The Israeli settlement project in occupied Palestinian territory, which started from the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, has always been one of the most contentious aspects of the conflict.
From the beginning, these illegal settlements, including in East Jerusalem, were responsible for provoking fierce confrontations. And when the peace process started, this same Israeli policy proved the major obstacle to reaching a solution.
Many ideas have been presented in the course of trying to find a solution as to how the peace process should deal with these illegal facts on the ground. One of the more creative ones is the idea of a land-swap, which was presented first during the Camp David negotiations in 2000, where the Palestinian side accepted the principle, with the condition that swaps be equal in quality and quantity.
Another creative idea for dealing with this problem is the possibility of allowing Israeli citizens to stay inside a future Palestinian state. More than one Palestinian leader has already included such a possibility in their future scenarios and possible solutions.
However, this should also be qualified, particularly in terms of the legal status of those settlers who might choose to stay in an independent Palestinian state, as well as with regards to the land they have been living on.
Everybody who lives in the future Palestinian state obviously must abide by Palestinian laws and regulations, simply because all the territory of that state and the people living there come under the jurisdiction of that state. The land that Israeli settlers now live on, meanwhile, is land that is stolen from Palestinians, either individually or collectively.
This means that any settlers who choose to stay in a Palestinian state must understand that the land that they are illegally using now does not belong to them but to Palestinians who are likely still alive and hold the deeds.
There are different motivations for Israeli settlers living illegally in occupied Palestinian territory. Most of those motivations will disappear when these settlements are no longer under the extra-territorial jurisdiction of Israel, but some settlers might have certain attachments that could in reasonable numbers be tolerated under a fair solution that sees the creation of a Palestinian state.
Yet the continuing expansion and increase of illegal settlements, including in East Jerusalem, will only make it gradually more difficult if not impossible to find creative ideas and solutions to the settlement problem in the course of negotiations.
Indeed, the creative ideas described here are being intentionally misused by some Israeli officials to justify continuing the extremely dangerous expansion of settlements. Ideas that seem to accommodate certain aspects of settlement policy, such as land swaps or accepting settlers in a future Palestinian state, are used, or misused, to further propel settlement building under the justification that the peace process will find a way to accommodate it.
For these reasons there has recently been a growing debate among Palestinians, including moderate supporters of the peace process, that such creative proposals should be withdrawn from the negotiating table as long as no seriousness is evinced from the Israeli side that it is interested in progress in the peace process, rather than simply in abusing the peace process to facilitate the illegal expansion of settlements. - Published 21/6/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Few legitimate candidates
by Yossi Alpher
The question of settlers remaining in a Palestinian state is becoming increasingly central to the issue of a successful two-state solution. One reason is quite simply the growing number of settlers who live beyond the settlement blocs and who are not likely to accept financial compensation and leave their homes in order to facilitate an agreement.
Another is that the failure of the government of Israel to resettle the 2005 Gaza Strip evacuees expeditiously reinforces the impression that the removal of tenfold as many settlers from the West Bank may be beyond the capacity of any future government. True, the Gaza failure was caused in part by the obstinacy of the settlers themselves, but that merely reinforces the point that removing many more is a dangerous gamble for Israeli society.
Moreover, the officer ranks of IDF land forces are now so heavily manned by the sons of settlers themselves--around 30 percent and rising--that even Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has asked the government not to turn to the army to remove settlers because this would be too divisive. In the past, I advocated in these virtual pages that the removal of West Bank settlers become one of the tasks allotted to an international peacekeeping force. This would of course constitute an admission of virtual domestic political bankruptcy on Israel's part. In any case, there is no certainty that troops from Denmark or Colombia would accept that task or could carry it out.
For all these reasons, it is increasingly tempting to contemplate the option of simply informing those settlers who live on land slated to be turned over to a Palestinian state that they can either leave in return for generous compensation and state assistance in resettling--or remain behind as residents of Palestine. Presumably there would be some sort of transition period, after which if remaining settlers change their minds they could still return but would receive reduced compensation.
Let's assume for a moment that the government of the new state of Palestine does not treat its Jewish minority the way successive Israeli governments, even in recent years, have treated Israel's Arab minority: short-changing their communities on budget allocations for education and on financial and land allocations for infrastructure. Let's assume the settlers who remain behind are treated in accordance with the letter of Palestinian law and that that law is fair and progressive. What would happen to settlers who elect to remain in Palestine?
Palestinian courts would determine that settlers living on private Palestinian land that was illegally expropriated by Israel have to return it to its lawful owners. Palestinian Arabs would have the right to buy or rent homes inside the settlements. All issues involving the law would be adjudicated by the Palestinian police and legal system, whether on West Bank roads or in private settler homes. Settlers wishing to bear arms would require a Palestinian gun permit. There would no longer be an armed Jewish guard at the entrance to settlements.
Back in 1995, I convened a series of dialogues between settler leaders and Palestinian leaders where this issue was discussed. The title of the book I subsequently wrote about those talks, "And the Wolf Shall Dwell with the Wolf", says it all. Once the settlers--responsible and level-headed leaders of their community--realized the price they would have to pay for remaining in a Palestinian state, they acknowledged that their options were narrowed to either thwarting a two-state solution or leaving peaceably.
Thus under these circumstances, which are perfectly reasonable by any sovereign standard, it's safe to assume that even many of the fervently ideological settlers would ultimately opt to leave quietly. But not all: it's likely that a few thousand extremist settlers would opt to remain behind with the explicit objective of making trouble by attacking their Palestinian neighbors or forcefully resisting legitimate Palestinian security forces, thereby creating a siege situation. Their goal would be to force the IDF to intervene and clash with Palestinian or international forces in order to save Jewish lives, thereby conceivably scuttling the new two-state arrangement.
It's also reasonable to assume there would be armed Palestinians operating beyond the law and seeking to settle scores with the remaining settlers. This could produce the same chaotic and politically disastrous outcome.
Perhaps not everywhere. While there are, to the best of my knowledge, no Israelis who willingly seek to live permanently in Arab countries, the circumstances of the West Bank with its historic and religious significance to Judaism could conceivably open up a different reality for a limited number of Israelis. For one, there may be dedicated settlers who are confident that the land they live on would remain theirs under Palestinian law. Some fervently religious Jews might wish to remain near the Machpela Cave in Hebron no matter what the price. Then too, a few non-Zionist ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers with no ideological attachment to Israel might be prepared to accept the Palestinian conditions.
Were this to happen, it would help create a positive balance between the new Palestinian state and Israel with its own Palestinian Arab population. Perhaps everyone would then be treated better.- Published 21/6/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
by Akram Baker
The question of Israel's illegal settlements in occupied Palestine is one of the core issues of the conflict. In blatant violation of international law, the continuing expansion of new and existing settlements by consecutive Israeli governments has caused a major rift between Israel and the Obama administration. And while the entire world (with the notable exception of Israel) is in agreement that the settlements must to a large extent be dismantled in any peace agreement, the question of what to do with the settlers themselves is even thornier.
The more than half a million Israeli Jews currently living in land occupied by Israel during the 1967 war range from hard-line ideologues to economic opportunists. What binds them is the fact that all were actively encouraged by Israeli government policies of financial incentives and extensive protection by the Israeli army to move into the settlements. During the so-called "peace years" between 1996 and 2000, settlement activity accelerated at an unprecedented pace under both Labor and Likud governments, bringing into question the sincerity of Israel's intentions about peacemaking from the very start. So the question is not only what should be done, but also what can viably be done in order to resolve this issue.
Let me state from the outset that I am of the firmest belief that each and every settler living in the occupied Palestinian territory has no legal justification to be there. Their presence there has nothing to do with the security of the State of Israel and everything to do with the perpetuation of the occupation of Palestine, rendering any potential "agreement" next to useless before the ink dries on the paper. These are neither benign "neighborhoods" nor communities. They are very potent weapons in the arsenal of subjugation and occupation. But they are, as Israel very well knows, facts on the ground. And they cannot be ignored. So should they be allowed to stay?
Some, like Hillel Halkin writing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, have disingenuously proposed that the settlers be allowed to remain in Palestine as Israeli citizens under Palestinian rule. He compares them to Palestinians living inside of Israel. This analogy willfully ignores the fact that Palestinians in Israel are living on the land where they have resided for centuries and millennia. They are not, and have never been transplants. They did not steal any property, unlike those living in Maaleh Adumim or Kiryat Arba.
Others believe that each and every settler must be permanently removed from a nascent Palestinian state. This is simply far-fetched and would be nearly impossible to carry out without a horrible toll in treasure and blood. For even though the settlers were actively planted, lured or "seduced" into taking up residence in the occupied territories, they have become a sort of Frankenstein, a monster of their own state's creation, and have become accustomed to being treated with kid gloves when it comes to applying any sort of law that doesn't suit them. No matter how much most Palestinians want them to go away, it is quite obvious that they will not go gently into that good night.
Therefore, we come to the third option, which I feel holds some merit. As part of a comprehensive agreement between Israel and Palestine, all people currently residing within the borders of the Palestinian state will be given the option of becoming Palestinian citizens. This means that the original owners of the land where the settlements stand would be compensated at the going property rates for the land that was taken from them (those Palestinians who sold their land would of course not be compensated in any way).
Palestinian citizens would have the same rights and responsibilities regardless of race or religion. Those who choose to leave the newly independent Palestine and have legitimate claims to property within its boundaries shall be duly and fairly compensated for their loss. Quid pro quo, Palestinians from pre-1948 Palestine who have legitimate property claims shall also receive equitable treatment and compensation. There would be a time limit on such litigation (possibly 10 years post-independence) with the possibility of resolving the issue through a form of class action suits. An independent arbitration commission with Palestinian, Israeli and international jurists would resolve all cases. The findings of such a commission would be final.
At the same time, the settlements would immediately become true "communities", open to all citizens of the state. How many Israelis would take up this offer, I honestly don't know. What I do know is that in order to build lasting and deep-rooted peace you cannot commit injustice. By giving everyone the opportunity to become equal and responsible citizens, and allowing those Israelis who always claim to love the land more than the state to live out their dreams, by being inclusive rather than exclusive, you have the chance to defang one the most difficult issues (among many) and set a solid foundation for a just, robust, free and democratic Palestine.- Published 21/6/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Akram Baker is an independent political analyst.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Between principle and peril
by Amiel Ungar
It is perhaps somberly appropriate to address this issue one week after a state investigation committee made its final report on the failed resettlement of the Jewish expellees from the Gaza Strip. Five years from the announcement by Ariel Sharon's agitprop that there was a solution for every settler, most of the expellees are still in limbo.
If this was the best the government could do for the 9,000 former residents of Gaza and Northern Samaria, it is hard to expect a superior performance if such a tragedy is revisited on a population that is twentyfold larger. Once the Israeli peace camp could expect international largesse to resettle the expellees, but the current global financial crisis and the prevailing winds of austerity dash such optimism. The fear of serious resistance to expulsion orders also accounts for the renewed interest in a solution that leaves many Jewish communities within a Palestinian state. It will require the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria to make a Hobbesian choice between principle and peril.
The principled and patriotic decision would be for the communities to remain in place. Jewish "sumud" (steadfastness) will demonstrate to the Arabs that Jews are not latter day Crusaders--an alien entity--but are motivated by their religious and historical link to the land of their forefathers. The sages in the Talmud, perhaps observing a similar predicament in their era, opined that it is preferable for a Jew to live in the land of Israel even in a city with a non-Jewish majority than to live outside it in an ancient version of Borough Park in Brooklyn.
It is also a matter of simple reciprocity. If an Israeli state can be expected to host an Arab minority approaching 20 percent, then a neighboring Palestinian state can be expected to do the same for Jewish communities rather than emptying its territory of Jews.
Unfortunately, the issue of principle clashes seriously with the perilous reality on the ground. There are no prospects whatsoever that would allow a Jewish minority in a Palestinian state to survive and prosper. Jews electing to remain will consign themselves to suffering and probably martyrdom. And martyrdom in Judaism is a last resort, not the preferred option.
The benign treatment accorded British nationals in the Republic of Ireland once that country had attained its independence will not be revisited in a future Palestine. Observe the fate of Jewish communities throughout the Arab world, where even the minuscule remnants of the Yemenite Jewish community face persecution and mortal danger. One can also extrapolate from the dwindling Arab Christian communities: persecution by the Muslim majority has made emigration the preferred option; Bethlehem, once a symbol of Arab Christianity, is effectively a Muslim town. If this is the treatment accorded people who share a similar culture and speak the same language, can Jews expect greater benevolence?
A newly independent Palestine can be expected to honor Jewish minority rights at best on the level that newly independent Poland adhered to the provisions of the League of Nations minority treaty--i.e., it will ignore them totally. The Kingdom of Jordan imposes a death penalty on anybody convicted of selling land to Jews. In Israel, by contrast, when the chief Rabbi of Safad exhorted Jews not to sell houses to Arabs, the Israeli legal system came down upon him like a ton of bricks.
One may not even have to resort to pogroms. Dominating the remaining Jewish communities will be mega-mosques with mammoth loudspeakers that will regale the Jews 24/7 with decibel-splitting calls to prayer. Perhaps the new neighbors will be toxic and noxious factories. If the Jews fail to get the message, we will move on to boycotts, violence against property escalating to violence against individuals, followed by abduction, detention and murder. For form's sake, a Palestinian leader may even issue an intermittent denunciation (preferably in English), but the perpetrators will receive an encouraging wink and a reward. The international community will not lift a finger for fear of endangering the "peace process". The voices of progressivism will intone that the settlers brought it on themselves.
Perhaps a Palestinian state may tolerate a supine Jewish minority that will dutifully appear at anti-Zionist demonstrations. The Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria however will not abjure their Zionist beliefs to make this scenario a reality, while the Arabs will not countenance the presence of a Jewish Ahmed Tibi assertive of Jewish minority rights.
This inevitable scenario could be deterred if the Palestinian state feared a crushing military reaction from Israel or violent retribution from the Jewish populace in Israel that would transpose the situation into the Greco-Turkish case of the 1920s or India and Pakistan in 1947, namely a mutual expulsion of minorities. But this eventuality would be thwarted by Israel's human rights cartel and legal establishment, while military conquest will only bring us back to square one in the conflict and perhaps exacerbate it further.- Published 21/6/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Dr. Amiel Ungar is a foreign policy columnist and commentator for Makor Rishon newspaper and a contributing editor to the Jerusalem Report.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.