Israeli Peace Camp: Empower Moderate Settlers
Samuel Lebens argues that it's in the Israeli peace camp's interest to empower certain Jewish settlers.
The readership of this blog has a large and varied array of opinions regarding the moral and legal legitimacy of Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line. But, in this post, I'd like to put that important issue to one side. Instead, I want to talk about ways in which the settler population, whether you love them or loathe them, can become real partners in the creation of a two-state solution.
As far back as 2011, two influential Rabbinic figures in the West Bank, indeed, two of the heads of my Rabbinical Seminary, came out in public against the horrific rise of “price tag” attacks—acts of violence, vandalism, and terror, directed against Israeli soldiers and against Palestinian civilians, in so-called retaliation for perceived slights against the settler movement. This Rabbinic protest should not be surprising. Of course they had to speak out against such despicable acts. Rather, what was noteworthy was the following rationale that the two rabbis adopted in their public statement: "We support the IDF in its activities against the criminal lawlessness undermining the foundation of our existence here."
That is to say: part of what motivated the statement, above and beyond their moral outrage, was their fear that the settlements are somehow being put in jeopardy. Indeed, Rabbi Medan, one of the two rabbis to pen the statement, said that "Anyone who cares about ethics and about the Judea and Samaria settlement should join in [our protest]." That is to say, there are two concerns here against price-tag fundamentalism: ethics, and the continued settlement of Judea and Samaria.The following line of argument is starting to emerge: if we want to keep the settlements, or even a fraction of them, we have to reject fundamentalism with two hands. This wasn't surprising coming from Rabbi Lichtenstein, the other author of the statement. Rabbi Lichtenstein has long been associated with the moderate wing of the settler movement. In his eulogy for Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995, he argued that Rabin was trying to be a friend to the settlements; that in the "peace process there is importance not just to what is given back, but also to how it is given back"; and that Rabin's assassination should therefore be of particular concern "for those to whom the settlement of Judea and Samaria is important."
But, unlike Rabbi Lichtenstein, Rabbi Medan is on the right wing of the settler movement. When the Oslo Accords were signed, he went on a hunger strike. To hear him argue that fundamentalism was posing a threat to the continued existence of the settlements marked a potential watershed.
This month, a group of Jewish and Arab doctors and their families were taking part in a day out together in Gush Etzion, at the local field school. The doctors were accosted by local settlers, and the Arab doctors and their families were subjected to racial harassment. It is not surprising that the head of the school publicly lambasted the racist thugs who did this. But what was noteworthy about his condemnation were these words: "We will not remain long here in Gush Etzion if it is not based on a moral foundation."
People in the moderate communities of the West Bank are beginning to realize that if they don't wash their hands of the fundamentalism that threatens to engulf them, they will completely lose whatever legitimacy they still maintain in the eyes of the Israeli public. Indeed, Israel will eventually wash its hands of the settlements entirely, if they become, in mainstream Israeli eyes, a moral stain, a territory of lawlessness, a cesspool of racist zealotry.
This government has, in some ways, declared war on the ultra-Orthodox communities of Israel that were for many years politically invulnerable, a linchpin of every coalition government. Who's to say that the next government won't declare war on the settlements, if the coalition has a different complexion, and if public ire moves from the ultra-Orthodox “scroungers on state resources” to the “lawless thugs” of the West Bank who also “scrounge upon state resources”? Or perhaps future governments with ultra-Orthodox components will want to take revenge upon the settlers, who supported the ultra-Orthodox draft.
Accordingly, an increasing number of voices in the settler movement is beginning to admit that the major settlement blocks close to the Green Line will only be saved if the Israelis quickly engage in negotiations while there's still a window of opportunity. Furthermore, they are beginning to realize that if, in the public imagination, they are lumped together with the fanatical fringes, with people who generally live in the more isolated settlements, then Israel will quickly lose the motivation to negotiate on our behalf; they will instead disengage us all, without distinction.
The peace camp in Israel would be well-advised to play on these emerging divisions within the settler political landscape—divisions between moderate and radical voices that are becoming ever more apparent, as reported, for instance, by Chaim Levinson.
Currently, the official parliamentary representatives of the settler movement, Habayit Hayehudi, pose the greatest obstacle to negotiations. Indeed, they have banned talk of a two-state solution from the official government platform. It is their intransigence that is holding us back.
It is in the interest of the peace camp to empower those in the West Bank who are beginning to lose their messianic confidence that the land of Israel will always be in their hands—the settlers who realize that if a compromise isn't reached, then even the large settlement blocks near the Green Line might be lost.
Like them or loathe them, if those voices can be empowered, then perhaps their official representatives in government will stop being an obstacle to peace, and instead jump at every chance to negotiate a mutually agreeable end to the conflict, and to the question mark that will forever hang over the communities of Gush Etzion, for instance, until, or unless, an agreement with the Palestinians is reached.