The Settlements

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Israel sought peace with its Arab neighbours for two decades before the first Jewish community was established in the West Bank and yet no Arab leader was willing to end the conflict.

 Jews should have a right to live anywhere. If someone said that Jews would not be permitted to live in your hometown, you would say that was anti-Semitism, discrimination and bigotry, yet the Palestinians are allowed to go on TV day after day and say that Jews have no right to live in the West Bank. That is overt anti-Semitism, discrimination and bigotry.

 Jews have been living in Judea and Samaria, the area commonly called the West Bank, for centuries, far longer than Palestinians have lived in the area. The only time Jews have been prohibited from living in the territories in recent decades was during Jordan’s rule from 1948 to 1967.

 The question of the future status of settlements is the subject of final status negotiations with the Palestinians. The fact that Israel agreed to discuss the matter illustrates a willingness to compromise on this issue.

 Some people argue that settlements are an “obstacle to peace.” Consider these facts:

From 1948 to 1967, Jordan occupied the West Bank. Israel did not control an inch of the territory and no Jews lived there and yet no Arab state would even negotiate with Israel.

Israel did not begin to build large numbers of settlements until after 1977. That is also when Egypt negotiated peace. Israel froze settlement building afterwards in the hope that other Arab states would follow Egypt’s example. None did.

Israel built more settlements in the 1980s and 1990s nevertheless, King Hussein made peace with Israel, and settlements were not an issue. In the Oslo agreements, Israel did not agree to dismantle any settlements or freeze construction and yet the Palestinians signed them.

In negotiations with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat in 2000, Prime Minister Barak offered to dismantle settlements in the West Bank, but Arafat refused to make peace.

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Israel would not have captured the West Bank or reunified Jerusalem if King Hussein had heeded the warning of Prime Minister Eshkol to stay out of the war. Instead Jordan attacked, and, in the course of defending itself, Israel found itself in control of these territories

 An estimated 80 percent of the settlers live in what are in effect suburbs of major Israeli cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Virtually the entire Jewish population believes Israel must retain these areas to ensure its security, and that they could be brought within Israel’s borders with minor modifications of the 1967 border. Even Yasser Arafat grudgingly accepted at Camp David the idea that the large settelement blocs would be part of Israel.

 After several years of bloodshed, terror and stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided that Israel should act unilaterally to improve its security situation and reduce bloodshed by completely withdrawing Israeli troops and settlers in the Gaza Strip. This disengagement plan involved the dismantling of all settlements in the area, as well as four settlements in northen Samaria. Between August 16 and August 30, 2005, Israel safely evacuated more than 8,500 Israeli settlers and, on September 11, 2005, Israeli soldiers left Gaza, ending Israel’s 38-year presence in the area.

 A withdrawal to the 1967 border would not satisfy the radical Islamists. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have made clear that they will not end their terrorist campaign against Israel even if it withdraws to the pre-war frontier. These and other Muslim extremists have said they will not accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Islamic world.

 When Egypt’s Anwar Sadat declared he was prepared to make peace, and matched his words with deeds, Israel withdrew completely from the Sinai, dismantled Jewish settlements, and gave up its oil fields. When King Hussein agreed to make peace, Israel agreed to return the small swath of Jordanian territory it held.

 Israel remains committed to trading land for peace, and never annexed the West Bank or Gaza Strip because it expected to return part of these territories in negotiations. When the Palestinians finally declared that they would recognize Israel and renounce terrorism, Israel agreed to begin to withdraw. Plans to withdraw from additional territory were scuttled by Palestinian terrorism and their violation of the Oslo agreements.

 For peace, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to withdraw from 100% of the Gaza Strip and 95-97% of the West Bank, that is, to the 1967 border with minor modifications. He also agreed to dismantle settlements, and allow the Palestinians to establish a state with east Jerusalem as its capital if they would end the conflict. Arafat rejected the offer and did not even offer a counterproposal.

 Israel offered to negotiate a return of the Golan Heights to Syria, and a succession of Prime Ministers declared a readiness to concede this strategic high ground in exchange for peace. Neither Syrian President Hafez Assad nor his son, who succeeded him, have been prepared to follow Sadat and Hussein’s example and offer peace in return.

 In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip. The disengagement plan also involved the dismantling of four settlements in northern Samaria.

 In 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed a plan in which Israel would evacuate most of the settlements in the West Bank, while holding onto five large settlement blocs. This plan, known as “Realignment” would be executed unilaterally if Israel cannot negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians. The plan sought to permanently define Israel’s borders with a future Palestinian state, and ensure that Israel will maintain its Jewish majority. The breakout of the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 and the EU’s opposition to an Israeli unilateral withdrawal led to the plan’s demise.

 In 2011, President Barak Obama called on Israel to use the 1967 lines as a basis for peace negotiations and assured that Israel’s strategic depth would be maintained through “mutually agreed land swaps.” “Israeli and Palestinians,” Obama pledged, “will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4th, 1967.”

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that he is ready and willing to negotiate the border as President Obama said, and he maintains that Israel cannot be expected to move back to the 1967 lines. “I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve peace,” Netanyahu said before a joint session of Congress on May 24, 2011. “I recognize that in a genuine peace, [Israel] will be required to give up parts of the Jewish homeland.”