How the Settlers Hijack Israel’s Policy

Here’s a sneak preview of the upcoming Peace Now report on settlement activity in Judea and Samaria (courtesy of Yariv Oppenheimer, head of the organization):     

According to the Ministry of Interior by the end of 2006 there were 268,000 settlers in the West Bank, a 5% increase compared to 2005. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics in the first three quarters of 2006 construction of 1272 housing units has begun. The construction of so-called “by-pass” roads, connecting settlements to Israel proper, continued. According to Peace Now estimates there are currently 3000 housing units under construction in the West Bank, including work in 30 of the illegal settlements in direct defiance of government decisions.   

So it is easy to see why some of Israel’s critics say that while Israel declares it opted for partition, it is actually strengthening its hold on the West Bank. But this, alas, is not exactly the case, and unless one is familiar with how politics work in this country, one can hardly be blamed for not seeing this. The religious settlers are an enormously powerful pressure group, and a disciplined and well organized public. Though they are a tiny fraction of Israel’s Jewish population, they exercise disproportional influence, partly through the structure of coalition politics in this country, and partly by a fierce determination to raise hell every time their will is defied (the case of Hebron in these last few days is a good example). And here’s the crux: every government which hoped to move for an agreement with the Palestinians assumed it could pacify settlers in the interim period, by granting them their wishes. Then, they all assumed, when agreement with the Palestinians is finally reached, the settlements will be dealt with in one fell swoop. But so far, agreement remained out of reach, and settlement activity went on undisturbed.  Israel’s public opinion has turned its back on Greater Israel; Israel’s government was elected on a platform promising to leave the territories. But the whole state, like a clumsy blind giant, is still pulled closer to the abyss of bi-nationalism by a group of zealots, as if held by a nose-ring. The public and the press turn a blind eye on all this. But the world and the Palestinians do not. And the world judges Israel by its deeds, not just its declaration. If Israel lets the settlers dictate its policy, it shouldn’t be surprised that the world thinks its policy is further settlement. 

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