Understanding The Settlements


A reader writes:

I seriously get the sense that the mainstream media (and most of the blogworld) are simply not understanding much of the discussion about settlements because they quite simply have never lived in the region. As is often the case, the people tend to broadly describe a whole slew of towns and cities with one word, not actually delineating the differences between the different types of settlements. This is essential for understanding just what Barack and Bibi are locking horns over.

First off, yes, they are all likely illegal under international law. And yes, they piss off the Arab world, sometimes irrationally so, to the point that their persistent existence is an albatross around Israel's neck. So lets agree on all that. But, that said, there are settlements and then there are settlements. The most offensive are the outposts.

These are literally shanty towns thrown together atop empty hills by fanatic settlers, all of whom think they are fulfilling a promise to build up the entire Biblical land of Israel. The government occasionally tears them down, and under Obama's pressure, will probably tear down even more. No one- really no one with any realistic understanding of this topic- thinks that these settlements are actually going to be a part of any future Jewish state. Its just Israel's fanatics acting out, testing the government and usually prevailing because everyone is too lazy/scared to deal with them.

Just last week, Netanyahu had a few of these dismantled. They were back up the next day, which goes to show both how non-permanent they are, and how outrageous these crazies can be. The Supreme Court has repeatedly called on the government to tear them down and the state has basically dragged their feet, time and again. Embarrassing.

A similar type of settler- believe they are fulfiling God's command- lives in small gated towns dotted across the West Bank- in strategic locations meant to frustrate any attempts at a contiguous Palestinian state. These are the settlements that pose the biggest problem: they are generally not situated near the 1967 border, and as such, highways have been built to accommodate them, which usually means checkpoints for Palestinians, etc. They undermine Palestinian sovereignty, and are more than occasionally attacked by Palestinian militants, which only then serves to further justify their presence, at least in their minds. They will have to be physically torn down or evacuated, and they are full of large families, with a deep religious belief in the lives they are leading. It will be a mess when these are torn down. Think Gaza in 2005, but on a much larger scale (and with the memory of Gaza's result t etched into everyone's mind....)

Finally, there are the major settlement blocs which are really not "settlements" at all. They are cities. With centers of commerce and suburbs. These settlements, for the most part, arent going anywhere, and under any conceivable peace plan will be incorporated into Israel's borders when that day comes. Many of these are directly on or right next to, the Green Line, and many more are actually suburbs of Jerusalem, not even independent towns of their own. When talk of a settlement freeze gets bandied about, many Israelis start to wonder if the secular family living in a semi-attached 4-bedroom in a suburb of Jerusalem has to worry about re-paving the driveway lest he violate the new rules. The inhabitants of these settlement communities are religious, secular, fanatic, agnostic, old, young, etc. They moved there back when no one thought much about moving there, for financial reasons, not messianic ones.

The vast- vast- majority of the Israeli settlers live in these settlements, precisely because they are NOT worried of ever losing their homes in a peace agreement. When the international community demands a settlement freeze, they are not really referring to this third category, the Jerusalem suburbs. And when the Israelis reject such calls for a settlement freeze, they're not really talking about the fanatical little outposts that everyone knows are going to be completely dismantled as soon as everyone gets their act together.

The fight will be over the minority of settlements that are not adjacent to Israel- ie are outside the scope of the security fence. This has nothing to do with a "freeze"- it's about the eventual uprooting of these pesky little villages and their wildly unhinged/dedicated inhabitants.

Everyone forgets, but when the head-in-the-sand leftists lamented the building of that barrier because it was unfair to Palestinians, many right wing Israelis found themselves just as peeved because they were trapped on the "other" side of the wall themselves. This vocal minority now has the ability to collapse Bibi's coalition, will be at the center of the settlement shitstorm about to hit domestic Israeli politics, and are Bibi's rock to Barack Obama's hard place.

I'm grateful for this context and happy to air it, but it seems to me that expanding Jerusalem suburbs into occupied land is just as illegal, if much more devious, than the fringe outposts and the messianic settlers. It was obviously a way to claim all of Jerusalem for Israel. Geneva has long prohibited that kind of activity. And the international community should not be too "lazy/scared" to say so.

(Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty.)