by Raphael Israeli
One of the tenets of the current conventional wisdom has been that “the settlements are obstacles to peace”, as if without settlements on the West Bank and
In other words, with or without settlements, the negative attitudes of the Arabs towards
In 2000, during the second Camp David, Arafat had been offered by Ehud Barak an almost total withdrawal of Israel from 95% of the territories, in return for his commitment to the finality of the dispute, but he refused because in his eyes, such a withdrawal would not have put an end to Israel’s rootedness in the land, even if the almost totality of Palestinian territory were to be restored to him. In Gaza, Israel went further by evacuating completely the Israeli settlements, not only ceasing construction in them, and the result was not the promised peace once those settlements were uprooted, but more war and death against the Israeli villages and towns around Gaza. This meant that, far from considering the boundaries of Israel Proper immune to Arab fire, if it only retreated from those “peace threatening” settlements, the latter were considered a legitimate prey for more attacks.
Now we know that one of the most powerful levers, which acted upon President Sadat to venture into Israel in 1977 and sign peace with it, was his real fear that had he procrastinated any longer, the Israeli settlements in the Sinai, which comprised the townships of Ophira and Yamit and a score of other successful farming settlements, and housed several thousand Israelis, might grow into cities which no one would be able to uproot if they were allowed to develop into counting in the tens of thousands of inhabitants. He understood that what happened to Ashkelon and
The Palestinians and the Syrians have failed to learn that lesson. They thought that they had nothing to lose by waiting, because their territories were “inalienable” and they had nothing to lose by procrastinating in the peace process. The fact that in both cases they lost territories as a result of their aggression in 1967, did not impress them at all, because they were convinced that when they regain their strength their vacant “occupied territory” was awaiting them to retake possession of it. Under that thinking, not only did they become obtuse to the possible cost of aggression, which might have otherwise deterred them from another war in case they should loose it again, but they were encouraged to try repeatedly, assured that no risk of loss was involved. Therefore no deterrence was ever built into this strategy, while if Israel signaled that those who launch war can be made to pay the price of loosing territory as a result, and those who fail to embrace a peace settlement can forfeit parts of their territory, her deterrence might be reactivated.
Just like at the end of World War !!, when the boundaries of aggressive Germany were curtailed and those of her victims were expanded at her expense, in order to ensure peace, so must Israel signal her desire to retain permanently parts of those territories, not merely as a punishment to the aggressors, but mainly as a deterrence to the aggressor and as a price for their aggression and for the cost of war they precipitated on Israel. Until a peace is reached, only an intensive settlement activity by
Based on the
Raphael Israeli teaches Middle East at