Settlements, not cool apps, are Israel’s greatest project
New construction in Judea and Samaria is proceeding at the highest pace in seven years. If this continues, the Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett government will put an end to the two-state solution, the Jewish democratic entity, and the Zionist dream.
By Ari Shavit, Ha’aretz
June 13, 2013
Few people paid attention to the news that during the first quarter of 2013, there were 865 housing starts in the settlements. That was a 176 percent increase over the parallel quarter last year and a 355 percent increase over the fourth quarter of 2012. Although settlers are only four out of every 100 Israelis, of every 100 housing starts this year, 8.5 were in the settlements. While in sovereign Israel the scope of new construction is slowing, new construction in Judea and Samaria is now proceeding at the highest pace in seven years.
The trend is clear: Within a short time the number of settlers will increase dramatically, as will their ability to block any attempt to divide the land. If it continues this way, the Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett government will put an end to the two-state solution, the Jewish democratic entity, and the Zionist dream.
This is not a question of peace. In the coming years there will be no peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Nor is it a question of total and immediate withdrawal. In the coming years Israel will not be able to hand over the West Bank to the Palestinians in the same hasty way it gave them the Gaza Strip. But it is a question of survival. Will Israel, at the last minute, stop flooding the occupied territories with settlers? Will the Zionist enterprise retain the option of going back to being a moral enterprise? Will the Jewish state choose life, or become unwittingly dissolved in an occupation that is becoming eternal?
As of now the answers are clear: No, no, and no. The Likud of Danny Danon prefers the Land of Israel over the State of Israel. Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi (“The Jewish Home”) is determined to drown the Jewish national home in the swamps of colonial decay. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (“There is a future”) is turning out to be the party of opportunistic ambiguity, turning its back on the Zionist future. It’s just as Labor chairman Shelly Yacimovich said last week in the Knesset, that the national camp of Labor-Meretz-Kadima is now sitting in the opposition, while it’s the government of right-right-right that is on the verge of establishing a binational reality that will be irreparable.
From the settlers’ perspective, everything’s fine. Their situation has never been so comfortable. The international community is slowly internalizing the fact that the fundamental problem in the Middle East is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the pathological political culture of the Arab world. The United States and Europe are too tired to confront the intense determination of the heirs of Gush Emunim. Israel can sell a navigation app for a billion dollars at the same time that it has lost its way. Right now there is no power within Israel, nor any power outside Israel, that can force Israel to save itself from its settlers. The most important minister in the government − Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel − can continue the momentum that began in the first quarter of the year. The government of no future will allow him to continue to break records in settling Judea and Samaria. While 20 ministers are engaged with all sorts of nonsense, the housing minister is burying Zionism in the hills.
Thus, from the Israelis’ perspective things are not good. They are not good at all. True, soon there will be a budget and soon there will a “sharing of the burden,” and it’s going to be a great summer. The restaurants along the coast will be full and the nightclubs will be full and Tel Aviv will be as lively as ever. But the fact that in 2013 Israelis still haven’t found a sane political party that will protect them sanely from the settlements, means that even as they are partying, they are dying. Even as they are winning, they are committing suicide. This country has, in the past, seen a few group suicides. But never has it seen a suicide so spectacular and so sweet and so unnecessary as the quiet suicide it is committing now.
These ‘build build build’ comments go to the heart of Israel’s problems
Naftali Bennett is the latest Israeli official to write off a two-state solution. Settlement expansion is the biggest obstacle to talks
By Rachel Shabi, guardian.co.uk,
June 18, 2013
Just for a moment, let’s feign astonishment at this new revelation: Naftali Bennett has just become the latest Israeli official to declare the two-state solution a dead end. Speaking at a conference for Jewish settlers, he said the idea of negotiating for an independent Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one was “futile” and “hopeless” and that the only Israeli approach to this conflict should be to “build, build, build” in the Palestinian West Bank (sorry, in the land that has been Israel “for 3,000 years”).
That last line should make clear that this is not a sudden Bennett endorsement of a one-state solution, with equal rights for all.
But it should, of course, be no great surprise that coalition partner Bennett, the Israeli trade minister and leader of ultranationalist party Jewish Home, should come up with this kind of comment. He is not the first to do so, either. The past few years have been studded with similar pronouncements from high-profile officials.
Just last week the deputy defence minister, Danny Danon, said that the coalition government flatly opposed a two-state solution. Another Knesset member, Tzipi Hotovely, has called a two-state solution an “illusion”.
None of that is so dissimilar from statements made by other Israeli ministers throughout the occupation. For instance, former prime minister Ariel Sharon, back in 1998, summarised the official approach when he gave this advice to the settler movement: “Everyone there should move, should run, should grab more hills, expand more territory. Everything that’s grabbed will be in our hands.”
As Palestinian commentators have noted, the only difference between Bennett and the current Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is that the former says this stuff out loud. Since it all began just after 1967, when Israel seized the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza following the Arab-Israeli war, this country has been committed to settlement expansion – knowing that such a policy would eviscerate the prospects of an independent Palestinian state, but doing it anyway. Indeed, Israel’s settlements grew most during the Oslo peace process that began in 1993. Now, settlements have gone through another growth spurt and are on a seven-year high, which a senior Haaretz columnist has described as a spectacular suicide for Israel.
Maybe Bennett’s comments are unfortunately timed, given the current attempts by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, to revive the zombie peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. But those “land is ours” remarks actually serve to highlight why the US mission is so doomed to begin with – despite some protestations I heard last week from commentators in Israel that Kerry had good intentions and was a “nice guy” (as though Palestinians want to date him, rather than be able to trust him as an honest broker).
Israeli settlement expansion is the one big obstacle to getting talks back on track, yet the US has consistently refused to tackle this escalating problem. At a press briefing last week, US spokeswoman Jen Psaki struggled to explain why the US considers settlements unhelpful yet doesn’t ever penalise Israel for continuing with such a policy.
Settlements, not the start-up nation, not the innovations in science and not the cool navigation app just snapped up by Google are Israel’s greatest project, its biggest national mission, its most financed venture. This project, and its attendant infrastructure and security, is what Israel is known for; it is, horrifyingly, what Israel does best. A terrible, addictive policy, settlements have eaten up Israeli resources, diverted entire government departments and kept the country trapped in an impoverished, stunting isolation. So in this context, let’s not fake any surprise over Bennett’s latest non-revelation. Let’s focus instead on the transparent, self-destructive hubris of Israel’s decades old policy: perpetuating the occupation, the settlements and all the attendant misery for everyone trapped in this nightmarish reality.