Friday, July 31, 2009

Settlements Again

We have returned to the place we were before. If only Israel would stop its settlement activity then the Palestinians would press for peace with Israel. Ok, perhaps I am overstating the case, but such seems the mood of this week's papers. So let's take a moment and clarify a few points. To my mind there are three distinct categories of what the world calls "settlements." 1. There are a large number of Israelis who live within the boundaries of the Jerusalem municipality but who live in areas that were captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. These neighborhoods of Pisgat Zeev (with 50,000 people), French Hill and others are regarded by the overwhelming majority of Israelis (and Jews) as part of the unified city of Jerusalem. Their populations range the gamut of Israeli political opinion. 2. There is another significant number who live in what may be called suburbs. These settlement blocs of Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel each comprise some 20,000 people. It would be impossible to uproot these communities. Perhaps Israel should not have populated these areas, but had the Arab, Muslim and Palestinian world sued for peace decades ago they would have written their own, different facts on the ground. Rent the movie Unsettled to see the pain of uprooting the comparatively small number of 7,000 settlers from Gaza to understand why uprooting these areas would be overly traumatic for Israel. 3. These comprise the minority of people but the majority of air time. These settlements, some illegal and others sanctioned, are geographically isolated. They are for the most part ideologically isolated as well, at least from the majority of Israelis. The longer they are allowed to remain a part of the Israeli discourse the more such views as "Democracy is antithetical to Judaism" and "God gave the land only to the Jews" will come to dominate Israeli politics. Still I fail to understand (at least philosophically) why Jews can't choose to live in a Palestinian state just as Arabs now live in a Jewish state. This brings me to President Obama who seems to see the primary justification for the modern State of Israel as recompense for past suffering. Obama's biography is in part about transcending differences and thereby transforming suffering. But this is not all that Zionism and the State of Israel is about. The state was not founded in Uganda or Argentina (as Herzl once suggested). It does matter where it is. The West Bank and Jerusalem are the very cradle of Jewish civilization. Palestinian suffering must be ameliorated. A Palestinian State, as Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed, must be created. But it is not just a matter of you live there and I will live here. Nonetheless I still believe that the vast majority of Israelis would sacrifice these very places and even the first Jewish city of Hebron if the Palestinians and Arabs would affirm the right of the Jewish state to exist in the land of Israel (and that means religious, historical, philosophical and international right). I will continue to pray for peace but I remain skeptical if the current round of chastisements are only directed at those who are the most sensitive to rebuke. Read these articles for more insights on the current debate: Yossi Klein HaLevi's in The New Republic, Aluf Benn's in The New York Times and of course Donniel Hartman's article on the Jewish necessity of a two-state solution, found on the Shalom Hartman Institute website.

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