Today’s New York Times features an op-ed by Dani Dayan, the head of the Yesha Council (the group that represents settlers and their interests). There isn’t really any news here: it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the settlers want the world to believe that settlements are good, peace efforts are pointless, and that the way forward should be premised on leaving all settlements in place, and leaving the West Bank under Israeli control, in perpetuity. Nonetheless, it is worth examining some representative snippets from this high profile op-ed.
Dayan starts with the assertion that, “Israel legitimately seized the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria in self-defense.” This assertion ignores the fact that in the post-colonial era, there is no such thing as a country “legitimately” seizing territory in self-defense or for any other reason. Love it or hate it, but the acquisition of land by force, even when that force is, at least initially, about self-defense, is not allowed under international law, period (nor is extended occupation of said land). This fact is enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which notes the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”
Dayan also states that, “Giving up this land [the West Bank] in the name of a hallowed two-state solution would mean rewarding those who’ve historically sought to destroy Israel.” In fact, leaving settlements in place is a reward to those who in recent decades have worked the hardest to destroy Israel—i.e., the settlers themselves. Getting out of the West Bank, on the other hand, isn’t about rewarding Palestinians or Arabs for good or bad behavior—it is about what Israel needs to do for its own sake. Holding on to the West Bank comes at a cost of Israel’s own security, of the viability of Israel’s democracy, of the health of Israel’s economy, and of the strength of Israel’s moral claims as a Jewish state. The policies required for Israel to hold on to the West Bank, and the policies that cater to the settlers as they expand and deepen their hold on it, feed anti-Israel sentiment around the world—sentiment that no amount of hasbara will ever be able to overcome.
There is also Dayan’s argument that “…any peace agreement would collapse the moment Hamas inevitably took power by ballot or by gun. Israel would then be forced to recapture the area, only to find a much larger Arab population living there.” Dayan implies that he is actually open to a two-state solution but has concluded that it just won’t work. Given his clear commitment to the settlement enterprise, such openness to a two-state solution defies credulity. Moreover, Dayan ignores the fact that with a peace agreement in place, Israel will be in a far stronger position to defend itself from outside threats than it is today, including threats from a future Palestinian state that might turn hostile. Israel’s military actions with respect to the West Bank and Gaza today are often challenged and criticized, due to the blurriness of the line that separates defending the occupation (and quashing challenges to it) and true Israeli self-defense. A peace agreement that ends the occupation and yields universally recognized borders will mean that Israel's right to use force to defend itself, within these borders, will be unchallengeable—leaving Israel in far stronger security position.
Dayan laments that “…the Palestinians have repeatedly refused to implement a negotiated two-state solution.” Of course, Dayan well knows that there has never been a negotiated two-state solution to implement. The Oslo Accords was just the starting point; since it was signed, both sides have undertaken actions that are inconsistent with a two-state solution. For their part, the Palestinian Authority leadership remains committed to two states and to a rejection of violence; indeed, such a commitment was implicit in their appeal to the United Nations last fall. On the other hand, successive Israeli governments have, over the years since Oslo, acted unilaterally without pause, in close collaboration with the settlers, to change the facts on the ground in a manner that seeks to pre-judge or even foreclose the possibility of any negotiated two-state solution in the future.
Dayan is similarly disingenuous when he argues that “Today, security—the ultimate precondition for everything—prevails. Neither Jews nor Palestinians are threatened by en masse eviction; the economies are thriving…” Yes, there is security for settlers, subsidized by the same Israeli taxpayers who are protesting the lack of government funding for social services inside the Green Line. There is little security for Palestinians, especially those who in some areas routinely face “price tag” attacks by settlers. There is no security for Palestinians living in the 8 villages that the IDF just announced will be evacuated to make way for an IDF training ground. There is no security for the Palestinians in Susya whose entire village is threatened with demolition. As for the thriving economy, settlers indeed enjoy the benefits of the thriving Israeli economy that exists inside the Green Line—in fact, per capita they enjoy far more benefits than Israelis living inside the Green Line. For Palestinians, it’s another story. The World Bank recently reported that the Palestinian economy “isn’t strong enough to support a state,” in part due to Israeli restrictions that make real economic growth, which requires investment, impossible.
Dayan’s statement that “Our presence in all of Judea and Samaria—not just in the so-called settlement blocs—is an irreversible fact” is perhaps the most interesting thing he has to say in his article. Israel is a democracy, with one of the strongest armies in the world. If an Israeli government decides to remove settlements, it has the ability to do so. In this context, could Dayan’s words be understood as a threat, similar to the threat implicit in the settlers’ “Price Tag” campaign? The goal of such a threat would be to scare and intimidate, by sending a message: don’t dare try to confront us or the price will be high.
Later in the piece, Dayan argues that “The settlements of Judea and Samaria are not the problem—they are part of the solution.” Dayan and his fellow travelers no doubt really believe this—because the solution they have always been committed to is “Greater Israel, at any price” This is an Israel that extends from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea—a mirror image of what they always claim Israel’s enemies want to achieve for themselves. This will be an Israel ruled not by pesky democracy that gives equal rights to all, but by some other form of government, perhaps something they will call “Israeli democracy” or “Jewish democracy.”
Such a system would boil down to tyranny of a Jewish minority over what will soon be a non-Jewish majority (as well as over any Jewish minority that might object to its rule). Under such a system, non-Jews will not have rights as enfranchised citizens with a recognized history and legitimate claims to the land, but will “enjoy” limited privileges deriving from Israeli magnanimity—privileges that could be revoked at will, including overt signs of ingratitude or misbehavior (for an example of what this could look like, the current status of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem might be instructive).
Finally, Dayan’s over-arching thesis in this op-ed is that “…our four-decade-long settlement endeavor is both [moral and wise].” The truth is that some of the settlers and their rabbis have twisted the whole concept of morality in order to justify an ideology that values land over human life, over security, and over peace. This is an ideology that can justify stealing land, destroying olive trees, and abusing and even killing children of the “enemy”, all for the goal of destroying the modern state of Israel—a state that is an imperfect but nonetheless vibrant democracy, with the rule of law and a healthy civil society—and replacing it with the a religious-fascist state characterized by the tyranny of a Jewish minority.
In short, the settlement enterprise is patently immoral and spectacularly unwise, from the point of view of anyone who cares about Israel and its survival as a democracy and a Jewish state.