The Painful Cost to Israel of Its Settler Adventure

Why should settlers have to pay the price for Mideast peace? Because of what they have cost us.

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[This is the third installment in theOutpost Watch series]


As friction between the Obama administration and Israel mounts over Washington's repeated calls for a freeze on settlement construction, anxious supporters of Israel's West Bank settlement enterprise ask one question with ever greater urgency and frequency:

Why should settlers have to pay the price for peace between Israel and the Palestinians?

The question is intended to be rhetorical, meant to dismiss and deflect pressure to curb expansion of West Bank enclaves.

But in a real sense, it is precisely the question of the moment. Why, in fact, should settlers be made to pay the price for peace?

The answer, in short: Because of what the settlement movement has cost us, cost Israel. And because of what it is costing Israel now.

1. The cost in dollars

The settlement movement has cost Israel some $100 billion over the past 40 years.

Setting aside the considerable waste and graft in building projects in the West Bank and Gaza, the cost to Israel's development has been incalculable. Settlement in remote areas has siphoned off critically needed funds for investment in employment, infrastructure, housing and social welfare in central Israel, the Galillee and the Negev.

Huge expenditures on West Bank road construction, including parallel highways intended only for use by Israelis, and roads built at great expense to remote and often illegal settlements, have taken a human toll as well. They have put off the upgrading of dangerous roads [designated "red highways"] within Israel, adding materially to one of the country's most lethal problems. Last year more than 440 people died on Israel's highways, more than 12 times the number of Israelis killed in terror attacks.

2. The cost to Israel's security

For decades, the enormous burdens of guarding settlements, policing roadblocks and maintaining the far-reaching bureaucracy of occupation have robbed the IDF of vitally needed resources of time and funding for military training.

In recent months, as Haaretz military commentator Amir Oren has reported, Prime Minister Netanyahu's wrangling with President Obama over settlement construction has been doing damage to the IDF's capability to face the threat posed by Iran.

3. The cost to Israeli democracy and the rule of law

The unwillingness of the settlement movement to brook compromise, even when in direct defiance of national consensus, and its explicit threats to exploit Israel's precarious political system to topple any democratically elected government which makes significant progress in negotiations with the Palestinians, places the very nature of Israeli democracy in doubt.

The double standard which for decades has favored settlers with inexpensive housing, heavily subsidized social services, and blind-eye building permits has long been accompanied by a kid-gloves approach regarding settler violence against Palestinians and their property.

4. The cost to Israel's diplomatic credibility

Both in established settlements and in outposts acknowledged by Israel as illegal, settlers and settlement planners have covertly bent and distorted zoning procedures, military directives, and government decrees in order to boost settlement, block Palestinian construction, agriculture, and access to employment, and effectively neutralize measures intended to foster Israeli-Palestinian peace progress.

Measures aimed at driving a secure wedge between settlers and Palestinians have had the effect of tarnishing Israel's international image, and have kept many nations from normalizing and strengthening diplomatic ties with Israel.

The settlers' rejection of all territorial compromise renders moot all proposals similar to the Arab League peace initiative.

5. The cost to Israel's relationship with the U.S.

With every move of ostentatious defiance mounted by the Netanyahu government, the Obama administration finds the Palestinian Authority a more reliant, cooperative, and businesslike partner for diplomacy and West Bank security.

The gratuitous machismo characterizing many of the declarations of right-wing parties, in particular the shrill back-benchers of Netanyahu's Likud and members of Avigdor Lieberman's indictment-shadowed Yisrael Beiteinu, has done little to win domestic backing in Israel, but has landed with dramatic and destructive effect in Washington.


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With thanks to Adam Abrams

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