Text size

The settlers' large demonstration in Jerusalem last week, like the statements made and written by their leaders over the weekend, are evidence of severe ideological distress: They have no argument with which to convince Israeli society to continue to pay the cost stemming from their insistence on living in the heart of the Palestinian population, aside from their faith in divine promise, coupled with the premise that Arab undertakings must not be trusted.

Gone are the claims in all seriousness that the settlement establishment deep in the West Bank and Gaza Strip add to Israel's security. The assumption that the settlement enterprise has the power to realize the aspiration for a Greater Israel has also faded into thin air. Israeli society, for the most part, yearns for peace and accepts the expected establishment of a Palestinian state and a withdrawal (at least in part) from the territories. The way of the left is winning, though the left isn't reaping the credit for the success.

The hard core of the settlers (the minority among them) refuses to face up to reality. The reasoning voiced by its spokesmen in the wake of the Aqaba summit was simply laborious repetition of jaded arguments: The concessions (those announced till now) that the government is willing to make are evidence of weak resolve; the government is not allowing the Israel Defense Forces to win and to deal a final deathblow to Palestinian terror; if Israel were under a different leadership, it would drum up determined public resistance to the Palestinian demands and U.S. pressure; the Palestinians, no matter who, are not worthy of trust, as they proved in the way they implemented the Oslo Accords.

These same charges were aimed at all the prime ministers - from Yitzhak Rabin and through to Ehud Barak, from Benjamin Netanyahu and through to Ariel Sharon - and they make no distinction between the elements of the Palestinian leadership, between Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, between Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Sari Nusseibeh.

And the settlers have no sense of the foolishness of their opposition to the political initiatives that strive to bring an end to the conflict, or of the chasm between their positions and the changing circumstances that are shaping a new reality.

The settlers refuse to face the fact that the pressing need to achieve a peace agreement stems from the ever-advancing demographic clock, whose hands are ticking forward with frightening speed to a time at which the State of Israel will lose the reason for its Zionist existence, or its democratic image. They refuse to recognize that the terror cannot be eradicated by force because it rises out of a breeding ground that encompasses the entire Palestinian population and feeds on a legitimate aspiration for national independence. They disregard the cancerous effect the occupation has on the entire fabric of Israeli life.

When Sharon corrects himself and instead of "an end to the occupation," he says that Israel doesn't want to govern "a disputed" territory, he exposes the wide breach in the settlement enterprise, for which he did so much to get started.

When a territory is "disputed," the country in control of it does not have the legal right to do with it and in it as the country pleases. When a state acts in violation of the law (from an international point of view), it opens the gate to outlaw activity within the disputed territory. The settlement enterprise as a whole is considered illegal in the eyes of the international community, just as "the illegal outposts" are not in keeping with Israeli law.

The settlement enterprise is increasingly losing its legitimacy not only among world public opinion, but also within Israel, too. A society is defined, among other ways, by those on its margins: They allow the society to congregate around a common denominator and create a divide between itself and anyone who holds radical positions.

The settlers, who were once (at least in the eyes of part of the public) beheld as pioneers and the fulfillers of dreams, and earned widespread solidarity due to the manner in which they coped with Palestinian terror, are today seen more and more as nothing but deep trouble. They are being perceived more and more as the principal Israeli element, if not the only one, that is preventing the advent of peace. They need to ask themselves who, albeit the world of difference between them, on the Palestinian side is fulfilling this negative role.