Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Strategy for Settlements, Part I

In light of the recent murders at Itamar, and given the considerable coverage given to those murders within the pro-Israel blogosphere, now is as good a time as any to think more deeply about the present state and future of the settlement movement, to the extent it is a movement, and the fate of some one hundred Jewish communities and their hundreds of thousands of residents.

Most commentary and analysis being written about the settlements on the side of their proponents, whether responding to current events or discussing proposed policy solutions, is aimed at eliciting an emotional reaction, or at best, instructing a relatively small, politically active group of people to become ever more politically active, often in a general, directionless sense. Even among individuals (including bloggers) and organizations working to support and strengthen the settlements, there is a remarkable lack of thought given to an overarching "grand strategy" to guide tactical decision making. While emotion-laden faith has a certain rousing value, and has done much to rally support for the settlement movement, to the extend that such support exists, little has been done to translate the movement's aspirations into a viable political program which is sustainable over the medium and long term.

Rather, such a political program does exist in Israel, and possibly in the US, but it has not taken into account the necessity of broadening the appeal of the settlement project to non-faith communities, organized political groups and foreign governments. This inability to transcend traditional bases of support has resulted in a frustrating environment. As pro-settlement forces gather strength in Israel, and demand the wholesale implementation of the settlement program, Israeli governments elected with a mandate to implement that program are constrained, and in fact, forced to backtrack on their electoral pledges by external forces beyond the ideological, theological and emotional reach of the pro-settlement movement.

Before moving on, it is important to define, in a most inclusive fashion, the interests and objectives of the settlement movement, as such. These are, in practical terms, to populate with Jews the mass of land between the present State of Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan - territory variously referred to as the West Bank or Shomron and Judea. In doing so, and in light of well known concerns relating to large numbers of Palestinian residents of these areas, advocates of settlements proffer to build now and deflect the consequences on some hypothetical construct which the current balance of forces, moral, legal and otherwise, will never permit - such as disenfranchising Palestinians of voting rights, transferring them to Jordan, etc. Worse (in my opinion), are those who suggest we leave the consequences in G-d's hands, absolving movement proponents of responsibility in formulating a strategy that resolves anticipated difficulties. (It must be said, on a personal note, that the second option is worse not because G-d is untrustworthy, G-d forbid, but because Jewish tradition clearly articulates that faith in G-d's grace must run parallel to, and not to the exclusion of expending all necessary human efforts.)

To bring the discussion back on track, forces favoring settlement expansion in Israel have already, or are in the process of reaching the zenith of their political power, and are, from now on, unable to exert greater pressure to implement their agenda, despite whatever further gains are made with the Israeli electorate. On the other hand, the anti-settlement movement, if it can be called that, has in recent years become more politically organized and policy-savvy. It is now leveraging the interests of increasing numbers of governments in supporting - financially and diplomatically - the implementation of the anti-settlement, or Palestinian national program.

The progress of the anti-settlement agenda has been real and substantial. Instead of relying on their traditional base of support, which likewise includes ideological, theological and emotional elements, the real success of the movement has been to creatively maneuver itself into the real-world, interest-based, policy priority planning of various governments and groups of governments. This approach, which came about from a serious, prolonged and ongoing effort to understand and exploit the fundamental interests of the governments in question, constitutes a powerful and, in my opinion, overwhelming counter to the emotional and theological arguments made by proponents of settlements. The incredibly durability of the argument for a Palestinian state, which has not been weakened in the least by the changes sweeping the region, but actually made more urgent, demonstrates how successfully Palestinian activists have merged their interests and those of foreign governments, to the redoubled frustration of settlement proponents.

Instead of understanding the basis of growing international support for Palestinian statehood, and the presumed necessity for an attendant freeze on settlement construction to facilitate that effort, with the removal of settlements in the terminal phase of that plan deemed likely, and even preferable, the response from the settlement community has been woefully inadequate. Advocates of settlement expansion have refined and recycled the emotional, ideological and theological arguments which gave impetus to early settlement, and which impart spirit into the movement to this day. The by now obvious failure of this approach in converting the unconverted is generally met with a mixture of helpless despair and externally-projected derision, with notable responses including an over-reliance on employing the charge of universal anti-semitism, an unhelpful withdrawal into like-minded social communities, disparaging Jewish or Zionist education and increasing spiritual fervor, a type of appeal to a higher power stemming from the belief in the ultimate righteousness of the cause. The effect is a compounding of failure, with the result that, for advocates of settlements and the settlement movement as a whole, "deep calls to deep".

To prevent the calamitous ruin of Jewish communities in Judea and Shomron, a drastic change in approach must be affected. The task before us is no less than to outline a Strategy for Settlements. To do this, we must first define the fundamental interests of the Jewish communities and their residents. We must then proceed to understand, intimately, the interests of all relevant parties- both which support and oppose settlements - to the extent that their interests are durable and knowable at any given time. Finally, we must identify points of congruence between the interests of the settlements and those of relevant parties, making these the basis for cooperation in advancing mutual interests.

My aim is to demonstrate, having given the subject considerable thought, that with sufficient creativity and effort, there need not stand a substantial obstacle to the growth of Jewish communities in Judea and Shomron, now and in the future. Indeed, the majority of actors currently engaged in opposing building in Jewish communities can and should be enlisted in reversing their opposition, and in helping to strengthen the settlements, not as a favor to Jewish residents of the communities, or to the State of Israel, but as a way of advancing their own fundamental interests.


As regular readers know, the fate of the Jewish communities in the West Bank is something of an interest and focus of mine. Disregarding the occasional lolcat post, or any thoughts I might find of value to share about the weekly parshah, chassidus, or yiddishkeit in general, this discussion concerning a Strategy for Settlements will constitute the bulk of my activity on this blog for the remainder of the week, at least, and perhaps much longer, until I've exhausted the considerable backlog of posts I've written on this subject, and those I have yet to write. To say that these articles are in a rough and tumble form is something of an understatement, and my intent is to refine them - in syntax and concept - as I go along, with your help. So, Silke, RRK, Michael W., those of you who read but don't often comment, help. Whether you agree with me or not, challenge any inconsistency or validity of ideas. Make suggestions to reword sentences where I am not being clear. You have my gratitude in advance.

All future posts on this subject will fall under the Settlement Strategy label. Part II: Settlement Interests, is now posted.

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