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It's taken me all these years to finally realize that the settlers were right.

It came to me while checking the news schedule for this coming week. On Sunday, the IDF Chief of Staff is to award Medals of Valor and decorations, some of them posthumously, for courage in combat during the Second Lebanon War. At the same time, a pro-settler group called the Headquarters for the Salvation of the Nation and the Land plans to hold a parallel ceremony, handing out alternative medals of bravery - and cash prizes donated by U.S. Jews - to Israeli soldiers who refused orders to take part in the eviction of two families squatting in the Hebron souk.

At last, it all fell into logical place - the hardships, stumbling blocks and failures of the peace process, the dismal consequences of the disengagement from Gaza, the commandment to settle all of the Land of Israel and the rabbinical prohibitions against giving back one grain of soil.

The answer is simple. The settlers are right. They should stay right where they are. No matter what. Even if there is an eventual peace. Even if the land they live on is part of a Palestinian state.

For decades, the leaders of the settlement movement have told us that they will not leave their homes for the sake of a decision of the sovereign government of the state of Israel. They vow to make any future substantial evacuation of settlers from the West Bank so gut-wrenchingly difficult as to be functionally impossible.

It is time we took the settlers at their word. They are not out there holding out for monetary compensation. They are out there in the primacy of their faith that a Jewish presence on the land of the Old Testament is a commandment and a sacrament. The settlement movement is firm in its view that no elected government of Israel has the right to uproot the Jewish residents of Judea, Samaria, and the neighborhoods of Jerusalem captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

It is true that the vast majority of settlers reject the idea of soldiers refusing military orders. But it is also true that over the Green Line, Israeli defiance of Israeli law is by no means limited to a radical settler fringe. From its inception, the governing operational principle of the settlement movement has been to take action which is either questionably legal or clearly illegal, and then to force, finesse, or sleaze the way to retroactive ratification.

The ingenuous mantra of the settler movement "We're here because the government of Israel sent us here," is thus doubly dishonest. These people were not expelled to the West Bank, evacuated to the West Bank, ordered to the West Bank, banished to the West Bank.

Every Jewish Israeli living beyond the Green Line is a settler by choice. Many of them went there in defiance of the government. Many went to make it impossible for the government to change the status of the land under a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Every single one of them went there knowing that there was a chance that they'd be uprooted one day under a government decision.

They went there by choice. Not the government's choice. Their choice. Does anyone seriously think that if the government decided against their being there, they would just go ahead and move because the government sent them back?

In fact, after several generations of Israelis have been born on the West Bank, it could be said that Israel has no right at this point to order them back.

Let us, then, take the settlers at their word. If settling the land captured in 1967 is of paramount importance to the Jewish people, settling the land should also take precedence over making sure that land belongs to the Jewish state.

And while we're at it, let us take the Palestinians at theirs. If they are so concerned about the evils of apartheid, then they must accept the idea of Jews living in their midst.

On the scale of racist evils, surely a government - like Saudi Arabia for example, or a potential Palestine - which forbids religious or ethnic or national groups from entering or living within its borders, has much to answer for.

Under a future peace agreement, it is reasonable to expect that settlers from across the West Bank will be invited to resettle in Green Line settlement blocs to be annexed to Israel in a territorial exchange with the Palestinians.

But who could blame settlers in outlying enclaves for refusing to budge, given the government's abysmal track record in resettling less than 10,000 uprooted families since the 2005 disengagement?

Let them stay. Let them stay right where they are. Let them have the courage of their beliefs. It's a test. For the settlers and, especially, for the Palestinians.

And if the Palestinians counter that Israel must allow an equal number of Palestinian refugees into Israel proper, say 200,000 of them, so be it.

We made this mess in the West Bank. We'll have to be creative about how we set it right.

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Recent blogs:

We're not man enough to make peaceLet Arabs tell the truth Hamas the cripple, Gaza the doomed The Right of Return of the Jewish People

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