Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 16, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

FIGHTING TERRORISM....PART 3....Saddam's capture combined with some real life stuff kept me from posting this over the weekend, but here's the topic of part 3 of my 6-part dialog on terrorism with Armed Liberal:

Third, we're going to stop Israel from building new settlements and push them to dismantle existing illegal ones;

AL's expanded version of this is here.

AL is deliberately a bit vague about the details: Which settlements? Dismantle them when? Push how?

Which is probably OK, since this is a subject that's notoriously difficult to discuss without getting bogged down in almost metaphysical detail. However, even granting that the answers to these questions are no more concrete than "some," "sometime," and "somehow," I mostly agree with AL's pragmatic approach:

Israel is stuck with a hostage it doesn't want and can ill afford.

Clearly, this policy of 'civilian occupation' is economically devastating to Israel (which we mask by loaning or granting the necessary funds). I'm hard pressed to believe that it isn't militarily devastating as well, in the context of a terror war (as opposed to a conventional one). The burden of securing this scattering of small towns is immense.

I think this is about right. Regardless of whether Israel had the right to build settlements on occupied territory in the past, keeping them up is simply untenable from a number of viewpoints:

  • As AL points out, it's an economic and military drain.

  • It's also a moral drain: the Palestinian policy of targeting civilians in suicide bombings is certainly morally bankrupt, but that doesn't excuse the converse moral bankruptcy of the proponents of a Greater Israel.

  • It's impossible to maintain in any case. As Nico Pitney puts it:

    Israelis face, as they say, the impossible triangle. Israel can be Jewish and democratic but not include Palestinian land, it can be democratic and have the Palestinian land but fail to be Jewish, or it can be Jewish and have the land but fail to be democratic.

    The second and third options are simply unacceptable to most Israelis, I think, so like it or not that leaves only the first option: giving up the land.

The painful fact is that the settlements no longer serve any legitimate purpose and thanks to inexorable demographic pressures will almost certainly destroy Israel as a Jewish democracy if left intact. They should be given up not because of pressure from the Palestinians, but because it's the only way for Israel to save its soul. (What the Palestinians decide to do with their soul when they get the land back is their problem.)

A deal to give up most of the West Bank and Gaza would hardly make the Middle East a garden spot, but it would help. Israel itself would be more secure, a lightning rod for anti-western sentiment would be removed, and Palestinian attacks would almost certainly begin to subside even if they never die away completely. After all, convincing young men to blow themselves up is one thing when they deal with the mailed fist of Israeli occupation every day, but convincing them to blow themselves up over an abstract concept like the right of return is quite another. If the physical Israeli presence were removed, it would become increasingly difficult for groups like Hamas and Fatah to keep the old time faith.

And the arguments for keeping the settlements? I can't think of any good ones aside from a visceral unwillingness to ever give the Palestinians something they want. This may be understandable, but it is not wise, and I suspect that even Ariel Sharon realizes this in the depths of his heart.

Kevin Drum 6:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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