Don't kid yourselves says Dayan. We have the ground, we're keeping it.

June 11, 2013
Sarah Benton

The comment article by Dani Dayan is followed by letters in response in the Guardian. Notes and links at end.

Speaking to Stephen Sackur on the BBC news show “Hardtalk,” January 2013, Dayan said the views of the ultra-Right are “quite realistic, as Israel is beginning to understand that the two-state solution never existed, it was a mirage…you get closer to it, you reveal that it was just hot air.” See Notes and links to view this interview.

What you call ‘settlements’ are on solid moral ground

What our detractors refer to as ‘settlements’ are no threat to peace. Others must recognise that we are part of the solution

By Dani Dayan, Comment is Free Guardian
June 07, 2013

Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, is a vocal critic of the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. Referring to them as “settlements”, she claimed last week that they “threaten to make a two-state solution impossible” and called on Israel “to immediately end all settlement activities beyond the green line, including East Jerusalem”. Obviously, Ashton has never visited a “settlement”, like almost all of her colleagues in the international diplomatic high echelons. Nevertheless they consider themselves experts on the matter.

One notable exception is the former US president Jimmy Carter, who visited Gush Etzion in 2009. Carter is well known for his harsh criticism of Israel, considered by many as sheer hostility towards the Jewish state. So shocked was he by the reality on the ground, he stated: “This particular settlement is not one that I envision ever being abandoned, or changed over into a Palestinian territory.” * The contrast between Carter’s statement and Ashton’s reminded me of a recent statement by Israel’s finance minister, Yair Lapid: “I used to have so many opinions before I learned the facts.”

In 2009 I was invited to meet Tony Blair, the special envoy of the quartet (the UN, US, Russia and the EU) for the Middle East. At the end of our conversation I invited him to visit the communities whose future we had just discussed. He declined, saying: “I can see them from my helicopter.” “From the helicopter,” I replied, “you can’t see the faces, look into the eyes and understand their aspirations.” Blair, like many of his peers, continues to fly over our heads.

More than 360,000 Israelis live in almost 200 communities across Judea and Samaria, with 200,000 more in East Jerusalem. That’s more than half a million people. Our endeavour stands on solid moral ground.

This week marks 46 years since the agonising days of June 1967, when the Arab world physically tried to annihilate Israel. We defeated them and liberated the strategic hills that overlook 70% of Israel’s population. If partition of this contested land was ever the just solution to the conflict, it ceased the moment one side refused. It was not a mere rejection: they launched repeated assaults to take it all by force**. Returning Israel to its indefensible nine-mile waistline would once again place us in mortal danger, while rewarding the aggressor.

Our communities stand on solid moral ground. Built on vacant land, no settlement stands on the ruins of any Arab village***. Naturally, there are civil disputes over land ownership. Some are real, others mere provocations. All should be resolved by courts of law. Last year in Migron and Ulpana, we had serious doubts about the judge’s verdict, but still we abided by the court decision. In Judea and Samaria there is ample room for many Jews, many Palestinians and peaceful coexistence.

Our communities stand on solid moral ground because the right of Jews to live in Shiloh, Hebron or Beth El is inalienable. These sites are the cradles of Jewish civilisation, the birthplace of Hebraic culture. Negating the right of Jews to live in these historic parts of the Jewish homeland would be morally wrong.

Our communities stand on solid moral ground, because they are not – and never were – an impediment to peace. Statements such as Baroness Ashton’s are misinformed, erroneous and the real obstruction. Ashton and her colleagues are most welcome to visit our communities to see for themselves how distant reality is from their perception.

Even those who still believe that the creation of a Palestinian state is the solution must admit that the rejections of Israeli offers by Yasser Arafat in 2000 and by Mahmoud Abbas in 2008**** are what prevented an agreement, not the settlements.

After 20 years of failed attempts to reach a two-state solution, isn’t it time we admit our failures and move on? The time has come to invest in new, innovative paths to peace that unite people through acts of mutual respect. The first step is to stop the demonisation of our communities and acknowledge that settlements aren’t the problem – but rather an integral part of any future solution.

Israel and facts on the moral ground

Letters, Guardian,
June 10, 2013

Dani Dayan of the Yesha Council attempts to recruit President Jimmy Carter to the cause of a restored “Judea and Samaria” (We’re on solid moral ground, 8 June) on the strength of his being, in 2009, favourably “shocked … by the reality on the ground” of the West Bank Jewish settlement bloc of Gush Etzion, and of his personally rejecting the idea of its ever becoming part of “a Palestinian territory”.

In his Trip Report of 17 June, Carter in fact writes: “At Kerev Foundation, Yossi Beilin explained the status of the Geneva Initiative annexes (basic proposals unchanged), and then we drove to the Gush Etzion settlement south of Jerusalem. This is one of the settlements that, under the Geneva Initiative, would be within the 2% of Palestine to be swapped to Israel”. Carter, in short, merely cites a proposal incorporated in the 2003 accord (with Dr Beilin as a signatory) and its supplementary annexes of 2009 – Gush Etzion being a special case, its Jewish character dating back to the last years of the British Mandate.

Failing to offer that necessary context, Dayan also omits to mention how, watching a Netanyahu speech later in the same day, Carter finds himself “appalled by his introduction of numerous obstacles to peace, some of them insurmountable” – no sharing of Jerusalem, no settlement freeze, Palestine demilitarisation and open airspace, and the removal of Hamas.

But if the ex-president really has become, in Dayan’s words, a “notable exception” to the allegedly ignorant denizens of “the international diplomatic high echelons” and their opposition to the continuing occupation of the West Bank, presumably we can await a radically revised version of his 2006 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid?
William Mathew

• Dani Dayan’s article turns logic on its head and is an example of the old technique of hoping that if you say something often enough, in this case “solid moral ground” (five times) it will be believed. The settlements are a blatant – and under international law illegal – occupation of land belonging to someone else. Apparently, according to Dayan, the fact that over half a million live there makes them legal. Apparently looking into the eyes and faces of settlers would make the settlements legal.

Apparently the right of Jews to live in certain places is inalienable because they are cradles of Jewish civilisation. On this argument there would have to be hundreds of population exchanges throughout the world – many of claimants who occupied lands far more recently than Jews occupied Palestine.
Joseph Cocker

• I expect that Jews and non-Jews alike will take issue with the morality of Dani Dayan’s statement that “the right of Jews to live in Shiloh, Hebron or Beth El is inalienable”. However, I am more interested in the last paragraph. What does Mr Dayan have in mind when he says “the time has come to invest in new innovative paths to peace that unite people through acts of mutual respect”?

If he rejects a two-state solution, is he thinking of a new Israeli/Palestinian superstate or some sort of equal federation? By “acts of mutual respect” does he mean that the two peoples would live together in complete equality with all the peoples in the region having unfettered rights to live, work and pray wherever they choose? Perhaps you could give him more space in your paper or in your correspondence columns to elaborate on this. Who knows, we may be on the verge of a breakthrough that Blair and others have “flown over”.
Jeremy Solnick
Walberswick, Suffolk

• Dani Dayan is typical of Israelis who tell Palestinians why the Jews are justified in occupying the West Bank with far less justification for their claims than the millions of Palestinians whose families, like mine, lived continuously in Palestine for hundreds if not thousands of years before being expelled by Jewish armies in 1948.

Dayan himself was born in Argentina and is proudly secular and has no religious beliefs. But this doesn’t stop him rolling out mytho-religious arguments for occupying the West Bank. Most modern Israelis are, in historical terms, recent immigrants from the west, colonisers who plotted to take over a land whose inhabitants had all the rights of any indigenous population.
Karl Sabbagh
Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

Notes and links
Dani Dayan is an Argentinian Israeli formerly the head of the small right-wing party Tehiya. He made a fortune with the IT firm Elad Systems which he sold in order to go into settler politics. He was Chairman of the Yesha Council the settlers’ lobby group until he resigned last January to support Netanyahu. He lives in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Shomron.

The BBC Hard Talk interview with him can be seen here

* This remark by Jimmy Carter can hardly be misunderstood as a vote of confidence in settlements. Apart from Carter’s well-known calls for all settlement goods to be properly labelled he is also on record as saying of settlements, April 1980,   “We do not think they are legal.” As his secretary of state explained, “Article 49, paragraph 6, of the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the territories,” including Jerusalem.

** Repeated assaults since 1968 by Arab world to take all Israel by force. There was one attempt by ‘the Arab World’ to defeat Israel by force after 1967. That was in 1973.

*** Building on abandoned and destroyed Arab Villages

Moshe Dayan, Technion University students on March 19, 1969. A transcript of the speech appeared in Ha’aretz on April 4, 1969.

We came to a region of land that was inhabited by Arabs, and we set up a Jewish state. In a considerable number of places, we purchased the land from Arabs and set up Jewish villages where there had once been Arab villages. You don’t even know the names [of the previous Arab villages] and I don’t blame you, because those geography books aren’t around anymore. Not only the books, the villages aren’t around. Nahalal was established in the place of Mahalul, and Gvat was established in the place of Jibta, Sarid in the place of Huneifis and Kfar Yehoshua in the place of Tel Shaman. There isn’t any place that was established in an area where there had not at one time been an Arab settlement.

Abandoned, evacuated and/or destroyed Palestinian localities (comparative figures)

author towns villages tribes total


Abu Sitta..13…..419….99…..531

Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948 (Honorable Mention for the Albert Hourani Award, Middle Eastern Studies Association), 2000 By Mêrôn Benveniśtî includes an account of the demolition of Arab villages in 1948, (in order to ensure the resident did not return), then a change of policy to leaving the villages standing so that Jews could settle in them. Usually, new houses were built as the houses that were wrecked or abandoned were in too poor a state for human habitation. By 1952, he estimates 70 Jewish settlements had been built on the sites of abandoned and demolished Palestinian villages.

*** Olmert’s 2008 offer
Al Arabiya October 2011
Abbas claimed that he and Olmert were “very close” to reaching a peace agreement in 2008, before the Israeli leader left office under the cloud of corruption allegations.

“It was a very good opportunity,” he said. “If he stayed two, three months, I believe in that time we could have concluded an agreement.”

He confirmed Olmert’s account that the Israeli leader was prepared to withdraw from 93.5 percent of the West Bank. The Palestinians, Abbas added, responded by offering to let Israel retain 1.9 percent of the West Bank.

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