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Settlers can stay, but only as citizens of Palestine

haaretzHa’aretz Op-Ed by Alexander Yakobson, 1st January 2009

The author is a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a former Meretz activist and Peace Now member

The time has come to say to the settler leaders: Okay – you’ve convinced us. It seems that a mass evacuation of settlers is an impractical idea. You showed us clearly that you’re prepared to turn such a removal into a national trauma. It’s doubtful that any Israeli politician would chance it.

But whoever seeks to determine the country’s fate with threats must know that the final result is likely to be disappointing. Giving up on evacuation doesn’t mean giving up on dividing the land. Whoever concedes to this is giving up on Israel. In the end, the only alternative to the two-state solution is one state. This is usually called a “binational state,” which is a bad joke. A binational state may exist in Belgium (perhaps; there, too, it barely works).

Here in our region, in real life, “one state” would be Arab, Muslim and Sunni (no matter what the constitution said), and much less binational than Israel.

If evacuation is not practical, the conclusion is to divide the land without removing settlers. Israel should formally adopt the suggestion by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: There is no need for an evacuation; settlers who are interested may stay where they are after an Israeli withdrawal and live as a Jewish minority in a Palestinian state. Israel will have sovereignty on one side of the border and the Palestinians on the other – over everyone living there. There will be no evacuation, and Israeli soldiers won’t have to take people from their homes. They will simply retreat to the new border.

Adopting this position would create an opportunity for Israel to gain a more comfortable border. Discussions on border corrections and territorial exchanges have been undertaken under pressure to keep as many settlers as possible within Israeli borders to reduce the size of an evacuation. The map offered to Palestinians by former prime minister Ehud Olmert shows that in the end, Israel would have a border worse than the Green Line: an infinite line winding like a snake, without any logic to it, military or otherwise.

These corrections to the border are no good for either side. If you don’t have to worry about decreasing the number of people evacuated, it’s possible to draw a much more rational border; the number of settlers included in Israel would be much smaller in this case. Second, if there is no evacuation, there is no financial compensation. In our country, some payment will certainly be made, beyond the letter of the law, but we are talking about much smaller sums. The state does not have to compensate a person for a change in the territories’ political status, and settlers’ property rights will be insured by a peace treaty.

Adopting this position would make things easier for Israel from a political point of view. Europe and America will continue to oppose construction in the settlements, as a violation of international law, but the world takes such a dim view of settlement expansion because it is viewed as a permanent erosion of the territory of the future Palestinian state, which aims to make the occupation irreversible. If the settlers are irrelevant to the border, they turn into a much less important issue.

It is clear that the great majority of settlers does not want to live under a Palestinian government and would leave. If there is a sizable minority that prefers the commandment to settle the land over national sovereignty, this is a legitimate choice that should be honored. If only this experiment succeeds. The connection to Judea and Samaria is worthy of respect; what is unworthy is the attempt to rule over another nation (in effect, we are talking about the attempt to rule over two nations and determine their fates).

And yet, it is worth asking, without doubting Fayyad’s intentions, if it is reasonable that Palestine be the only Arab state with a significant Jewish community. The Jewish imagination pictures mass slaughter, but these are exaggerations of anti-Arab rhetoric.

The Arab world emptied of Jews without such dramas and in most cases without government decisions, and still Jewish life became impossible there. It is more reasonable to assume that virtually all the settlers will find themselves on the Israeli side of the border. But after all, that’s what the Law of Return is for.

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