Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What’s Wrong With Israel’s Keeping Settlement Blocs?

Some readers (and J Street folks) were puzzled by the tone and content of my previous post. After all, what's the difference, I was asked, between settlements and settlement blocs? And if there will be land swaps between the Palestinian and Israeli states, what difference does it make precisely where the land is swapped? At the end of the day, Israel and Palestine will have the same proportion of historic Palestine (without the Hashemite kingdom of Trans-Jordan) as guaranteed by the 1967 lines. Can't I cut J Street a little slack here – in order to get a Palestinian state off the ground? Both the Palestinians and the Americans want to focus first on borders. Doesn't that mean that an agreement is closer on the border issue than on other core issues?

So let me briefly set matters straight.

Settlement blocs vs. settlements. The moral argument for keeping Jewish settlers where they are, even though their settlement beyond the green line is recognized as illegal, is simply – it is too hard too move them. That, of course, refers to the settlements themselves. But if they are going to stay where they are, the argument goes, their security and growth require that not only do they stay put, but they be situated in "blocs". I am not sure who first came up with the idea of bloc, but historically it may have been related to the Ezion bloc of settlements, which fell to the Arab fighters in the 47-8 war. The Ezion bloc was one of the first areas to be settled after the 1967 war. The fate of the that bloc is instructive; in the name of returning to settlements that had been captured, the Ezion bloc over the years has tripled in territory. The land on which the city of Efrat, for example, was built, has nothing to do with the original bloc of settlements – and yet it is now automatically included in the settlement bloc (except in the Geneva Initiative map.)

If the settlements are illegal, then settlement blocs are worse – because they are a naked attempt to maximize not only the settlements but the areas between the settlements and – this is important – break up the territorial contiguity of the Palestinians state. Defenders of Israel always like to say that, in terms of percentages, the settlement blocs constitute a relatively small part of the West Bank. Even if that were true, the issue is not how much territory but where it is located.

This is particularly true of the blocs around Jerusalem and the Ariel bloc in the north. No Palestinian mini-state could ever arise were the Ariel bloc annexed, or were the Maaleh Adumim bloc annexed – much less if there is contiguous Jewish settlement in the E1 project linking Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem

For a standard defense of annexing the five major settlement blocs, check out Mitchell Bard's explanation and map here. Bard writes

Would the incorporation of settlement blocs prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state? A look at a map shows that it would not. The total area of these communities is only about 1.5% of the West Bank. A kidney-shaped state linked to the Gaza Strip by a secure passage would be contiguous. Some argue that the E1 project linking Ma'ale Adumim to Jerusalem would cutoff east Jerusalem, but even that is not necessarily true as Israel has proposed constructing a four-lane underpass to guarantee free passage between the West Bank and the Arab sections of Jerusalem.

Please look at the Bard's map, which is taken from the (pro-Israel Washington Institute of Near Eastern Policy). Look, for example, at Jerusalem prior to 1967, divided between Israelis and Palestinians, and the Jerusalem proposed now, which would leave East Jerusalem an enclave surrounded by massive Jewish settlement. But, more importantly, consider what constitutes "contiguity" according to Bard – a four-lane underpass!

Now consider why Israel ambassador Michael Oren recently considered the 49 armistice lines to be "indefensible" – despite the fact that not only were they successfully defended, they were expanded upon in 1967

Israel's borders at the time were demarcated by the armistice lines established at the end of Israel's war of independence 18 years earlier. These lines left Israel a mere 9 miles wide at its most populous area. Israelis faced mountains to the east and the sea to their backs and, in West Jerusalem, were virtually surrounded by hostile forces. In 1948, Arab troops nearly cut the country in half at its narrow waist and laid siege to Jerusalem, depriving 100,000 Jews of food and water.

How long would it take Israel to take control of a 4 lane highway, thereby cutting the Palestinian mini-state in two? Would Ben Gurion have accepted a state that had the contiguity afforded by a four-lane underpass?

The Palestinian state must be contiguous, which means that it must have contiguous and defensible territory between its various parts. Palestinian security needs are no less important than Israel's security needs; only a racist or tribalist would think otherwise.

To the argument that is immoral to move settlers, I reply that it is immoral to keep Palestinians in refugee camps. Let Israel absorb the settlement blocs, and let the Palestinians absorb Jewish owned territory in such a way that there is roughly parity in the resultant states. Any two-state solution has to take into consideration not only the demographic and security needs of the Israelis, but the demographic and the security needs of the Palestinians, including the refugees. We can start by settling half a million Palestinian refugees in choice Jewish state owned lands that have not been acquired from Palestinians Israelis – and then let's redraw the map of Israel to reflect the demographic realities of the Palestinian Arabs (including those of the diaspora), and the Israelis (including those of the Jewish diaspora.)

This would not be the ideal solution but a lot fairer than the one proposed by the Israeli "left" and the American administration. If their proposal is accepted by the PA leadership, then Jews and Palestinians should join hands to oppose the concessions of the PA.


David Ender said...

I agree with a lot of what you said on settlement blocs and so on.

My only problem is in your last few sentences where you suggest bringing half a million Palestinian refugees to Israeli-owned lands. I'm guessing it might have been tongue-in-cheek but if not, then I suggest we get half a million Jews to receive lands from all the Arab states who kicked them out too...

pabelmont said...

Thank you for this post. Settlement blocs not legal, but too hard to move about sums it up. It is an argument for "illegal, but our mind is made up, and we did it on purpose to force the outcome this way, and the outcome will not be any other way, so what's to discuss?"

I think all the settlements should be dismantled (blown up) (after settlers removed to Israel, of course) -- in part -- as a way of Israel admitting that it is subject to law and not above the law (as, for example, the Nazis briefly pretended to be).

Hubris said...

Something rarely mentioned in this 'Land-swap' debate is that if Illegal Israeli colonies were allowed to remain, then the best West Bank land and aquifers would go to Illegal Israeli Colonists in exchange for sub-standard land elsewhere.

This would in effect be rewarding Israelis for their illegal land stealing, and is legally and morally unjustifiable.

Already, Israel uses 80 percent of West Bank water resources and on a per capita basis Illegal Israeli Colonists use approximately 48 times more water than legally resident Palestinians.

The current unjust water distribution is likely to be made permanent if Israel keeps Illegal Israeli Colonists on stolen Palestinian land, all of which are illegal under international law.

Israel’s desire to retain blocs of illegal Colonies and a military presence in the Jordan Valley will make any Palestinian state noncontiguous and nonviable. Such a state would be little more than disconnected Bantustans.

Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory is a violation of no less than three international legal statutes,

the United Nations charter itself,

The Hague Agreement of 1907 and the

Geneva Convention of 1949,

all of which forbid an occupying power from moving civilian populations into occupied land. However, whenever serious criticism of the occupation arises both within Israel and abroad, the state is able to claim that its presence in the territories is only about protecting Israeli civilians from security risks.

Jerry Haber said...


I am glad that you agree that people who leave their country because they are concerned with their safety, even though they are not forcibly driven out, have the right to return to their land or be compensated.

But I fail to understand what relevance the Jewish exodus from Arab lands has to do with the Palestinians -- except that the Palestinians suffered a second "Nakbah" as a result -- since many Jewish refugees were located in their homes. Surely you don't mean to suggest that the Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes were responsible for the Jews who were forced to leave their homes.

If anything, it is the Zionists who are mostly responsible for both Exoduses -- especially in so far as they actively promoted the exodus of Arab Jews and resettlemen in their "true homeland" -- Israel.

Jerry Haber said...


I feel that there is a moral issue in forcing settlers off land that they settled in accordance with their government's (illegal) policy. It is not necessarily a decisive moral issue, but it is not something to be done lightly. And if the settlers remain, then the Palestinians have to be compensated by something bigger than land swaps -- Israel has to pay deeply for such a concession.

pabelmont said...

Jerry, your last response, to Hubris, hits two nails on their heads. One must feel something for settlers who may be evicted from their homes (of 43 years), just as one must feel something for Palestinians evicted from their homes and lands of ?? 700 years? 2000 years?

And if illegal action is to be rewarded (on the principle of: finders keepers, losers weepers), then the Palestinians must indeed receive something of far greater value.

Thank you very much for saying that.

David Ender said...

I agree they should... Just like I think the Jews (or their relatives) that lost property during the second WW should also be compensated for what they lost...

Unfortunately what should be done doesn't get done.
Arguing over issues of return to Israeli lands is not what is going to solve the problem in my opinion and is just another sword hanging over Israelis (there being many of them).

I think Palestinians keep making up new or adding back old ways of things to get from the Israelis. It's not like the Arabs loved the Jews before Israeli independence and it's not a secret the (almost) whole Muslim world would see nothing wrong with Israel being gone and replaced by any other Muslim state.

Asking for remuneration for millions of people is not feasible and does not help anyone. The idea should just be to get two states working together and that won't work when every idea just gets shot down by both sides.

While I might seem like a rightist to you, most of the people I know consider me a lefty.

Both sides are too entrenched in partisan politics where it has become a copy of US politics, where both sides seem like they could not even coexist together if it weren't for their common enemies (Russia, China, Terror for US and for Israel : Syria, Iran, Palestinians)...

While you are or at least seem like a very intelligent person, I believe your rhetoric is very partisan and instead of looking for a solution like you used to. You seem to be bringing out all the wrong things in the conflict instead of finding the commonalities between everyone.

Preaching anger and bad things about people only leads to more of it. I am sad to see youngsters today full of hate.

While I agree Palestinians are people just like me, you seem to make rightist Israelis into evildoers that cannot ever become good.

The same rhetoric seems to come from the right side where they would portray you as an anti-Israeli. All of this finger-pointing is what needs to stop. Instead propose solutions.

What would you do with the 600000 people living beyond the pre-1967 borders ? Even if they might be wrong at what they're doing, is it alright to kick them out of every place they've lived now for the past 40 years ?

Your blog reaches hundreds of people if not more. I recommend finding solutions more than hate-mongering. Like in your next post where you seem to label a whole group of people as liberal-Zionists and put them in one pot and fill it with lots of poison.

This needs to stop...

I hope you understand what I'm trying to point out.

It's normal to have preconceived biases depending on all your experiences. For example: Someone I know who lives in Ashdod and used be a complete lefty, turned completely the other way when he had to bear rockets showering in Ashdod.

The whole idea however is to show the bad while bringing out the good.

Please consider this.

Ashley Kennedy said...

Why a land swap? The PA and PLO have said Israeli squatters can stay and become Palestinian citizens. They will have to abide by Palestinian law and probably pay back rent for being on Palestinian owned private land.