The Settlements, the settlements, the settlements, even Israel’s staunchest defenders and ally’s have difficulty explaining this one. Ever since President Obama has turned the settlements into a pivotal issue, barely a day has gone by where they have been out of the headlines, and it seems that the first move in Obama’s Middle East game plan is to push for an immediate freeze in Israeli settlement growth.
Recent polls show that both in the US and in Israel the settlements are largely unpopular. Many believe that they are an expression of Israeli expansionist imperialism, or a sentimentalist realization of biblical prophesies. There seems to be a gaping lack of knowledge and clarity on the relevance, purpose and necessity of these settlements, why they originated, why many Jews are prepared to sacrifice so much for them, and why the Israeli government is insistent on allowing their growth.
The primary and most important reason for keeping them and encouraging their continued expansion is safety and security. It is immediate and clear that the removal of any settlement will make Israel weaker as a country and her citizens less safe.
Following Israel’s war of independence in 1948 until 1967 the disputed territories were seized from British control by surrounding Arab countries and Israel’s borders were largely indefensible; at the narrowest point the country was 9 km wide, a serious logistical vulnerability. After the defensive 6 day war of 1967 these lands (that were a portion of what was allotted to Israel by the League of Nations mandate in 1922) were reclaimed and a settlement program was encouraged in order to create a buffer zone on Israel’s eastern front that would protect the country’s vulnerable center from being sliced in half by Arab invaders in the future.
Today little has changed and although it seems that an invasion from Israel’s Arab neighbors is less likely, the settlement issue is a vital matter of national security for the following reasons.
1. To those intellectually honest observers of the 2005 disengagement of Gaza it is clear that the direct result of this operation has created a security disaster; residents in the south of Israel have now been subject to the continued deadly threat of rocket fire for years. One can only begin to imagine the immediate danger it would pose to the vast majority of Israeli citizens if a similar situation was facilitated by dismantling of settlements in Judea and Samaria.
The greater the Israeli civil and army presence in Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem the harder it is for Palestinians to develop an infrastructure to fire rockets, mortars and enhance operations of terrorist recruitment and training camps. Israeli control of the Jordanian border ensures that the famous Gaza tunnels that are speckled along the Philadelphi route bordering Egypt are not replicated. These tunnels are used to import advanced weaponry for use against Israelis.
It seems that many organizations or individuals that fight for Israel in the arena of public opinion are very aware that the 2005 disengagement directly resulted in this disaster, but will use this fact only as an isolated argument without following through to the obvious logical conclusion, namely that further withdrawals jeopardize Israeli lives and therefore should be discouraged.
2. Whereas in the past Palestinian Arab aspirations were limited to autonomy and self governance in their existing towns and cities, most of the power brokers in global political dialogue are championing the call for an independent Palestinian state. The dismantling of any settlement encourages this demand. In the current climate the security risks of establishing such a state are monumental. What or who could possibly guarantee to the Israelis that Arab demands would stop there? Or that Hamas wouldn’t seize control of the new state as they have done in Gaza. Recent statements by Fatah leaders continue to confirm that even the supposed “moderate” Palestinian Arab leaders are also bent on the destruction of the entire state of Israel.
Any removal of settlements is a step closer to Palestinian statehood a security risk that no responsible government could ever take. Continued expansion of settlements solidifies Israeli entrenchment and makes the establishment of a Palestinian state less practical.
For those that argue that Israel would be safer if it ceded more land and, because it would reduce the risk of war, and move the Palestinians Arabs closer to reconciliation, this is a risky speculative assumption, and the trends of recent history indicate that territorial concession encourages Arab aggression. Whereas there are few military experts that will tell you that giving up territory will enhance the practical defensibility of Israel’s borders, most will argue that this would place many lives at risk. Judgments must be made based on current realities not on what one may hope might happen. The lives of Israeli citizens should not be pawned off for political considerations.
Yes, as a matter of vital concern to the safety and security of Israel citizens, settlement growth must continue quickly and quietly without provocation and in a non-confrontational fashion. There are enough Israeli’s that understand this to actually make it happen.