Sunday, July 19, 2009

The "Truth" about "Settlements"

My wife and I spent this past Shabbat with our daughter and her family, who live in Noqdim, a small "legal" settlement in the Gush Etzion area. The air is clear and dry , and the view overlooking the Judean desert is beautiful in its starkness. From the porch of my daughter's apartment, we were able to see the mountains on the Jordanian side of the border, which along with the Judean desert mountain range form the borders of the dead sea. Also within our view, about a mile away, was an "illegal" outpost of Rehav'am. There, on a desolate flat between two hills in the desert, are five or six caravans, a water tank, a few tents, and a small dirt path leading up to the settlement.

I thought to myself, sarcastically, "these settlements are really standing in the way of peace." Look, everywhere you see, peace is spreading, taking hold, and these settlers, with their bare hands, are blocking peace.

How ridiculous. Even the Arabs know its ridiculous. Perhaps Barack Obama is the only one who doesn't know.

We are all familiar with the arguments regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Each side has its narrative, along with "proofs" of their factual truth and righteousness of their position. Supporters and opponents adopt one or the other of these narratives, and nobody can change their minds. Israel has very real security concerns and national interests at stake. Israel also has proven that it is willing to dismantle settlements if necessary. In the framework of a peace accord, the settlements will be negotiated, and everybody knows that Israel will make concessions. But these arguments make no difference to Israel's opponents.

The real question is the balance of power and US national interests.

Demanding the Israel freeze all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is unfair, against all previous understanding with the US, and won't bring peace any closer.

But: there are about 300+ million Arabs, and perhaps another 900 million Muslims in the world. There are 6 million Israelis and another 8 million Jews worldwide. It occurs to me periodically, that we would not even be having this discussion, had the population situation been reversed. Or if the Jews sat on oil fields, not the Arabs. Even if we were just 50 or 100 million Jews, we would not be having this discussion. But, to our regret, this is not the case. So arguments of logic, facts, or justness have limited value and relevance.

US national interests take this reality into account. How could they not? Sometimes extremist Israelis on the left and right forget this. The right, because they think that we can do whatever we want, no matter who opposes us. Caroline Glick is a good example of this. On the left, because of their arrogance, they assume that Israel can change the whole middle east all by itself by just "doing the right thing". The editors of Ha'aretz are typical of this view.

In my view, all we Israelis and Jews can do, is argue as forcefully as we can, and use wisely whatever power and strategic assets that we have. This means being careful and choosing our battles, while not crossing red lines that erode our prestige and position. The goal is to manage the situation, even if there is no solution in sight.

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