It is quite simple: any peace between Israel and the Palestinian people will necessarily be based on ceding the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip to the future State of Palestine. A world-wide consensus on this is now in place. The only question is where exactly the border will run, since there is also a consensus about minor mutually agreed swaps of territory.
This means that peace would necessarily entail the removal of a large number of settlements and the evacuation of the settlers throughout the West Bank.
The Settlers and their allies dominate the present Israeli government coalition. They object to giving up even one square inch of occupied territory of the country God has promised us. (Even settlers who do not believe in God do believe that God has promised us the land.) Because of this, there are no peace negotiations, no freeze on building activities in the settlements, no move of any kind towards peace.
The settlers went to their locations in the West Bank specifically for this purpose: to create "facts on the ground" that would prevent any possibility of the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Therefore, it is quite immaterial whether it is the settlers who prevent the return of the occupied territories for peace, or whether the government uses the settlers for this purpose. It comes to the same: the settlers block any peace effort.
As the Americans would put it: It's the settlers, stupid.
SOME NICE Israelis are indeed playing stupid, or really are.
It is now the fashion in certain circles to "embrace" the settlers in the name of national unity. Jews should not quarrel among themselves, they say, drawing on ancient Ghetto wisdom. Settlers are people like us.
Prominent among those who say so is Shelly Yachimovitch, a member of the Knesset and one of six candidates for the chair(wo)manship of the moribund Labor Party. For years she has done a good job as an advocate of social justice, never wasting a word on peace, occupation, settlements, Palestine and such trifles. Now, as part of her campaign, she has come all out for loving the settlers. As she put it: "I certainly do not see the settlement enterprise as a sin and crime. At the time, it was completely consensual. It was the Labor Party which promoted the settlement in the territories. That is a fact, a historical fact."
Some believe that Yachimovitch is only pretending to feel this way, in order to garner mainstream votes for a takeover of the party, and that she intends to merge what remains of the party with Kadima, where she would try to displace Tzipi Livni and perhaps even become Prime Minister.
Perhaps. But I have a lurking suspicion that she really believes what she is saying -- and that is an awful thing to say about any politician, male or female, of course.
BUT SERIOUSLY, there is no way to embrace the settlers and fight for social justice at the same time. It just can't be done, even though some of the leaders of the social protest movement advocate this on tactical grounds.
There can be no Israeli welfare state while the war goes on. The border incidents of the last two weeks show how easy it is to divert public opinion and silence the protests when the banner of security is unfurled. And how easy it is for the government to prolong any incident.
Sowing the fear of "September" is yet another example.
But the reasons for the impossibility of separating social justice from security go deeper. Serious social reforms need money, lots of money. Even after reforming the tax system -- more "progressive" direct taxes, less "regressive" indirect taxes -- and breaking the cartels of the "tycoons," tens of billion of dollars will be needed to rescue our schools, our hospitals and our social services.
These billions can only come from the military budget and the settlements. Huge sums are invested in the settlements -- not just in heavily subsidized housing for the settlers, government salaries for many settlers (a far higher percentage than in the general population), but also for the infrastructure (roads, electricity and water supply etc.) and the large number of troops needed to defend them. The preparations for "September" show again how much this costs.
BUT EVEN this is not the full story. Beyond all these facts there is the main reason for the deformation of Israel: the conflict itself.
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