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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Daniel Pipes: About Those Settlements . . .


Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of Israel, has broken with decades of his own history and declared an intent to withdraw all Israeli habitations from Gaza, plus some from the West Bank. Doing so raises a basic question: Just how important are these “settlements” in the grand scheme of Palestinian-Israeli relations?

(I use quotation marks around settlements because the dictionary defines this word as “a small community” or an establishment of people “in a new region.” This inaccurately describes the Jewish habitations in question, many of which boast tens of thousands of residents in place over several decades.)

Some analysts consider Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza to be one of the leading obstacles to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. For example:
· Thomas Friedman, The New York Times: “Israel must get out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as soon as possible and evacuate most of the settlements. I have long advocated this, but it is now an urgent necessity. Otherwise, the Jewish state is in peril. Ideally, this withdrawal should be negotiated along the Clinton plan. But if necessary, it should be done unilaterally. This can't happen too soon, and the U.S. should be forcing it.”

· Jean AbiNader, Arab American Institute: “the settlements are the major political obstacle” to a resolution.

· Dennis Kucinich, Democratic presidential candidate: “Israeli settlements are a significant obstacle to a viable peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
I disagree with this argument, and for two main reasons.

First, it assumes that Palestinians seek only to gain control over the West Bank and Gaza, whereas overwhelming evidence points to their also aspiring to go further and control Israel proper. Therefore, pulling Israelis from the territories does no good...

Second, Sharon’s intent to uproot Israeli habitations assumes that they pose a large, perhaps insuperable, barrier to a Palestinian-Israeli resolution. In contrast, I see them as a minor obstacle.

Once the Palestinians do fully, irrevocably, in deed as well as in word, accept the existence of a Jewish state, all sorts of possibilities for ending the conflict open up...