How Can Israeli Leaders Still Argue That Settlements Boost Security?

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Scene of terror attack in home in West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, that left 13-year-old Hillel Yaffe Ariel dead. June 30, 2016.
Scene of terror attack in home in West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, that left 13-year-old Hillel Yaffe Ariel dead. June 30, 2016.Credit: Zaka Rescue Services

Two deadly terror attacks in two days in the Hebron area have turned the West Bank’s security picture upside down. Although the number of Palestinian attacks has declined sharply over the past nine months, the figures have no meaning in view of the two murders last week – that of a girl in her bed and a father of 10 in his car.

Once again it has become clear that the army is incapable of protecting Israelis who insist on settling in the West Bank everywhere at all times.

The failure over the weekend is first and foremost that of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avidgor Lieberman. The first is the prime minister who grandstands against giving in to terror and promises a hard line against it. The second is the defense minister who got where he is by ranting against Netanyahu’s incompetence. The assessment that risks were increasing toward the end of Ramadan, especially in the Hebron area, didn’t come out of nowhere, and the army and Shin Bet security service knew about the difficulties in obtaining intelligence.

The alarmed responses by Netanyahu, Lieberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and their colleagues over the weekend show that the Israeli right has lost its way. One of the right’s basic arguments is that the settlements increase security. This argument is clearly unfounded; it totally defies reality. A former deputy Mossad chief, Ram Ben Barak, was right when he said Friday on Channel 10 that terror is the price of Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank.

“We must say frankly that this is the price we pay for living in the midst of a hostile Arab population,” he said. “We must have leaders with the courage to do things differently from what we’ve done so far.”

But the current Israeli government stands for the opposite of courageous leaders. Under the guise of maintaining security, our leaders sanctify the occupation and settlement expansion. The government covers up its failure to protect Israel’s citizens by mounting an offensive against the Palestinians, including collective punishment that strangles the entire Palestinian population.

The government does this even though the army objects in principle to such punishment and sees work permits for Palestinian laborers as a way to calm things down. As a result, some 600,000 people, out of whom only a handful have done wrong, are forced to pay the price of Netanyahu and his ministers’ inadequacy.

The official argument – a shake-up of the Hebron area will yield intelligence, and then one detail with lead to another against the terrorists – will exact a high price in the long term. It will generate bitterness and anger, increasing terror rather than decreasing it. Once again it turns out that Netanyahu’s government is acting against the interests of Israel’s citizens.