The settlement enterprise in the West Bank has been one of the most successful, as well as one of the most pernicious features of the thirty-five years of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. No effective and viable Israeli-Palestinian peace can be achieved without tackling both the causes for, and the results of, the concerted settlement campaign.
The motives underlying the establishment of Israeli settlements across the Green Line have varied over the years. The earliest settlements, in the Jordan River Valley, were created ostensibly for security reasons. The security argument has been used to excuse if not to justify all subsequent construction (although events have shown, time and again, that such initiatives proved to be a severe liability in times of crisis). Some settlements and their satellites (Gush Etzion, Kiryat Arba) were set up for ostensibly historical reasons. Others were constructed to meet the growing demand for cheap housing (Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim), and others still for patently nationalistic and/or messianic reasons (the Jewish settlement in the heart of Hebron, the return to "Joseph's Tomb" in Nablus, to mention but two). All too often, regardless of the reasons behind the motives for establishing a settlement, the whole settlement operation was defended in political terms, as a bargaining chip in the negotiating process.

Three Reasons for Settlement

These well-known reasons for settlement expansion - which have been analyzed at length for years - are not as important as the objectives they sought to achieve. As time progressed, it became abundantly clear that the settler leadership had three main purposes in mind. First, settlers wanted to fulfill a vision of a Greater Land of Israel, of Israeli control of the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
Second, therefore, settlements were purposely placed in areas that would separate Palestinian population clusters, denying the possibility of Palestinian territorial integrity not only in the West Bank, but also in the Gaza Strip. This intention was reinforced by the bypass road plan implemented during the past decade, which impeded Palestinian mobility and, along with the lateral roads linking the Tel Aviv area with the Dead Sea, totally truncated the West Bank. Behind these concerted actions lay the notion that the mere existence of strategically located settlements would prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.
Third, settlers and settlements sought to complicate, if not defeat, Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. Since no successful conclusion of the Palestinian-Israeli talks can be anticipated without agreements on the territorial dimension, the presence of settlements throughout the area was intended to obstruct a permanent agreement. Settlement expansion and fortification, therefore, have had distinctly political goals consistently at odds with the quest for peace and the possibilities of its realization.

A 'Success Story'

Perhaps as troubling as the motives for this activity have been the reasons for its success. The more than 160 settlements established since 1967 were created with the compliance of the government in office, and frequently with its active support. The post-1967 Labor governments of Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin promoted settlement in the Jordan Valley and approved the return of Gush Etzion. These leaders did not act assertively to thwart illegal efforts of Gush Emunim to set up footholds in Sebastia in the Nablus area and in Hebron. When Menachem Begin, after his election to office in 1977, retroactively legalized the Sebastia (Elon Moreh) initiative, official backing for settlement was sanctioned. The state offered funding, tax incentives, services, protection, and legal backing to the well-organized and politically influential successors of Gush Emunim (Amana, and later, the Yesha Council).
With an arrogance bordering on folly, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir repeatedly ignored international protestations of settlement activity, United States queries, opposition demands to put an end to settlement expansion, and Palestinian voices that cautioned against such action. By the time Yitzhak Rabin came to power in 1992, caravans had turned into cities and dirt paths had become highways that separated Palestinians from each other. The late prime minister, despite the launching of the Oslo process, was not anxious to confront the settlers, who were the backbone of the most vocal (and ultimately violent) opposition to his peace policy. During his tenure, new settlement plans were approved, existing outposts were expanded, and (official statements notwithstanding) insufficient steps were taken to halt construction.

The Land Grab

When Binyamin Netanyahu came to office in 1996, a signal was sent (directly and via Ariel Sharon, then minister of infrastructure) to begin a land grab. Sharon cajoled settlers "to take the hilltops." Roads to illegal sites were approved, pipelines laid, building materials supplied, and protests ridiculed. In many respects, this policy was pursued as a means of diminishing the fragile trust between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, thereby undermining the peace process in its entirety. In the three years of the Netanyahu administration, 42 new sites were established, a full 30 in the waning months of his government after the signing of the Wye River Memorandum in November 1998.
Ehud Barak could not ignore the inheritance passed on by his predecessors. His decision to dismantle 15 outposts (the first such action by an Israeli leader) in fact gave ex post facto authorization to the other illegal encampments. Thus, the debate over the legality of particular settlements actually accentuated the reluctance to grapple with the basic question of the legitimacy of the settlement enterprise as a whole.
This ambiguity has accompanied all the negotiations on the permanent settlement between Israel and Palestine during the past year. It peaked in the most deadly way during the violence which broke out throughout the occupied territories at the end of September [2000]. The Al-Aqsa Intifada has focused squarely on the most blatant and provocative settler sites. Tens of Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli soldiers defending a handful of Jewish families in Netzarim, Psagot, and Hebron, as well as religious fundamentalists in the heart of Nablus.

A Security Liability

The short-term lesson on these events is clear. Most settlements are fast becoming a security liability of the highest order. They attract the ire - and the fire - of Palestinian protesters, and their protection has exacted an enormous price in people and resources for reasons that are difficult to fathom. The long-term lesson is more important: no real peace can be achieved without accepting the principle of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza. Statehood implies territorial control. The land-for-peace question is therefore at the heart of the dispute and its resolution is imperative if the negotiations are to be salvaged.
A candid Israeli debate on the settlements is long overdue. To date, no frank discussion of this sort has taken place. The discourse on the settlements has been dictated by the Israeli right. The emotional appeal has relied on the disingenuous argument that it is inhuman to uproot people from their homes. Those who support such a move are depicted as cold-hearted and cruel. The pragmatic defense of settlements has been more sophisticated: the settlements exist, and any agreement must take into account the changing situation on the ground. But neither of these points addresses the core of the problem: the need to choose between settlements and a viable peace. The new terms of debate compel Israelis to decide whether they are willing to mortgage the future of the state to the sometimes-whimsical desires of 200,000 settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Four Aspects to a Resolution of the Problem

A fourfold formula for dealing with the settlement issue has been in place for several years. The time has come to air it publicly and to translate it into action. The first element of a settlement solution involves the complete dismantling of small and scattered settlement sites. Places such as Ganim, Kadim, and Masuah, as well as the entire Jewish infrastructure in Gaza (to name but a few) were strategically dispersed throughout the territories to preclude any agreement. Just as the Israeli presence in "Joseph's Tomb" could no longer be justified nor assured, so, too, must these positions be evacuated. Now that a critical precedent has been set, it may be easier to apply it to other locations as well.
The second aspect to a resolution of the settlement question is essentially financial. Since many of those living across the Green Line moved there to improve their standard of living, they can be wooed back to within the boundaries of the State of Israel by economic means. A fund that offers monetary incentives to those returning to Israel would fall on very receptive ears today, especially if it guarantees the maintenance of lifestyles prevalent in the settlements elsewhere. The need for such an investment in peace has been recognized for quite some time. Now it must be carried out.
The third component of the solution entails negotiation. It is far more difficult to transplant large concentrations of Israeli settlers than it is to remove small outposts. The Camp David talks explored the possibility of boundary adjustments, which would place the major settlement clusters under Israeli sovereignty by agreement. The prospects of an exchange of territories in such an eventuality were not dismissed out of hand. In the aftermath of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, it is clear that only a qualitatively equitable land deal may be possible.
Finally, today, more than ever, it is evident that if any settlers remain in place, they will have to accept the authority of the Palestinian state. Israel will not be able to bear responsibility for the well-being of those of its citizens who insist on staying, of their own volition, within the jurisdiction of an independent Palestine.
These four interrelated and mutually reinforcing facets of the resolution of the settlement issue are by their very nature difficult and complex. Their adoption and implementation in the months ahead will be further complicated by the emotional and psychological scars created by the recent round of violence.

Abandoning the Settlement Enterprise

The settlements are the linchpin of the talks over boundaries and security that have informed the efforts to create a Palestinian state by agreement. They will unquestioningly become the targets of a unilateral declaration of independence. Yet sadly, the settlers and their supporters acknowledge that their ongoing presence is a recipe for the continuation of violence. Most people in both communities still refuse to bow to this verdict of escalation. If they really want to avoid such an eventuality, then there is no escaping the conclusion that concrete steps must be taken to abandon the settlement enterprise. Such an understanding is essential to any political accord and, consequently, to securing the future of all the peoples on the land.