In the Arena

The Settlements

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Charles Krauthammer has a misleading and evasive column about the Israeli settlements issue. He does not deal with the legality of these towns–he can’t, of course, because they are illegal under the fourth Geneva Convention, which provides rules for occupying powers. He does not deal with the illegality, and inhumanity, of building roads for the exclusive use of settlers, roads which simply take Palestinian property, separating Palestinian farmers from their fields in some cases. He does not deal with the most basic question–the not-so-subtle effort by the settler movement and its far-right sponsors to create a Palestinian swiss cheese, rather than a governable state, on the West Bank, by riddling the area with Jewish settlements. He does not deal, although it is implicit in his xenophobic argument and in the rantings of the extremists over at the Commentary blog, with the reality that this Israeli behavior is anachronistic, a vestige of the post-1967 dream of a Greater Israel. He does not deal with the fact that the last two Likud/Kadima Prime Ministers, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, came to the realization that demographic reality requires a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza.

He rants, instead, about the inhumanity of denying “natural growth” in the settlements close to Jerusalem, which will undoubtedly be incorporated into Israel in the land swap that will accompany the two-state solution (a pact that he doesn’t believe will ever happen). No babies will be allowed to be born in these settlements, he says–as if that were even a remote possibility. The truth is, “natural growth” is a loophole, a purposely imprecise term that would allow untrammeled growth everywhere. If the Israelis were serious about this, they would propose a list of specific exceptions–some of the Israeli towns near Jerusalem–where growth would be permitted and promise an absolute end to settlement activity, roads and wall-building elsewhere, pending negotiations with the Palestinians. 

He rants, on much firmer ground, about the corruption and incompetence of the Palestinian leadership. That is undoubtedly true, and is inexcusable, just as the terror attacks on innocent Israelis are barbaric, inexcusable and require a firm response. But it is also a diversion: there will be no peace for Israel without a sovereign Palestinian state. There may be no peace for Israel, in any case; there will always be implacable Arab terrorists. But a coherent and prosperous Palestine certainly increases the odds that Israel will survive in the long run. As does an Israel that exists as a model of democracy and humanity, rather than a vehement occupier acting outside international law.