Some time ago, I decided to ask Dr. Ibish a series of questions on the matter of Palestinian attitudes towards Jewish settlements in Yesha. The questions reflected what I felt was a good deal of confusion on the subject, the consequence of conflicting statements and actions by Palestinian and Israeli officials. Not only did he respond, but he did so publicly, on his blog, as one of a series of responses to a variety of questions asked of him. They're all worth reading, but my focus remains on my original questions, which were these:
Q: What is the official PA posture on existing Jewish villages in Yesha? On the one hand, the diplomatic track has anticipated their dismantlement. On the other hand, high ranking individuals within the PA - including Salam Fayaad - have indicated the villages will be incorporated into a Palestinian state. Still, on other days you'll find the same Salam Fayaad burning economic products produced in the settlements. Please shed some light on Palestinians expectations and intentions in with regard to settlements outside the three or four major settlement blocks near the green line.
This Dr. Ibish did, and you can read his response on his site (scroll down about 3/4ths). To paraphrase his response, though you should read it in full, the Israeli government wishes to evacuate the settlements in order to prevent settlers from drawing it back into the West Bank during or after a final status deal with the Palestinians. The logic goes that radical settlers would attack Palestinians, inviting retaliatory violence against Jewish communities, and then demand that the Government of Israel protect Jews by invading the new Palestinian state. At the very least, a preemptive evacuation of remote Jewish settlements would take any such possibilities out of the equation, freeing the Government of Israel from such messy contingencies.
Moreover, and what is vital, is that Dr. Ibish views the dismantlement of Jewish settlements as an Israeli imperative(!), not a Palestinian one. He's not advising Israel what is in its best interests, but describing how the Israelis themselves present their interests to him.
The following is a letter I wrote him in response. I don't believe there is an expectation of privacy in my exchange with him, so I'm publishing the letter, and may publish his response, if he offers one.
Hello Dr. Ibish,
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Immediately after I first submitted my comments, I went through a good portion of the material you've published on Ibishblog and, feeling quite foolish, found many of the answers I sought, though your present response is more comprehensive.
Your insight into the Israeli leadership thinking behind large-scale settlement evacuation was novel to me, and it certainly has a logical heft to it. On the matter of settler violence being a motivator for settlement destruction, the sequence of events would appear to be in reverse. The vast majority of Jewish residents in the West Bank are peaceful - even the residents of Kyriat Arba, which you mentioned in your response, have been behaving themselves of late - and Israel currently exercises controls through detentions, restricting entry and deporting troublemakers; controls that could be expanded and coordinated with Palestinian security forces and international peacekeepers. Indeed, international peacekeepers can serve as a buffer to ensure the Jewish residents of a Palestinian state are served equitably by Palestinian security forces, while being justly held to the law of the land. Settler violence against Palestinians, and vice versa, is a problem with reasonably manageable solutions, in the context of a final settlement.
Furthermore, the potential violence you foresee being instigated by a small group of extremist settlers to scupper the peace process, in my experience, is not so much a consequence of them rejecting residing in a Palestinian state, as resisting being forcibly removed from their homes. The very outcome the Israeli government is seeking to avoid - settler violence - and which you describe, it is enabling by pursuing settlement dismantlement. As you rightly note, there is no legitimate reason why Jews should not also have a right to live in a Palestinian state, which itself is centered in a historical heartland of ancient Israel. Whatever one's personal religious or political beliefs, it's axiomatic that a majority of Jews have a real emotional and religious attachment to this land. To the extent that any Jewish settlers harbor notions of a political Great Israel, the divestment of Likud from this ideology, a process now complete, renders them devoid of political, and thus material support. The Jewish residents of Shiloh are in no position to start building a political Greater Israel without support from the Knesset, and they are under no illusions about this. While many settlers are religiously inclined, and indeed there is such a positive commandment for Jews to inhabit the land, this has no bearing on the geopolitical ownership of the land. So, individuals and communities of Jews have sought to settle and work the land throughout two millennia, with no antipathy or resentment towards the political power in control at the time.
In summation, Jewish settlers are not incompatible with a Palestinian state, and it is the very process of threatening the destruction of their communities which may direct them to attempt a sabotage of the peace process - an outcome Israelis and Palestinians seek to avoid. It may be emotionally satisfying, but not factually correct to portray settlers as irreversibly committed to irridentist ideology. Indeed, the most potent way to neutralize whatever threat extremist settlers pose to the peace process is by welcoming Jewish communities of the West Bank into a Palestinian state with open arms, perhaps quietly and privately at first, to negate blowback among Palestinian constituencies. Nor is this an exercise in generosity, as Jewish communities in the West Bank feature highly developed infrastructures, diversified economies, strong familial and business links to the largest economy in the region and foreign markets, and already engage in various social, environmental and economic cooperative ventures with nearby Palestinian villages. Peaceful Jewish communities in the West Bank are a tremendous and obvious national asset to a nascent Palestinian state.
On the one hand, you state that Palestinians are not opposed to integrating Jewish communities in a Palestinian state, and indeed some Palestinian leaders even welcome this. On the other hand, you dismiss this outcome outright as not in the interests of the Israeli government and not even mildly likely, despite Palestinian acquiescence. One is left with the impression that you actually do wish the dismantlement of the settlements, but have created a self-serving narrative by which Israel is held responsible for the policy. If I am overly sensitive on this point, it is because you make a leap of policy without substantiation. After all, if Palestinians are so accommodating in welcoming Jewish settlements into a Palestinian state, as PM Fayaad says, then let them convince the Israeli government not to dismantle the settlements. Can we imagine such a conversation between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators? Or, do Palestinians make such remarks, as you do, knowing that the Israelis won't call them on it? This is the one point of confusion in your statements I have not been able to resolve.
Finally, and perhaps this is more abstract than my previous remarks, as a liberal individual committed to the development of a democratic society that respects the rule of law, it's actually quite reasonable to support retaining Jewish communities in the West Bank as allies against conservative and Islamist threats to liberal Palestinian society. As someone who has spent a good part of my 20s engaging with western-educated Palestinian marxist-nationalists, I don't feel I'm going off on a limb by stating that many Palestinians are ardently fighting for a one-state solution precisely because they fear the conservative and religious forces, highly illiberal forces, within Palestinian society, and are ironically counting on six million Israeli Jews to aid them in holding these forces in check. In other words, their goal is still the dismantlement of Israel and, in the final analysis, a Palestinian Arab state, but one that leverages a large constituency of mostly liberally-minded Jews and liberally-minded Arabs to maintain democratic rule.
In working towards a two state solution, a similar analysis can apply. The past century is replete with experiments in democracy gone tragically wrong, with numerous examples in Arab lands. No matter the good intentions and respectable backgrounds of those who presently give their lives for a just Palestinian state to emerge, experience has proven that a cultural commitment to pluralism can take decades to form, hold and resist subversion. To supporters of a liberal, democratic Palestinian state, a substantial Jewish minority with an interest in preventing its own political disempowerment, which would be a natural first target for illiberal conservative forces, could serve not merely as an ally in confronting those forces by democratic means, but as the proverbial "canary in the coalmine'. Threats against Jewish communities could then be seen as precursors to threats against other politically vulnerable groups, and against the democratic system itself, enabling corrective action to take place sooner. I believe multiple studies of the role of Jews in European history can be useful in this regard, considering, of course, that such grim scenarios are possible in a Palestinian state. Certainly, many Palestinian supporters of the one-state solution believe this to be the case.
Once again, thank you for responding to my questions. I appreciate and value your perspective on the Palestinian approach to Israel and the peace process. ATFP has come a long ways since that early feud with Ali Abunimah, when some of my Palestinian marxist friends dismissed you as Israeli collaborator quislings. I don't know to what extent this is true for you, but I also think you take on a certain personal risk in making the sorts of coherent, unequivocal policy statements that you do in support of the two state solution and the peace process, and I respect you as an individual and a Palestinian committed to peace for doing so.