I’ve been deeply pessimistic about the Obama administration’s efforts at peacemaking in the Middle East, and indeed about the prospects of peace in general. By every indication, any chance of a workable two-state solution ended years ago, thanks largely to the continued expansion of West Bank settlements. Today, even if Palestinian leaders were miraculously awarded the courage and authority needed to make a deal with Israel, the “facts on the ground” on the wrong side of the Green Line would make such an agreement impossible.
Which is exactly what they were intended to do.
This week, Israel threw a little more dirt on the coffin when it ended its 10-month moratorium on settlement construction. The decision probably means the end of peace talks with the Palestinians and further strains Israeli relations with the United States and other countries, but to Israel those are small prices to pay .
David Newman, professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics, expresses my pessimism eloquently in a new piece in the Jerusalem Post:
“There has been an important change in the way the settler population, along with many Israelis, views the role of settlements in a peace agreement. It is clear that the critical mass, the number that would make it almost impossible for any government – even one on the extreme Left – to evacuate the entire population has been long passed. Even allowing for a redrawing of the border involving the swap of territories and the inclusion of large settlement blocs within Israel, there will still be between 60,000 and 100,000 settlers on the Palestinian side of the line. Not only is this number significantly larger than the mere 7,000 of Gush Katif who were evacuated in 2005, it also comprises the ideological hard core of settlers in such places as Kedumim, Elon Moreh, Shiloh, Eli and Ofra (to name but a few), whose opposition to evacuation will be much stronger than those living in larger urban settlements close to the Green Line, such as Betar Illit, Alfei Menashe and perhaps even Ariel, who could have been bought out for adequate compensation.
More significantly, there has been a change in the way many now view the time factor. In the past, time was always perceived as being on the side of the Palestinians. They could simply play the waiting game while their own population, spurred by natural growth, increased much more rapidly than that of the settlers.
In demographic terms, this is still true. But the settlers have realized that if, since the signing of the Oslo agreements, their own population has more than doubled, it is no longer the demographic ratio between the two populations (which will always be in favor of the Palestinians), but the absolute numbers that make it increasingly difficult for a government to implement another forced evacuation.
They understand that every additional house, family and road make a peace agreement less plausible.
… Life will continue as normal. Settlements will expand. Palestinians will, once again, seek violent forms of resistance. The government will clamp down and pursue stronger security measures and curfews.
Back to square one. No settlement freeze, no significant peace talks. All of us, Israelis and Palestinians alike, will suffer the consequences.
In the long run, I fear, the consequences mentioned by Newman will be far more profound for Israel than for the Palestinians.