Commentary

Settlements Pose Fundamental Threat to Democracy in Israel

Israel can push even President Bush too far. The Bush administration says it will cut $290 million out of $3 billion in promised loan guarantees because Ariel Sharon’s government continues to construct settlements and a security fence in the West Bank, effectively annexing Palestinian areas to Israel.

“It’s none of their business,” responds Zitrin Eliezer, an Israeli settler in the West Bank.

In fact, Israel’s policies wouldn’t be America’s business if Washington wasn’t backing Israel. And if that backing didn’t in turn foster hatred of and terrorism against the United States.

There is no excuse for Palestinian suicide bombing, but Israeli actions also exacerbate hostilities. For a time, Israeli officials publicly discussed assassinating or exiling Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yassir Arafat.

Even worse is talk of ethnic cleansing. An extremist segment of Israeli opinion has long backed expulsion, which is the implicit goal of most settlers. Frustration over murderous suicide bombings has increased popular support for this brutal option.

U.S. columnist Ben Shapiro also advocates ethnic cleansing: “If you believe that the Jewish state has a right to exist, then you must allow Israel to transfer the Palestinians and the Israeli-Arabs from Judea, Samaria, Baza and Israel proper.”

The euphemisms roll off of his tongue. “It’s not genocide; it’s transfer.” Czechoslovakia and Poland did it to Germans after World War II. Forcing nearly 5 million Arabs from their homes is OK because “Jews are not Nazis.”

But ethnic cleansing means inflicting mass hardship and death. After all, Muslims would have to be forced to abandon everything.

That would mean wiping out their villages. Destroying their homes. And killing some of them.

After World War II, an estimated 9 million to 15 million Germans were forced from ancestral lands in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. R.J. Rummel, author of “Death By Government,” estimates the resulting casualty toll at between 500,000 and 3.7 million, most likely about 1.9 million.

No wonder Shapiro concludes: “It’s time to stop being squeamish.”

Still, in principle, separation seems the best answer to stop the killing. For this reason, a security fence makes sense — if it actually separates Jew from Arab.

Unfortunately, to protect a number of disparate Israeli settlements erected in the midst of Palestinian communities, Israel currently is mixing Jew and Arab and separating Arab from Arab. Thus are sown the seeds for conflict.

After 36 years of occupation, the land remains almost exclusively Arab. The limited Jewish presence is the result of conscious colonization.

In 1978, when the Camp David accords were midwifed with the help of President Carter, there were only about 4,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied lands. With subsidies now exceeding $1 billion a year, the number of settlers has reached some 230,000.

The settlements require a pervasive Israeli military occupation, imposing a de facto system of apartheid. Writes Avraham Burg, former speaker of Israel’s Knesset:

“It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements. … Traveling on the fast highway that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it’s hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.”

At stake is the future of Israeli democracy. There are roughly 5.3 million Jews in Israel and about 230,000 in the occupied territories. There are 1.3 million Arabs in Israel and about 3.4 million in the Gaza and West Bank. Given respective birthrates, there soon will be more Arabs than Jews in the combined territory.

Notes Uri Dromi of the Israel Democracy Institute, “Either we give the Palestinians equal rights, in which case Israel ceases to be Jewish, or we don’t, in which case Israel ceases to be democratic. The only way for Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic is for it to pull out of the territories.”

Four former heads of Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security agency recently criticized the “immoral” treatment of Palestinians.

“We must once and for all admit that there is another side, that it has feelings and that it is suffering, and that we are behaving disgracefully,” said Avraham Shalom, who ran Shin Bet from 1980 to 1986.

Military leaders are voicing similar concerns. Argues retired Brig. Gen. Nehemia Dagan: “The ethics and morals of Israeli society are more important than killing the heads of Hamas or Islamic Jihad.”

In October, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, chief of staff for the armed forces, admitted that Israel’s repressive tactics were creating explosive levels of “hatred and terrorism.”

Every day, the prospect of peace between Israelis and Palestinians seems to slip farther away. Separation offers the only hope, but separation requires dismantling Israeli settlements. And as long as Washington backs Israel, the future of the settlements remains America’s business.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a syndicated columnist.