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Settlements are forever
July 25th, 2003
Jerusalem If there were 100 settlement outposts before Israeli soldiers started evacuating them, there will be 150 by the time theyre finished.
The Keystone Kops routine playing out on the West Bank hilltops one outpost comes down, two go up illustrates why I dont believe there will ever be peace between Israel and the Palestinians: We are never going to get the settlers out of there.
The Palestinians shall never have independence because we have settled the land where they live with 225,000 Israelis, now in their third generation. The Israelis living there have their own towns, highways and army.
And the farther into the West Bank you go, the farther you get from the Green Line and the possibility of annexing territory to Israel proper, the more radical and often violent the settlers become.
About 50,000 of them live in places like Hebron, Kiryat Arba, Bracha, Yitzhar, Itamar, Tappuach, Elon Moreh and dozens more, built defiantly 20, 30, 35 years ago as Jewish facts in the middle of thickly Palestinian areas.
How do you build a Palestinian state around them? You cant. Whos going to get those settlers out of there? Nobody.
The Sharon government, with the Bush government breathing down its neck, cant even get these hilltop youth to go home to their mother settlements. They all insist on keeping second homes in Judea and Samaria.
Its true that Palestinian terrorism, in the monstrous, massive form its taken in the intifada, is much crueler than building settlements. Its much more terrible to blow up innocent civilians than to grab another little piece of whats supposed to be somebody elses land.
But terror hasnt been as unstoppable as settlement expansion. During the last four-and-a-half years of the seven-year Oslo peace process, Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority brought terrorism fairly under control.
Binyamin Netanyahu brags that things were quiet when he was prime minister, and hes right. But it wasnt the Israel Defense Force patrolling the Palestinian cities and camps and making arrests. It was the P.A.
Things got even quieter under Ehud Barak. During the first nine months of 2000, the number of Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians was zero until the intifada broke out, mainly because of the Palestinians bloody-mindedness, but also because of Israels arrogance.
While terror was brought nearly to heel for a stretch of time, settlement expansion never was. Not one West Bank or Gaza settler has ever been sent back across the Green Line. During the Oslo years, while Rabin, Peres, Barak and Clinton focused on the negotiating table, the number of Israelis living in the occupied territories about doubled.
Without question, terror is the most nightmarish obstacle to peace. But settlement is the most intractable.
Trying to look on the bright side, peaceniks quote polls that show 60, 70 or 80 percent of Israelis saying they would give up all those isolated settlements for peace. But these are deceptive figures.
Most Israelis have no use for the extremists out there, and would love to see IDF soldiers leave for good but only under ideal, laboratory conditions. If the settlers agree to go quietly, if the Palestinians dont try to humiliate us, if the streets of Israel stay calm.
But if Jewish families start lying down in front of bulldozers, going on hunger strikes and shrieking about Jewish blood, transfer and rewarding murderers; if Palestinians cheer and shoot and chant itbah al yahud (kill the Jews); if hundreds of thousands of protesters rage in Jerusalem; if the specter of civil war appears in other words, if settlement evacuation is tried few Israelis would have the stomach for it. The settlers would win, as they always have.
Like most Israelis, Im waiting for this road map to blow up. Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Brigades will do it, not the settlers, not Israel. Theres nobody left to talk to, at least nobody with any muscle.
The only way remaining is unilateral withdrawal to clear out of most of the West Bank and Gaza, build a wall, defend it, and see if the Palestinians come to their senses. It wouldnt be perfect, but I think it would be better than what weve got now.
But the 225,000 settlers wont allow it. And nobodys going to force them.
They will always be there, and the IDF will always have to protect them, and the Palestinians today 3.5 million, in another 20 years 7 million will always kill and get killed trying to get rid of them, and we will always have to send our sons to kill and get killed trying to contain the Palestinians.
I cant be sure, of course; I cant predict the future. But if I had to bet, thats the future Id bet on. Its what weve had for 36 of Israels 55 years.
Judea, Samaria and Gaza are in our hands. Its a fact, and it appears to be a done deal.
Larry Derfner writes about Israeli society for U.S. Jewish newspapers and the Jerusalem Post.