After recognizing "Jewish population concentrations" in the territories, President George W. Bush brought down from the attic the old American position under which the settlements are an obstacle to peace. Bush was not entirely accurate. The settlements are not an obstacle to peace. What would happen if the Palestinians were to announce tomorrow morning that they welcome the settlers and are relinquishing their demand for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem? What would we do if Hamas were to lay down its arms and unilaterally declare a hudna (temporary truce) for 50 years? What would we say if the Palestinians were to demand that Israel annex the territories, including Kiryat Arba and Hebron, Nablus and Itamar? In that case, the settlements would not be an obstacle to peace. They would be the epilogue to the Zionist story.
For too many years many people in Israel, including fine people on the left, saw in the settlement movement a new, national-religious version of the secular Zionist movement. The time has come to examine this myth in light of the current reality between the sea and the Jordan River, at the end of 40 years of settlement. In the state's 60th year, it is no longer possible to hold onto the argument that in 1948, too, we stole Arab lands. That chapter of the Zionist struggle ended on May 15, 1948. The Declaration of Independence laid the moral foundations for the state of the Jews - the realization of the Zionist vision.
The constitutive Zionist document guarantees that this state will provide "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants." This declaration means that if the territories are annexed, Israel is obligated to grant the rights of citizenship to Palestinians as well, including the right to vote and to be voted into the Knesset. Within the Green Line, the pre-1967 borders, Jews constitute a solid majority (79 percent). According to demographic forecasts, the separation of Israel and the territories would guarantee that in 2020, too, the Jews will retain their relative advantage. But annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem - whether officially or de facto - makes the territory between the sea and the Jordan River a binational state even now (54 percent Jews, 46 percent non-Jews).
The Zionist leadership declared that the State of Israel "will be based on freedom, justice and peace." The settlement in the heart of the territories has for 40 years denied freedom to millions of people, including the freedom of movement. What connection is there between the expropriation of "state lands" or the takeover of private lands, on the one hand, and the creation of justice and peace, on the other? How does the enormous growth in the number of settlers since the signing of the Oslo Accords (from 100,000 in 1993 to 270,000 today) square with the 60-year-old declaration, "We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness."?
Were it not for its fear of the settlers, Israel would not be ignoring the extended hand of the Arab League, which offers peace and good neighborliness within the June 4, 1967, borders. And what is the contribution of the settlements to Israel's international standing, in keeping with the declaration, "We appeal to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the comity of nations"? The settlements and the course of the separation fence, which was tailored to suit their needs, have drawn the largest number of UN condemnations and international protests against Israel.
The most important Zionist-political document also announced that the new state "will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants." The development of the land of the settlers for the benefit of a minority, who do not even amount to 5 percent of the state's inhabitants, was carried out at the expense of other areas of the country, including the underprivileged towns, and the Negev and Galilee in general. The salaries of the employees of the local and regional authorities in the Judea and Samaria District (the West Bank) always arrive on time. And we have not even mentioned the enormous sums spent by the Israel Defense Forces in protecting the settlements and their access routes.
America discovered a generation ago that the settlements are an obstacle to peace. That has not kept Israel from expanding these obstacles even today. For years Ehud Olmert poured fire and brimstone on those who warned that the way of the settlements, of which he was a follower, would lead to a binational state. He dismissed those who warned, more than 50 years before he himself said it to Haaretz, that if a two-state solution is not reached soon, "the State of Israel is finished." Apart from talking, what is Olmert doing to remove the obstacle from the path of Zionism?
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