Opinion

Even if the Settlers' Party Lost, the Settlements Won

Settlers building an illegal outpost near Jerusalem.
Emil Salman

I wish I could, like Gideon Levy, see the low number of Knesset seats won by Yamina as a defeat for the settlers (“The mouse that roared,” September 22). I wish I could share his view of the settlements as a project of the settlers, who are concentrated in this party. I wish I could see them as a minority that craftily created this monster, and is responsible for the “most pernicious, destructive project in the history of the state.” But unfortunately, the settlers are the product, not the creator, of a pernicious policy. It’s the state that holds the copyright on the settlement project.

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Right after 1967, the state, under a Mapai government, hawks and doves alike, set its sights on Palestinian soil and hoped “to fix” what was missed out on in 1948. The settlers could not have blackmailed and deceived successive Israeli governments, had the governments themselves not wished to be deceived and blackmailed. And these were governments featuring such paragons of secularism as Yigal Allon, Levi Eshkol, Yisrael Galili, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. It’s only thanks to the misleading definitions of political science that they and what remains of their ideological descendants are called “leftists.”

The supposedly socialist Mapai developed methods of deception to portray Israel before its sister political parties around the world, which viewed themselves as progressive, as a state that sought peace and believed in upholding human rights. At the same time, it labored to prevent the Palestinians from cohering as a recognized national collective demanding its rights. Israel failed here, but that did not stop its continued land grab.

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The Likud governments owe Mapai a lot: formal mechanisms for expulsion and settlement that were in operation before and after the state’s founding, the present absentees property law, the demolition of villages in the Latrun area and expulsion of their residents, expulsion of the inhabitants of the Golan Heights, the annexation of East Jerusalem and the surrounding villages, and the concurrent, massive expropriation of private lands and construction of settlements on them, designating areas as live firing zones to block access to Palestinians – particularly in the Jordan Valley and south Mount Hebron – and denying Palestinian local authorities the right to plan and build on their own land.

Those who believed the second Rabin government sought to redress old injustices were only kidding themselves. His government’s negotiators planted the “Oslo” traps for the Palestinians and the peace camp: by building bypass roads during the interim phase. These rendered any negotiations for the removal of the settlements in the final-status phase redundant. Then they continued to slice up the West Bank and divide it artificially into Areas A, B and C in what was supposedly a temporary move. (“There are no sacred dates,” Rabin said) The settlement in Hebron was not removed even after the massacre committed by Baruch Goldstein, and the Palestinians in the city were penalized with ongoing curfews and restrictions on movement. The Etzion Bloc received a big gift in the form of the Tunnel Road, Bedouins were expelled for the expansion of Ma’aleh Adumim, and the population of Gaza was cut off from the population of the West Bank. All for the goal of thwarting the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The notion that the settlers imposed themselves and their project on a “silent and apathetic majority” is part of the mythology. The government saw to it that many more Israelis would profit from the settlement project: construction and marketing companies, generals, the arms and surveillance industry, non-Zionist Orthodox communities. Thus a much wider pool of supporters were ensured, among people living outside the settlements as well.

For sure, the settlers honed and intensified the arrogance that is part of the ideology of any colonial enterprise. Their religious messianism heightens their egotism and the danger they pose. Demographic and economic processes, and not any plot that they concocted, have turned the religious Zionists into a greedy capitalist upper middle-class. These same processes, and the need to guard the spoils, paved their way into state bodies like the army, Shin Bet and Justice Ministry. The state’s acceptance of their acts of violence and deception (which lag behind the government and army’s own violence and deception) derives not from any fear of the settlers, but from sharing the same cause.