Commentary: A crucial settlement concern
By Bruce S. Ticker
PHILADELPHIA — “Everybody loses if there is no peace.” So stated Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House to herald the revival of peace talks.
Too bad Israeli troops were not around to keep the peace the night before on the road to the West Bank settlement of Beit Hagal. What two women and two men had to lose were their lives, near Hebron.
Nothing justifies how these savages fired upon their car and removed the victims from the vehicle when they shot them again to ensure that they were dead. The New York Times carried a photo of Hodaya Ames, 9, as she wept next to the draped body of her mother, Tali Ames, 45, who had been pregnant and was also a grandmother.
However, the Israeli government under the current and past administrations – whether right-wing or left-leaning – knows that the Aug. 31 slaughter is the latest in an ongoing pattern of Arab attacks in the decades since the settlements swelled in the West Bank.
In October 2000, two Israeli reservists mistakenly drove into Ramallah where a mob stabbed and beat them to death, The Los Angeles Times reported. Two months later, the son and daughter-in-law of the controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane were killed by terrorists while traveling near Ramallah, leaving six orphaned children, according to the Ynet Web site.
The West Bank has been relatively calm during the last two years, but Jews there are nonetheless vulnerable because the isolated settlements are difficult to protect. They exist in the midst of a hostile Arab population, and many settlers and the soldiers assigned to protect them have been killed or injured.
Because of these dangers, Israel should never have allowed settlements to be built in Gaza and the scattered sections of the West Bank. The government could have acted unilaterally any time, as it started with Gaza, to evacuate the settlements.
Fortunately, many of these settlements are obvious objects for removal in the revived talks, if they are still on, while the government plans to retain communities located near Jerusalem because a greater amount of Israelis live there, making these areas easier to protect.
Jews do have a right to live in the West Bank, but the isolated sites are unmanageable. Jews lived there prior to 1948 and Israel captured the territory in 1967 in a war effectively begun by its Arab neighbors. Advocates for the Arabs will cite international law which they say prohibits an occupying power from developing land that it conquered in war. They also claim that Israel stole land from Arabs who lived there, an accusation which Israelis sharply dispute.
Settlers may well resist any attempts to evacuate them, a likely complication that might have been averted had Yasser Arafat accepted a peace settlement at Camp David in 2000. At the time, settlers were reportedly somewhat resigned to the prospect of leaving, but they have become more hardened since the Gaza evacuation in 2005. Case in point: The Hebron slaughter prompted settler leaders to declare a resumption of settlement expansion.
Jeff Jacoby, a Boston Globe columnist, recently characterized the Gaza evacuation as “a disaster in every respect.” Jacoby and other hardliners correctly point to the Hamas takeover and the excessive rocket attacks on southern Israel.
They neglect to mention that settlers and troops in Gaza are no longer vulnerable to terrorist violence because the settlers no longer live there and troops are no longer stationed there. There were plenty of grisly incidents similar to the West Bank assaults chronicled above.
If Israel erred at all in Gaza, it was probably in the removal of all the soldiers. They might have left a smaller contingent behind to block arms smuggling and prevent attacks on southern Israel. That is probably what they should do in the West Bank.
As the settlements continue to function as a powderkeg, maybe Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction, including the settlers and their Arab neighbors. There is scant reason to be optimistic.
Ticker is Philadelphia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World