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The settlers have determined Israel's agenda for the past 26 years. If one had to choose one person who has had the greatest impact on the Jewish people's fate during that period, that person would be Moshe Levinger, father of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) since the December 1975 seizure of Sebastiya.

Since then, all Israel's governments have squirmed, have become tongue-tied, have even lied over Jewish settlement in the territories. These governments have invariably capitulated to the settlers' pressure - either with clenched teeth or out of tacit agreement. When U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer tried to criticize the settlements earlier this month, one leader of Gush Katif settlers, National Union MK Zvi Hendel called him a "jewboy."

In the Gaza Strip, Israel has shown how far it can go with its brazenness. Although Israel told the world it had evacuated the Gaza Strip, 5,000 settlers continue to live there, in communities distributed the length of the Gaza Strip that pin down vast military forces that protect them and whose presence causes daily bloody clashes with the local population. Thanks to the Israel Defense Forces, these settlers occupy 20 (!) percent of the Strip, while its 1.5 million Palestinians live in appallingly overcrowded conditions and in abject poverty.

Only recently, in October 2001, the Americans claimed that Israel was continuing to build new settlements despite its declared commitment to freeze all settlement activity. The Prime Minister's Office reacted immediately, denying the allegation. However, the Americans were not born yesterday. They carried out a series of satellite photographs and proved to Defense Ministry officials that massive building activity in the settlements is currently underway. The Israeli government could no longer issue denials and instead notified the Americans that it would check the data.

The technique is so familiar and so obvious. Each settlement in the territories has its own "area of jurisdiction," which is much larger than its built-up area. When they decide to, the settlers begin constructing a new neighborhood on a nearby hill, citing "natural growth" as the additional neighborhood's justification. Most of the construction work is being carried out in the large settlements: Beitar Illit, Kiryat Sefer, Ma'aleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Alfei Menasheh and Elkana.

Minister of Housing and Construction Natan Sharansky allocates enormous budgets for this construction activity - instead of encouraging construction within the Green Line. He offers to anyone prepared to live in the territories extremely generous grants as well as housing loans; thus, for a cash down payment of NIS 10,000, you can have your own detached or semi-detached home in one of the settlements. Then Sharansky and the other cabinet ministers claim, without batting an eyelid, that there are budgetary problems, that the deficit is too large and that there is nothing to give to the striking disabled people because the coffers are empty.

The settlements in the territories are an historic mistake committed by all of Israel's governments. This mistake deserves to be included in what Barbara Tuchman terms the "march of folly." The settlements' function is to prevent any possibility of ever reaching a peace treaty: Either there will be no political force capable of evacuating them or else an agreement on the creation of a Palestinian state will be impossible because its territory will be dotted with and fragmented by Jewish settlements.

When you drive through the territories, there is, in fact, no spot from where you can view the horizon without seeing the red rooftops of this or that settlement. Thus, Israel can continue to endlessly prattle that it is the government's intention to arrive at a lasting peace, although, in the field, everyone can see the government's real intention becoming a concrete reality right before the eyes of the Palestinians.

For years, Israel has invested tens of billions of dollars in the territories - at the expense of both Israeli society and development within the Green Line. The IDF spends gargantuan sums to protect the settlements, their residents and the highways they use. The settlers enjoy lower tax rates, while plans are underway to deny similar benefits to Negev residents.

All the territories are considered "Development Area A" and are therefore given hefty investment grants, even when the settlement in question is only a five minutes' drive from Kfar Sava. The settlers' children attend preschool free and a municipality's budget per capita in the territories is three times the accepted level within the Green Line.

In the territories the state is constructing bridges, tunnels and exquisite highways the likes of which exist nowhere within the Green Line. When there is a problem at the Gush Katif Junction, the IDF immediately builds a flyover bridge; however, there is no money for a flyover bridge for the Glilot Junction, where traffic jams are endless. Nor is there money for a flyover bridge above the streams flowing into the Dead Sea; thus, every year in every major rainfall, the highways are swept away and the road linking the hotels along the Dead Sea with Kibbutz Ein Gedi is obstructed.

The territories are too heavy an economic and social burden for the Jewish people. There is no longer enough strength to continue bearing this burden. It endangers Israel's existence, from both the political-military and socio-economic standpoints.