Israel Can Look Away No Longer

‘I have no doubt,’ Israeli Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel’s Channel 2 this week, ‘that there are people who have already decided that they will `save the people of Israel’ and will assassinate a minister, the prime minister, an army officer or a police officer. I have no doubt. This is now with us.’ But here’s the kicker. Hanegbi wasn’t referring to Palestinians. He was referring to Jewish settlers.

Sources intimate with Hanegbi said his statement was based on Shin Bet intelligence. Further, all factions in the Israeli Knesset have expressed concern over a possible civil war, and attempts by rightwing Jewish settlers to declare the prime minister a target under the so-called din rodef halakha justifying preemptive murder to prevent a Jew from killing a Jew. Yigal Amir had even tried to use din rodef as a defense for killing Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Though the defense failed, it illustrates the enormous difficulties Jewish settlers pose for any future peace.

The catalyst for these fears is Sharon’s proposed disengagement plan from Gaza – something Israel is obligated to do under UN Resolution 242 anyway.

No matter how you look at it, Israeli settlements are leading the Israelis to their worst nightmare. If they get rid of the settlements, there is the likelihood that a civil war with Jewish settlers will start. If they don’t get rid of the settlements, bi-nationalism becomes a reality and the Jewish character of Israel dissipates.

Despite the new fears, Israel continues to allow new outposts to be built in the West Bank, while promising to take outposts down. ‘We have some disappointment in the rate at which outposts have been removed,’ Secretary Colin Powell said. Powell told Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom that the U.S. expects Israel to move more quickly. More to the point, Knesset member Ephraim Sneh told reporters, ‘There is a clear-cut case of flagrant deception and a breaking of the promise to the Americans.’

Clearly, Sharon is in a bind as he has consider the feelings of Jewish settlers – a key constituency. Many Jewish settlers view their presence in the Occupied Palestinian territories as a religious duty. Some Israelis insist that settlements are needed for security reasons, even though the colonies arguably have cultivated more hatred.

But it was Sharon himself who declared the true aim of the settlements when he once urged: ‘Everyone has to move, run, and grab as many hilltops as you can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours . . .’ Indeed, Sharon and other supporters of Israeli settlements are correct that a viable Palestinian Arab state cannot be established west of the River Jordan.

The settlements and the exclusively Jewish bypass roads leading up to the settlements have left Palestinian areas looking like Swiss cheese. However, it is doubtful that settlement supporters are thinking about the erasure of the Green Line and the resulting one-state solution, whereby Palestinians and Israelis live together in one state.

As Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen of the Israel Policy Forum acknowledged in the fall of 2002, ‘you now have a Jewish state on both sides of the Green Line, one where there is a Jewish majority and one where there is a Jewish minority ruling an Arab majority’.

President Ronald Reagan proposed a peace plan in 1982 that required freezing such settlements. ‘The immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed,’ Reagan said. President George H. W. Bush even delayed loan guarantees to Israel until he got assurances that the money would not be used to build settlements.

But neither the ‘dovish’ Labor Party nor the hawkish Likud Party ever stopped the settlement expansion policy. In fact, there was more settlement building under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak than there was under his right-wing predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Israel’s Peace Now.

And so, Sharon pushes forward with the protection of the settlement policy by using the new wall to bring them into a new Israeli border. But the quagmire has already been created. Outpost evictee Yosi Peli, told the AP, ‘When someone is trying to take you from your home it’s difficult to know what will be’ as he explained the violence between Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers.

The Palestinians can make the same statement but their concerns have been viewed as ‘irrelevant.’ Israel can look away no longer.