Netanyahu, Up to His Neck in Settlements

The huge budgets required for settlements alongside a nonexistent welfare policy inside Israel is becoming clearer to leaders of the social protest movement demanding a new sharing-out of sacrifices and resources.

There is no government in Israel when it comes to the political future of the territories and the settlements built there. The Machpela house in Hebron, the Migron outpost, the Ulpana neighborhood at Beit El and the dozens of other outposts and settlements all bear testimony to this fact.

In this way, Benjamin Netanyahu's government has joined a number of governments that preceded it, trying to hold both ends of the stick at the same time. On one hand they declare their readiness to separate from the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, on the other hand they strengthen the hold of the settlements in the territories.

Border Police officers and Israeli children near the disputed Hebron property last month.
Emil Salman

But this conduct, against the backdrop of the different political, security, and legal reality that exists "on their watch" has turned the settlements, today more than at any other time - into a blunt knife being used to massacre the idea of two states, the diplomatic and moral status of Israel, the rule of law and the mission and image of the Israel Defense Forces.

The Alignment governments headed by Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin were the first to establish settlements, attempting to use them to fix Israel's borders. Even though these governments also bowed somewhat to the demands of settler leaders Hanan Porat and Moshe Levinger "to wrest the land from its [Palestinian] residents," as a rule they promised that the settlements would be built only around Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, described as security regions according to a plan drawn up by Yigal Allon. Compared with those predecessors, the Netanyahu government lacks a policy determining where it is permitted to build and where not. The scope of construction in isolated settlements is larger than in the blocs which the government plans to preserve in a final-status agreement.

"Laundering" the outposts and building neighborhoods in East Jerusalem allow the foreign officials and the Palestinians the right to doubt the honesty of the government's intentions. This is because of the well-known fact that fear of the social and economic price of evacuating so large a number of settlers is a central obstacle preventing Israel from deciding on a peace agreement.

The Alignment governments originated the use of the pretext of security to gain control of private Palestinian lands for the establishment of settlements. The 1979 High Court of Justice ruling on Elon Moreh led to a decrease in the use of that pretext, especially since the settlers admitted that "the settlement itself does not stem from security and physical needs."

However, despite U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama having explained the need for land swaps only because of "demographic changes" caused by the settlements, Netanyahu still describes settlements as "security" needs. He also refuses to compensate the Palestinians for the prospective annexation of settlements with similar territory from Israel, and in this way has reneged on the basic principle of the negotiations - "the 1967 lines as the basis for a border and exchange of territories with a ratio of 1:1."

Governments through the 1980s maintained a settler enterprise having only tens of thousands of people, the vast majority working in agriculture or industry; this government maintains some 350,000 Israelis in Judea and Samaria and another 200,000 or so in East Jerusalem. Many of them - the ultra-Orthodox, new immigrants and low-income citizens - rely on government benefits and, like all settlers, enjoy far more per capita support for education, health and welfare than do Israelis inside the Green Line.

The huge budgets required for settlements alongside a nonexistent welfare policy inside Israel is becoming clearer to leaders of the social protest movement demanding a new sharing-out of sacrifices and resources. Members of Netanyahu's cabinet toed the line so long as they wanted to preserve the coalition.

But the scent of elections, along with the effect it's having on the state's commitment to the High Court of Justice to evacuate three outposts, has suddenly revealed the cabinet members' positions. It demonstrates that Netanyahu's speech at Bar-Ilan University ["two states for two peoples"] did not speak for them.

Read this article in Hebrew