Saturday, November 12, 2011


I support compromise in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. In exchange for true peace and security, I  support giving up much of the West Bank and finding a way to accommodate both people's claims to Jerusalem. 

The "settlements" are an important issue. However, they are one of many important issues. There are others of equal or more import, some existential for Israel.

Yet, it seems that some people are convinced that, if only Israel would uproot the "settlements" and leave the West Bank, there would be an end to the conflict. In about eighty to ninety percent of the conversations I have with Americans about the Middle East, "settlements" are the exclusive or primary focus. 

It seems that "settlements" have become the fashionable reason for why there is no end to the dispute. They are the conventional wisdom, the easy buzzword, the group-think. It reminds one of the quote from General George Patton: "When everyone is thinking the same, somebody is not thinking."

I recently sent a friend some information on the Middle East dispute. His response was: "What about the ring of settlements around Jerusalem?" I neglected to answer prior to sending him some more information, to which he responded: "What about the settlements?"

I finally lost it. Here is the response I gave to my friend (edited, added to, and, hard as it may be to believe, toned down a bit):

Joe ( I've changed the name to protect what I hope is still a friendship):

Saying the "settlements" are the big block to peace is laughable.  If they were the issue, they could have been stopped long ago. There were no settlements prior to 1967. They could have been stopped if the Palestinians had agreed to peace in 1980, 2001, 2009, etc. etc. Israel ripped up communities in Gaza, pulled out completely, and got 9,000 rockets fired at civilians in return. 

I  invite you to come and take look at how about a million people in Israel proper now have to live. It amazes me how so many well-meaning people are so worried about the "settlements" but take no interest in the years-long targeting of Jews.  Moreover, Netanyahu, the alleged right-winger with the right-wing coalition, halted them for 10 months and got nothing in return. Abbas would not sit down for nine months, and when he did he did nothing.

What do you, Abbas, President Obama, and whoever you read and listen to on this subject mean when you refer to "settlements?'' Do you mean the little outposts, often trailers, planted out in the middle of the West Bank that Israel has repeatedly made clear would be gone in exchange for real peace and security? 

Do you mean the communities of 20,000-30,000 people not contiguous to Jerusalem but within 10 kilometers that could easily be accommodated if there were really peace and acceptance of all who live in the region?   Do you mean the neighborhoods within Jerusalem that are to the east of the no-mans land that scarred and divided the city between 1948 and 1967? Those toward the north and south that straddle both sides of the 1948 truce lines and help protect Jerusalem and the alley to Jerusalem from the constant bombardment and terror that were inflicted on innocent civilians prior to 1967? 

Much of the uproar created by President Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and a good part of the media is not even about those out in the middle of nowhere or those to the  east. They are about Gilo and Ramot and other similar neighborhoods that are to the north and south.

The Palestinians never expected to obtain these areas within the borders of their new state.  They only became an issue, and a useful stumbling block to sitting down to negotiations, when President Obama started referring to all of these areas as "settlements."  I wonder if he even knows the difference between these different communities.  President Clinton and President Bush certainly seemed to, but I have seen no evidence that President Obama recognizes or cares about the difference.

When I ask people who seem constantly obsessed with the "settlements" which they are talking about, they cannot say.  They often reply "Oh, I didn't get into those kinds of details."  Or, "You know the nuances much better than I do."  Well, I respectfully suggest you not play with other people's lives and children without knowing the details and the nuances and, even then, that you proceed humbly and with caution.

I really don't know what you are talking about with this "ring." If the Palestinians would sit down and negotiate a real peace, all of the logistics could be worked out. It would be tough, but they could. If they are so worried about the settlments, why don't they come and bargain for a deal?

In real peace, populations of one nationality can live with their neighbors and within their boundaries.  I'm sure you know that Canadians live over the border in the U.S. and there are communities of Americans living in Mexico.  I know that there are large communities of South African Jews living in Australia.  European nationalities are scattered throughout the continent. 

Why is it so inconceivable that some Jewish neighborhoods will remain within Israel's boundaries while some Jews will live within the boundaries of Palestine just as over a million Arabs live in Israel proper with full rights as citizens? 

Perhaps it is so hard to conceive of a real peace that permits this because President Abbas, the "moderate" president of the Palestinian Authority (who, by the way, is on about the 85th month of a 48 month term), has repeatedly declared that he will never recognize the right of Jews to have a state and that a new Palestinian state must be completely devoid of any Jews.  Amazing that this clear declaration of ethnic cleansing has not, as far as I'm aware, illicited any outrage from those that are so upset about Jewish neighborhoods.

I wonder if you are as concerned with these issues as you are with the "settlements":

1. Why in Abbas' speech to the UN he recognized Moslem and Christian ties to Jerusalem but not Jewish ones?

2. Why the Palestinians will not recognize Israel as the Jewish state?

3. Why they will not agree that a resolution would be the end of all claims?

4. Why they will not agree that the descendents of refugees will be settled in the new Palestine and not in Israel?

5. Why the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon recently stated that getting a state would just be a platform for continuing the struggle for all of Palestine, and that "refugees" (really mostly descendents like you and I are descendents of our grandfathers who had to leave Europe) in other Arab countries and even in the West Bank will not be granted citizenship so that they can continue to struggle to go "home?"

Joe, which do you think is the more difficult to accomodate or dismantle: buildings of stone and concrete or hate so deep-seeded to justify a refusal to recognize on maps and in schools the Jewish people's nation? To cause a people to rejoice in the freedom of those proud of blowing children to bits? To proudly declare that no Jew shall live in their midst?

I suggest you stop worrying quite so much about the "settlements" and start worrying a bit about the real obstacle to peace: the unwillingness of the Palestinians to make a deal that ends the conflict and recognizes the Jewish National Liberation movement's right to our nation.

All the best.

Your friend,



  1. Regretfully the Joes do not seem to grasp the fact that there is no connection between the settlements and the end of the conflict - peace. Not a single Palestinian leader ever said that if the settlements were given back, dismantled...whatever - the Palestinians would put up with the existence of Israel as the Nation state of the Jews. They keep asserting the opposite.

  2. Well maybe Israel should change their lobby to persuading Americans that these settlements will never become permanent because if they do Israel and Palestine could never negotiate a two state solution, leaving the next option of a one state solution. And to be worried that these settlements may indeed be permanent is a valid fear, as neither you nor I will know if when the time comes for negotiations if Israel will actually peacefully remove these settlers or complicate deals by negotiating their stay. The view of these settlements by the Arab world is obviously negative so by doing so is not really leaving room for future relations. I believe we all agree on this intractable conflict has gone on too long and the longer we wait , the later we decide to negotiate, the more problems that will arise (resources, security, ect) One must understand peace takes time, trust, and tolerance.
    Israel’s electoral system is set up for vast changes in policies each election, as Jews, we as a people should understand that we must help the Palestinians as they are our fellow humans. I love Israel but to say these settlements have no effect, I believe is false. However, I strongly believe this not the most important issue but is still an issue.

  3. Thank You Alan, This is an education for me reading your comments.
    Your Friend

  4. See for a further discussion about the different kinds of settlements.

    Settlements are a very important issue, and Israel's behavior toward Palestinians in Area C is horrible. But there are other important issues, including the status of East Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinians. There are solutions, but neither side seems to have the political will.

  5. Thank you so much Alan, this was a truly informative and educational post.