The practicalities of settlement removal

If, and when, the boundaries of the Palestinian state are demarcated and implemented on the ground as part of a final phase agreement, the time will come for the issue of Israeli settlement removal to be dealt with at a practical level. The options for settlement evacuation are varied but must include some, or all, of the following factors.

There must be a sufficient time lead between settling the details of the final agreement and the eventual evacuation of those settlers who are prepared to go peacefully, to enable them to arrange their own affairs. The government of Israel must plan for alternative residential solutions inside Israel, through the construction of new settlements or new neighborhoods in existing towns, to absorb the evacuees in permanent housing conditions.

A public agency should be established to deal with the wide range of relocation problems, such as housing, education and employment for those settlers who work in the West Bank and Gaza public and municipal networks. By the same token, consultancy and psychological services must be provided for those settlers who are traumatically affected by their forced evacuation, especially those who perceive the evacuation as shattering their political and religious dreams.

Adequate financial compensation should be provided for settler families to help them get a new life in order. Unlike the Sinai experience, this should be worked out in advance and should not be subject to a long period of negotiation between settler leaders and government officials, which only serves to cheapen the process in the public eye and make the settlers out as a group of economic opportunists. No settlements should be destroyed or razed to the ground as happened in Sinai, especially in the Yamit region. The settlements can either be sold, or handed over, to the Palestinian state/Authority and can serve as potential housing solutions for some of the refugee population. Settlements which remain in situ as a result of boundary redrawing should be encouraged to adopt settlements which have to be evacuated–perhaps even to absorb some of the evacuated settlers into their own communities. In this way, the settler population would feel a limited sense of common fate with people who originally moved to the West Bank for the same reasons and, but for the quirk of the cartographer’s pen, would have shared the same fate.

As far as possible, settler leaders and activists should be involved, either publicly or privately, in the detailed stages of planned evacuation, especially in cases where relocation may take place to new settlements that will be constructed for them inside Israel. While many of the settler leaders will refuse to undertake what they see as an act of “collaboration,” it is reasonable to assume that once the reality sinks in, some will be prepared to become involved (even with the secret blessing of the political leaders) so as to ensure the least possible disruption.

As much settlement relocation as possible should occur during the summer months when children are on vacation, so that they can be in place for the start of the new school year, and in order that no school be disrupted by a sudden closure or a gradual loss of students over an extended time period.

As a means of gaining gradual acceptance amongst the settlers that they will have to eventually relocate, a number of messages need to be disseminated. The settlers need to be told:

 that the longer term benefit of peace, or at least an end to violence and conflict, is a greater benefit to Israel as a whole than the continuation of settlements;

 that the Israeli population–left and right wing alike–understands the political sacrifice that will be made by the settlers and will be prepared to assist them in the painful relocation process;

 that in today’s political and military climate, settlements are perceived as being a security burden rather than an asset and that their own lives (and those of their children) are threatened by remaining in these dangerous locations;

 that many new challenges face the State of Israel in a post-conflict era, in the fields of education, welfare and health policies, in developing the country’s peripheral regions, and that the settler population is ideally suited, due to its ideological fervor and commitment to the state, to meet many of these new challenges;

 and that physical or violent opposition to evacuation will only serve to worsen the settlers’ image amongst the wider Israeli population who will see them as peace spoilers and social outcasts. Holding out for their ideological cause could potentially do them long term harm in their ability to eventually reintegrate back into Israel.

Nothing should be done to drive a wedge between different sectors of the settler population. While this may work with those settlers who are prepared to receive their compensation and relocate at an early pre-agreement stage, this will only make the other settlers more determined in their opposition to any such moves. At the same time, the agreement of some to relocate may have a snowball effect, gradually drawing in wider and wider circles of people who were previously not prepared to leave their homes.

Public awareness of the options available should be put into operation as soon as possible. The greater the familiarity with the practical mechanics of settlement evacuation, the greater the chance that it can actually take place in a relatively calm and orderly atmosphere. This would be to the long term benefit of both the peace process and Israeli society.