An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement--that inevitably would mandate the removal of settlements--is not likely in the near future, if only because all mutual trust has been destroyed and both sides believe they have no peace partner. Meanwhile the settlements and outposts (which are essentially nascent settlements) continue to spread, thereby interlocking the Israeli and Palestinian populations to an ever-greater degree and reducing yet further the likelihood of a negotiated settlement.
At the same time, a growing proportion of the Israeli population supports some form of unilateral redeployment, both for security reasons and due to concern that settlement spread is already beginning to compromise Israel's democratic and Jewish nature from both a demographic and a geographic standpoint. Hence if settlements are dismantled in the foreseeable political future, this is more likely to be a limited unilateral act--say, in the Gaza Strip or the mountain heartland of the West Bank--than a function of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
The maximum number of settlers whose removal is envisioned according to the terms of a political agreement, such as the one nearly reached at Camp David II-Taba in 2000/2001, is around 70,000. Under an initial unilateral withdrawal, we are probably talking about a considerably lower number; the total settler population of the Gaza Strip, for example, is around 6,000.
Assuming that an elected government of Israel commands the parliamentary majority, and has the political will, to carry out a partial withdrawal (or for that matter, to dismantle settlements within the framework of an agreement), it will encounter a number of very serious challenges. Even a handful of settlers now appear to constitute a problem. One explanation for the difficulty experienced recently in removing sparsely populated outposts is the settler establishment's capacity to mobilize large numbers of reinforcements to man a position and oppose evacuation, then quickly rebuild the outpost, with all the media coverage involved. This problem will be multiplied a hundredfold with regard to larger settlements, unless two solutions are invoked: turning over to Palestinian rule each settlement as it is evacuated; and taking advantage of the security fence--in this instance not to keep Palestinians out of Israel, but to prevent supporters of the settlement movement from arriving. This is one reason why it will be easier to evacuate Gaza first; the fence is already there.
One alternative to turning settlements over to the Palestinians intact is to remove the settlers unilaterally but leave the army there, pending Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over the fate of the settlements within a broader political framework. While this approach ostensibly enhances Israel's negotiating position and reduces damage to its deterrent image as a result of unilateral moves, it also reduces the level of finality involved in the removal of the setters: if the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is still there, there will be political pressure to allow the settlers to return.
Nor is it necessarily a foregone conclusion that the physical plant of the evacuated settlements will be left intact for Palestinian usage. The famous precedent of Ariel Sharon's destruction of the town of Yamit in Sinai, in the course of Israel's evacuation more than 20 years ago within the framework of its peace agreement with Egypt, is usually cited in a negative light. In fact, by destroying Yamit, Israel added a degree of finality to its evacuation that almost certainly reduced dangerous irredentist and revisionist pressures from within Israeli society. Fifteen years later, it was still possible to read poems of longing for Yamit in the settlers' monthly, Nekuda, but at least former settlers were not able to stand on a hilltop with their children and point and say "You see, there, that's our real home; one day we'll go back there"--an emotional response very familiar to Israelis from Palestinian refugee attitudes.
But by the same token, in the Palestinian case, the refugee factor dictates that Israel take advantage of every possible opportunity to institute a norm of "return" to the new state and not to Israel, while creating a reality that could considerably reduce the compensation sums it pays to Palestinian refugees or to the state of Palestine on their behalf. The settlements in question and their infrastructure undoubtedly represent an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. Hence if Israel chooses to leave them intact, it should do so only in accordance with an agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization, or alternatively an arrangement with the international community, whereby the value of the settlements is calculated and recognized as a factor in eventual final status compensation payments.
But the most difficult and most obvious challenge is the actual physical removal of settlers, some of whom will invoke passive and even violent resistance. Settlers opposing evacuation will have high religious/ideological motivation, and will seek to influence portions of the governing coalition as well as the security establishment, where in recent years they have established an increasingly prominent presence.
Settler opposition--political and physical--is the single greatest obstacle any government will have to overcome; every additional day of settlement expansion renders this challenge more daunting.
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
It must be said at the outset that the establishment of the settlements and their expansion were the means through which the Israeli occupation was born and since maintained. Hence, the removal of the settlements is about undoing the occupation and making amends, and cannot be detached from this context.
There are three important points that stem from this starting point. The first is the recognition that, as long as the expansion of the settlements continues, there will be no solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The answer lies in ending the Israeli occupation (and therefore land confiscation, settlement construction, and now the wall), because the occupation is the source of all violence between the two sides.
Second, this linkage between Israel's occupation and settlement policy extends beyond the obvious land grab. The settlements have a very significant impact on Palestinian life in that they interrupt the contiguity of the Palestinian territories, reduce Palestinian economic viability and control Palestinian water resources.
Finally, in physical geography, the settlements sit on wide swathes of land. Much of the land they are located on was confiscated in a manner contravening international law, and therefore, in the course of correcting this injustice, the land should be returned to its rightful owners. Most of the original Palestinian landowners are still living and have the deeds showing ownership in their hands. In other cases, the land can be made "public land," and put in the care of the Palestinian government.
Because of the concentration and size of the settlements, any thought of solving the settlement problem must begin with stopping their construction, infrastructure development and government incentives offered to attract homebuyers, and the reverse put into play. Making the settlements less financially attractive to live in will take care of a great deal of the current problem. Second, the Israeli government must make clear to its public that the Palestinian territories will be in one way or another under the control of a Palestinian state, and that Palestinian legal jurisdiction will apply to the settlements. After that, the actual removal of the settlements may be undertaken in a gradual manner through long-term arrangements and the like. The important point to be made here is that Israeli settlers now living in the occupied territories may stay in the Palestinian state, perhaps for economic or religious reasons, provided that they abide by the laws of that state. There will be no more expropriation of land not legally their own, and no further infringing on the rights of Palestinians.
The concept of a land swap that was accepted by the Palestinian leadership in the Camp David negotiations, and later approved by the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization, might also be used to attach some settlements along the 1967 borders to Israel, provided that we are talking about a very small stretch of land adjacent to the green line, to be exchanged for land of equal quality and quantity on the western side of the 1967 borders. There should be no confusion that Palestinians perceive East Jerusalem or its old city any differently from the rest of the occupied West Bank. While Israel has tried to separate the city, international law is clear--the insertion of new populations in occupied land is a violation and applies equally to Nablus, Gaza or East Jerusalem.
Just as the expanding settlement project has been responsible for continuing the conflict and consolidating the occupation and thereby fuelling instability and violence, reversing the settlement process is the cornerstone to building a peace based on trust, confidence and mutual recognition between Palestinians and Israelis.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
If, and when, the boundaries of the Palestinian state are demarcated and implemented on the ground as part of a final phase agreement, the time will come for the issue of Israeli settlement removal to be dealt with at a practical level. The options for settlement evacuation are varied but must include some, or all, of the following factors.
There must be a sufficient time lead between settling the details of the final agreement and the eventual evacuation of those settlers who are prepared to go peacefully, to enable them to arrange their own affairs. The government of Israel must plan for alternative residential solutions inside Israel, through the construction of new settlements or new neighborhoods in existing towns, to absorb the evacuees in permanent housing conditions.
A public agency should be established to deal with the wide range of relocation problems, such as housing, education and employment for those settlers who work in the West Bank and Gaza public and municipal networks. By the same token, consultancy and psychological services must be provided for those settlers who are traumatically affected by their forced evacuation, especially those who perceive the evacuation as shattering their political and religious dreams.
Adequate financial compensation should be provided for settler families to help them get a new life in order. Unlike the Sinai experience, this should be worked out in advance and should not be subject to a long period of negotiation between settler leaders and government officials, which only serves to cheapen the process in the public eye and make the settlers out as a group of economic opportunists. No settlements should be destroyed or razed to the ground as happened in Sinai, especially in the Yamit region. The settlements can either be sold, or handed over, to the Palestinian state/Authority and can serve as potential housing solutions for some of the refugee population. Settlements which remain in situ as a result of boundary redrawing should be encouraged to adopt settlements which have to be evacuated--perhaps even to absorb some of the evacuated settlers into their own communities. In this way, the settler population would feel a limited sense of common fate with people who originally moved to the West Bank for the same reasons and, but for the quirk of the cartographer's pen, would have shared the same fate.
As far as possible, settler leaders and activists should be involved, either publicly or privately, in the detailed stages of planned evacuation, especially in cases where relocation may take place to new settlements that will be constructed for them inside Israel. While many of the settler leaders will refuse to undertake what they see as an act of “collaboration,” it is reasonable to assume that once the reality sinks in, some will be prepared to become involved (even with the secret blessing of the political leaders) so as to ensure the least possible disruption.
As much settlement relocation as possible should occur during the summer months when children are on vacation, so that they can be in place for the start of the new school year, and in order that no school be disrupted by a sudden closure or a gradual loss of students over an extended time period.
As a means of gaining gradual acceptance amongst the settlers that they will have to eventually relocate, a number of messages need to be disseminated. The settlers need to be told:
that the longer term benefit of peace, or at least an end to violence and conflict, is a greater benefit to Israel as a whole than the continuation of settlements;
that the Israeli population--left and right wing alike--understands the political sacrifice that will be made by the settlers and will be prepared to assist them in the painful relocation process;
that in today’s political and military climate, settlements are perceived as being a security burden rather than an asset and that their own lives (and those of their children) are threatened by remaining in these dangerous locations;
that many new challenges face the State of Israel in a post-conflict era, in the fields of education, welfare and health policies, in developing the country’s peripheral regions, and that the settler population is ideally suited, due to its ideological fervor and commitment to the state, to meet many of these new challenges;
and that physical or violent opposition to evacuation will only serve to worsen the settlers' image amongst the wider Israeli population who will see them as peace spoilers and social outcasts. Holding out for their ideological cause could potentially do them long term harm in their ability to eventually reintegrate back into Israel.
Nothing should be done to drive a wedge between different sectors of the settler population. While this may work with those settlers who are prepared to receive their compensation and relocate at an early pre-agreement stage, this will only make the other settlers more determined in their opposition to any such moves. At the same time, the agreement of some to relocate may have a snowball effect, gradually drawing in wider and wider circles of people who were previously not prepared to leave their homes.
Public awareness of the options available should be put into operation as soon as possible. The greater the familiarity with the practical mechanics of settlement evacuation, the greater the chance that it can actually take place in a relatively calm and orderly atmosphere. This would be to the long term benefit of both the peace process and Israeli society.
David Newman is professor of political geography in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University, and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.
Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, water and borders are all interrelated core conflict issues that have been postponed till final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Despite the current regression in the peace process, the two sides will--sooner or later--come to an agreement that will embrace the two state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of those two states. In principle, the borders of the Palestinian state will be the pre-1967 borders with minor mutual and reciprocal border changes to allow for for geographic integrity of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as consolidating some settlements to Israel. Consequently, a final agreement between Israelis and Palestinians will address the fate of the Israeli settlements in the state of Palestine.
It is assumed that the two sides will negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement for the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Palestine according to an agreed-upon timetable. Israel may decide to dismantle and demolish the settlements and their infrastructure before its withdrawal, but this would be an unwise and costly decision. A more realistic approach would be to transfer the settlements and their infrastructure to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in a phased and organized manner.
Can Israel deal with the demographic pressure resulting from settlement evacuation? During the early nineties, Israel was receiving immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the scope of more than 300,000 per year. The current Israeli budget for settlements in the Palestinian areas comes close to $4 billion, which will be enough to absorb the settlers within Israel's borders. In addition, the current security expenditures for the settlers will no longer be necessary.
What to do with the evacuated settlements? At present, two separate and distinctly varying infrastructures exist in the Palestinian areas: one for the settlers and the other for Palestinians. Nevertheless, Palestinians should benefit from the existing settlement infrastructure and try to integrate it within the Palestinian physical planning process. This is a challenging task since the current planning process has worked to segregate Palestinian communities from settlements. The PNA will utilize the settlements to alleviate some of the housing problems for the current residents and to absorb the large number of Palestinian returnees who will come back with the creation of the state of Palestine. The Palestinian public should be prepared psychologically by the leadership to accept the idea of living in the "occupier's home," which may be a problem for a large number of Palestinians.
The functions of each settlement, including its type (agricultural, industrial, urban or other), shall be preserved without significant alterations for the benefit of the emerging Palestinian state and Palestinian society. Issues such as urban form, fabric, settlement pattern, housing and architectural elements will all be considered in order to harmonize those settlements with Palestinian cities and villages. Additional architectural elements and new urban structures will be added to the settlements, as well as to the Palestinian built-up areas, in order to reduce the existing disparities. The physical infrastructure of Israeli settlements, such as the roads and transportation networks, sewage and drainage systems that are currently connected by the Israeli physical infrastructure, will have to be integrated and harmonized and linked to the Palestinian infrastructure system.
Within the final status negotiations, stipulations will be made for conducting a comprehensive inventory of houses, infrastructure, industrial and agricultural facilities, as well as public utilities in the settlements. A third party may need to assist in this process. In assessing these items, consideration needs to be given to those who paid these costs, since a good portion of the budget of Israel's so-called "civil administration" has been diverted to settlements from Palestinian taxpayers. Palestinians may not be willing to accept certain industrial plants in the settlements, in which case, Israel will have to move them at its own expense. Once an agreement is reached on the assessment of all facilities, their official transfer to Palestinian authority will preferably take place through a third party. The handover will require the creation of a Palestinian ministry for absorption to receive the settlements and their infrastructure, as well as prepare a plan for their resettlement and operation.
One of the major tasks of this new ministry will be to allocate housing and work with the original landowners whose land was confiscated for the construction of the settlements. In principle, landowners should be given priority (under well-defined guidelines) for reacquiring their confiscated lands, as well as living in the evacuated houses, or compensated fully if they choose not to. For the rest of the settlements, well-defined criteria for occupying the evacuated settlements will have to be developed.
Jad Isaac is director of the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ).
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