Monday, August 12, 2013

Israel to Palestinians: Sorry, We’ll Keep Building

Israel to Palestinians: Sorry, We’ll Keep Building

By P. David Hornik 

This week the Israeli cabinet approved a new national-priorities map by 15 votes and four abstentions.

Each year the map extends special benefits to a list of communities. This year, out of 600 that were chosen, 90 are in the West Bank, and 9 of those are small settlements outside the large settlement blocs.

The inclusion of those small settlements “outside the blocs” drew protests from the usual suspects. The four ministers who abstained—including Tzipi Livni, chief negotiator in the peace talks with the Palestinians—are all dovish advocates of a Palestinian state.

Livni, for her part, said it was “wrong and contrary to national interests to take funds…to encourage settlement in these secluded and dangerous settlements.”

Zehava Gal-On, leader of the far-left opposition Meretz faction, had still stronger words: “The decision to include extremist outposts whose legality is not certain in the national priority map is a targeted assassination of peace efforts and a trampling of the rule of law.”

And Dov Weisglass, who was a negotiator for former prime minister Ariel Sharon, asked in an enraged op-ed: “How does the decision to bolster communities located in the heart of the territory advance an agreement which Israel claims it is seeking?”

To begin with, on a simple factual level these critics are right. A few days before the cabinet vote, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas reiterated in Cairo his longstanding position that “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli—civilian or soldier—on our lands.”

If one accepts, then, that the Palestinian state would have to be Jew-free—while Israel would continue to include a large Arab population—then strengthening Jewish communities in the putative Jewless areas appears to harm the “solution.”

Why, then, did 15 out of 19 ministers vote in favor of the new map?

The basic reason is that it’s a right-leaning cabinet, reflecting the will of the Israeli people who over the past three and a half decades have mostly elected right-leaning governments.

Indeed, a poll released this week suggests the cabinet is quite in synch with Israeli public opinion. It found that 79 percent of Israeli Jews see the recently restarted Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as having a low chance of success, 63 percent oppose withdrawing to the 1949 armistice lines with land swaps, and 58 percent oppose dismantling small settlements outside the blocs.

And what accounts for that rightward drift in the Israeli Jewish public?

No doubt, statements like Abbas’s—“we would not see the presence of a single Israeli—civilian or soldier—on our lands”—have something to do with it.

What kind of neighbor would that be? Should Israel comply with the Jew-free principle and go through the severe national trauma of a forced evacuation of tens of thousands of Israelis?

And there are some other factors. Over a thousand Israelis murdered in the 2000-2005 Second Intifada. Thousands of rockets on Israeli communities after Israel indeed—albeit on a smaller scale—removed every Israeli civilian and soldier from Gaza. The ongoing inculcation of murderous hostility toward Israel in both Gaza and the West Bank. Ongoing vicious stone-throwing attacks against Israelis who live in the—supposedly acceptable—settlement blocs. One can go on and on.

Another way of saying this is that—yes, even for Palestinians—time does not stand still. After rejecting hands-down every offer of a state from the Peel Commission in 1937 to Ehud Olmert in 2008, after holding fast to conditions that not even ultra-dovish Israeli leaders can meet, after continuing the violence and hate, you might see those settlements keep growing.

Palestinians—unlike the general rule in life—keep getting another and another and another chance. But even that might have its limit.