Commentary

West Bank Outpost Evacuation Restarts Settlement Debate

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

Forty Jewish families have agreed to evacuate the Amona outpost, one of over 120 officially unsanctioned settlements in the West Bank. After a tense stand-off between the Israeli government and the rogue settlers, the families have now accepted an offer of hefty financial compensation and the promise of being resettled elsewhere. The evacuation has restarted a conversation in Israel about the impact of the settlements —official and otherwise — on the character of the state of Israel, as well as the possibilities for a sustainable peace in the future with the Palestinians. Others have raised questions about what actions other actors, including the United States and the Palestinian Authority can take to move toward a lasting peace agreement.

As the Israeli government prepares to evacuate 40 Jewish families from the Amona outpost, some Jewish commentators, including Arutz Sheva’s Tzvi Fishman, have lionized the settlers: “As the holiday of Hanukjkah and the date set for the evacuation of Amona draw closer, it is certain that if the Maccabees were living today, Yehuda and his brothers would be arrested in Israel and put into military detention, lest they violently resist the Israeli Supreme Court’s decree....As Rabbi Dov Lior has stated clearly – the residents of Amona, and their loyal supporters, are heroes. Like the heroes of Masada, they stand alone on the mountain, in the cold and rain, bracing themselves for a valiant last stand, in order to let the world know the Jewish People’s unwavering love for our Land. The campaign to discredit them is stained with the spirit of Hellenism that still lingers in the Nation, in the media, in the hallways of the Supreme Court and the Knesset, and in the minds of many well-meaning Jews for whom the message of Masada is an idealistic legend of the past, not to be championed in any practical way today.”

But, in an op-ed for the Yedioth Ahronoth, Nahum Barnea points out the hypocrisy of the distinction between sanctioned and unsanctioned settlements, raising uncomfortable questions for both those who find the relocation of the settlers a sui generis case as well as for those who maintain that the continuing construction of settlements is a sustainable strategy in the long term: “Amona’s residents are rightly asking why are they being forced to relocate, while the residents of the neighboring settlement of Ofra, who also live on land that belongs to others, remain in their homes; why isn’t the state planning to evacuate thousands of settlers whose legal status is no different than their own status; why is it confronting families who settled there in good faith and not prosecuting the politicians, government workers, jurists and officers who initiated the establishment of their outpost, even though they knew the land was private, and maintained and funded it over the course of years....The settlement in the territories is the most significant, influential enterprise established in Israel in the past 50 years. As the years go by, it gives us more and more land—and less of a state. On the way, it crushes the foundations of statehood laid by the founding generation—the authority of the law, the dignity of the government, the purity of arms, the ambition to live in a Jewish and democratic state.”

Gershon Baskin, creator of the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives organization, raises similar questions in a recent Jerusalem Post commentary, questioning the impact of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s settlement policies on the future of the state of Israel: “Could it be possible that Netanyahu has a plan to gain U.S. support to unilaterally annex the settlement blocks – roughly defined by Netanyahu as about 10-12% of the West Bank? There is no Palestinian or Arab leader alive who could possibility accept that, not King Abdullah II of Jordan nor Abdel Sisi of Egypt. Almost no Western nation leaders could accept that either. This idea, or others that remove the termination of Israel’s control over the Palestinian people, is an act of national suicide....If Israel insists on moving forward with settlement building and extending its sovereignty, it will not take long before almost the entire world will drop its support for the two-state solution and then Israel will officially become recognized as the inheritor of the apartheid crown and be treated in due respect (or lack thereof). That will officially be the end of the Zionist dream and the beginning of the struggle for a democratic state which is no longer the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

“Saving Israel from itself” is also the theme of the Times of Israel’s Ron Young, who urges the Obama administration to take measures in its waning days to set up a framework for peace between Israel and Palestine via the UN Security Council: “What’s needed for peace is U.S. policy determined to build on past progress. Years of negotiations produced principles and practical ideas for a two-state solution....The Arab Peace Initiative, viewed positively by prominent retired Israeli military and security officials, offers Israel the possibility of normal relations with all Arab and Muslim countries....Drawing on these proposals, President Obama should now offer a framework for peace to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority and, simultaneously, present the framework for UN Security Council endorsement....The parties would then have a starting point around which to begin final negotiations....While President Obama might take some political heat for going to the UN, Security Council endorsement of a framework for a two-state agreement would actually be a gift for President-elect Trump.”

Others are looking to the Palestinian political class for answers to the current stand-off, with the Gulf News staff calling in a recent editorial for a united effort on the part of Hamas and Fatah, especially in light of the election of Donald Trump: “Palestine must reunite. The disastrous split between Fatah and Hamas has been a gift to the Israelis and a tragedy for the Palestinians. It has allowed successive Israeli governments to manipulate events to their satisfaction and to expand their control of the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, while their blockade of Gaza has continued unabated.... A clear Palestinian voice that speaks for the entire population will be a vital first step to get the Palestinian requirements back on the international agenda. At the moment, they languish outside of anyone’s care and the Palestinians suffer the daily horrors of occupation with no hope of any immediate relief. In addition, the Palestinians will have to cope with a new problem in the shape of United States President-elect Donald Trump’s new ambassador to Israel, who is pro-Israeli-colonist, right-wing Jewish bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, who has said that he wants to move the U.S. embassy to occupied Jerusalem.”

But considering the myriad existing UN resolutions and statements, would any new framework efforts either from the United States or from a united Palestine bring any success? Raphael Ahren, writing for the Times of Israel, doesn’t seem to think so: “And yet, in the waning days of 2016 and the Obama administration, the specter of yet another anti-Israel resolution at the UN’s most important body is again dominating local headlines. Several countries are said to be planning to circulate various drafts with different intentions, though it is unclear if and when who will propose what text, and what would happen next....In the internal Israeli debate over what could happen at the Security Council in Obama’s last days, very little attention has been given to the question of how much impact an approved resolution would actually have. The answer is quite simple: Not much....Hypothetically, an anti-settlement resolution passed under this chapter could legitimize sanctions against Israel or even military force, ‘but this is very unlikely at this point,’ [Aeyal] Gross [of Tel Aviv University] said. ‘Currently, it would amount only to a diplomatic embarrassment’.”


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