Settlers being evacuated from Gush Katif during disengagement
Police evacuating settlers from Gush Katif during the 2005 disengagement. Photo by Uriel Sinai
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Every rocket launched from the Gaza Strip toward Sderot and Ashdod serves as "further proof" that the evacuation of the Gush Katif settlement bloc was a bad bargain. And once again we are being warned that "this is what will happen to Kfar Sava and Netanya if we withdraw from Judea and Samaria." And once again the settlers are able to pull the wool over people's eyes, turning themselves from a security burden into a strategic asset.

One can make the claim that, were the Israel Defense Forces still deployed in the Strip, they'd make it difficult for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to smuggle war materiel in and fire rockets at Israel. But what security benefits would the residents along the Gaza border actually acrue if we continued to sustain the tinderboxes in Gush Katif?

For many long years, Israeli soldiers were killed defending the lives of 8,000 Jews who chose to settle in the heart of a population of 1.5 million Palestinians. On their behalf, Israel expropriated one-third of the land of the most densely populated area in the world. The 2005 disengagement from Gaza was intended to put an end to the outrageous waste of human lives and resources, and to lift from Israel's shoulders the international pressure to begin serious negotiations on a final-status solution. As could have been expected, the withdrawal from Gaza did not help solve the disagreements over the West Bank and Jerusalem, or the problem of the refugees. International pressure to open negotiations on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders, and to freeze the settlements, is only growing stronger.

No country in the world can relate seriously to the claim that the Gush Katif disengagement proves that the settlements in "Judea and Samaria" are not an obstacle to peace. The presence of settlers in the West Bank worsens Israel's relationship with the Palestinians and disrupts the capabilities of the Palestinian Authority's security mechanisms. The IDF, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police are required to allocate large forces to protect the settlers from their Palestinian neighbors, who consider them robbers, and to protect the Palestinians from the settlers, who relate to them as foreign elements.

The lesson to be learned from the Gaza disengagement is that the time has come to start evacuating the West Bank settlements. Contrary to the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, the withdrawal from the West Bank should be carried out as an agreed-on down payment with the PA, in the framework of renewing the final-status talks. Such a move would increase Israel's military and diplomatic maneuvering room to counter the firing of missiles from Gaza, while decreasing the popular support among Palestinians for Hamas.

Contrary to what happened in Gush Katif, there would not be a need to evacuate every settler and every settlement from "Judea and Samaria." According to the Geneva Initiative map - which proposes an exchange of territory to the tune of 2.5 percent of the West Bank - 95 percent of the 100,000 ultra-Orthodox settlers and 80 percent of the 100,000 settlers in non-religious settlements would be annexed to Israel. Most of the evacuees would not require employment services, as 75 percent of them reside in the territories but go to work every day in Israel.

The settlers must come home not only because of the security and diplomatic damage these colonialist polices are causing Israel; Israeli society, particularly in the periphery, is also paying a high economic price for the passion for real estate in the West Bank. For example, the number of construction projects started in Israel in 2009 was 34,280 overall (according to the Central Bureau of Statistics ), of which 4,174 were public buildings (about 12 percent ). The rate of public building in the south of the country stood at 16.6 percent. That same year, however, the rate of public building in "Judea and Samaria" stood at 33.7 percent - and this was more or less the ratio seen in the two preceding years as well.

Responding to the WikiLeaks documents published in Haaretz this weekend, the chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements, Danny Dayan, said that even if the settlers are offered "sky-high bribes, the number of those who will be tempted to accept this will be negligible and not significant from the settlement point of view." If Dayan is so sure that his flock wishes to remain on its land, why does he hold these people hostage? Why does the Yesha chairman fear the evacuation-compensation law, which already offers those settlers on isolated settlements who wish to do so to return to the sovereign territory of Israel and enjoy fair rehabilitation services?

As long as the government does not evacuate Dayan's colleagues from Kfar Tapuah and Sheikh Jarrah, the children of Sderot and Ashdod will not be safe. Nor will the residents of Kfar Sava and Netanya.