Why I am pro-settler

I have something to tell you: I am pro-settler.

OK, you are not surprised. But considering the amount of vitriol poured out every day on settlers and settlements, I thought I needed to explicitly say this.

For example, here is how Naomi Paiss of the putatively pro-Israel New Israel Fund (about which I wrote yesterday) justifies boycotting ‘settlement’ products and artistic activities beyond the Green Line:

The settlements are not in Israel. They represent not “just” a blot on Israel as a just and decent nation, and a terrible danger to its survival, but also the waste of billions of shekels for security, expensive bypass roads, government-subsidized construction and mortgages, and more. Those are shekels that could be used to build a more prosperous and socially just Israel. Refusing products and services made in the settlements, and opposing government expenditures there, is well within the rights of every organization and individual who intends to influence the Israeli government to finally abandon the quixotic and immoral settlement enterprise.

I think even members of the pro-Zionist Left (I think NIF has crossed the line, although they would deny it) more or less share this viewpoint. Here’s a snippet from Rabbi Eric Yoffie of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). Keep in mind that Rabbi Yoffie is much closer to the center than Paiss and even some other members of the URJ leadership:

Settlement leaders are idealistic, often brave, and deeply committed to their goals. But what they are fighting for is not the State of Israel, whose urgent political and diplomatic needs they ignore. It is not the citizens of Israel, whose lives and future are endangered by the path that the settlers advocate. And it is not Zionism, which calls for democratic principles that they reject.  What they are fighting for is settlements – which have become their god.

There are lots of threads here. One is that settlements are ‘not Israel’. Another is that they are bad for Israel. Yet another is that they — and by implication, those who live in them — are ‘immoral’.

The source for the ‘not Israel’ theme is the obligatory mantra chanted in every BBC report or NY Times article that mentions settlements, that they are “illegal under international law.” I am not going to present a detailed argument in opposition; it has been done competently with appropriate historical background by Nicholas Rostow here. Rostow gives both sides of the argument, and it’s clear which would prevail before an unbiased judge. Suffice to say that the terms of the mandate gave Jews a right to settle in these areas which has not been revoked; that the armistice lines established in 1949 have never been recognized as permanent borders; and that the fourth Geneva Convention — neither in language nor in intent — does not apply.

So they are legal. Are they ‘bad for Israel’? Yoffie seems to think they are because they are an obstacle to peace. This too, is a tired argument which is easily refuted. Has not Israel dismantled settlements and withdrawn from territory in the name of peace? Has not Israel proposed, at least twice in the last ten years, to withdraw from almost all of Judea and Samaria in return for peace, and have not the Arabs refused these offers, primarily because they did not include a return of ‘refugees’ to  pre-1967 Israel?

A recent poll of Palestinian Arabs has shown that 60% of them view a ‘two-state solution’ as a stepping stone to the replacement of Israel with an Arab state, 58% believe that “now is a time for armed struggle”, only 23% believe that Israel has a permanent right to exist, and 66% believe that “over time Palestinians must work to get back all the land for a Palestinian state.” Perhaps we are looking for obstacles to peace in the wrong place?

Although Paiss and Yoffie call settlements ‘dangerous’, the evacuation thereof without a true peace partner would be much more dangerous to security, as the withdrawal from Gaza illustrated.

It may be that what most of those who say that settlements are dangerous mean is that permanent possession of the territories would either make Israel ultimately become an Arab state or lose its democratic character.  But there are lots of possible solutions to this problem, whereas there’s no solution besides war to a terror state next door to the most populous part of Israel.

So finally, they are left with the ‘immorality’. That might mean that they think it’s ‘Palestinian land’ that the settlers have ‘stolen’. Which is mostly nonsense, since almost all settlements are built on state or purchased land, the armistice lines aren’t borders, etc. Naturally, the Arabs claim that everything is theirs and it was all stolen, but that goes for Tel Aviv, too.

Another reason settlers might be ‘immoral’ is that they “deny the Palestinian Arabs dignity and self-determination.” But they don’t — they simply want to live in peace in the historic Jewish homeland, alongside the Arabs, who have been trying to murder them for at least a hundred years, whose leaders refused every offer of partition or compromise. In fact the Arab struggle against Jewish self-determination is the initial cause of the conflict and what sustains it.

Historically, whenever the Arabs had the upper hand, they massacred Jews (as in Hebron in 1929 or Gush Etzion in 1948) or drove them out (the Old City in 1948). The Jordanians made stables out of synagogues and latrines out of Jewish gravestones. Who is trying to deny what to whom?

According to Yoffie, settlers can’t be Zionists because they reject democracy. Should they embrace ‘democracy’ in the form of giving up their own rights, accepting the rule of the Arabs whose heartfelt desire is to kill them or kick them out of the land of Israel? That wouldn’t be very Zionistic, would it?

The anti-settler people would probably say that I’m a racist, just like the settlers. But who denies Jews the right to live in the area “they want for their future state?”  Who has decreed a death penalty for those who sell land to Jews? Who does drive-by shootings on the roads (hence the ‘bypass roads Paiss criticizes), and who stones Jewish vehicles and tries to lynch their occupants? Who broadcasts anti-Semitic propaganda in their official media?

Who are the racists here?

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2 Responses to “Why I am pro-settler”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I agree with almost everything said here. And I share the fundamental sympathy with the ‘settlers’.
    However there are criticisms of at least a certain part of the settlers which it seems to me are justified. First there is the question of their not considering the whole security picture of Israel, and putting exclusive value on possession of the land of Israel. Second. I do not see any simple or satisfactory answer to the fact that our placing the whole of Eretz Yisrael in our sovereignty would mean an unacceptably large Arab minority in the Jewish state. The problems we are confronting with an Arab minority of twenty percent , a minority increasingly hostile to the State, indicates how problematic an even larger minority would be. It is problematic both in security terms and in human rights terms.
    Moreover it may well be that new peace agreement is possibly now or for many years to come. But clearly if it does come it means ceding some land. So a policy of not giving up an inch is at least in theoretical terms a true obstacle to a prospective peace agreement.

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    I don’t think we need to insist on every inch of the land of Israel. But we don’t need to give in to the demand of the Arabs for (for now) every inch of Yehuda and Shomron and E. Jerusalem either. Concerning the demographic issue, land swaps (not transfer) are a rational solution, and one which anyone who actually wants peace would favor. Of course the Arabs refuse to consider it, call Lieberman a racist for suggesting it, but then they are not interested in peace, are they?

    This is the main problem: all the ‘technocratic’ or ‘creative’ solutions, the kind of thing that Dennis Ross likes to think up, founder on one obstacle: the fact that the Arabs will not accept any solution that leaves a Jewish state in existence.

    In this sense, the settlements are no more or less an obstacle to peace than Tel Aviv.