The settlements keep on expanding

In light of the recent news that Israel is yet again expanding West Bank settlements (by the way take a look at the wording of the headline and lead on that Post story), it's worth highlighting an excellent article on the issue in the London Review of Books.



LRB · Henry Siegman: Grab more hills, expand the territory:

"It is clear from Gorenberg’s account, and from Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar’s comprehensive survey of the settlement project, Lords of the Land, that the issue dividing Israeli governments has not been the presence of settlements in the West Bank. Shimon Peres of the Labour Party played a key role in launching the settlement enterprise. Their differences have been over what to do with the Palestinians whose lands were being confiscated. Most have argued they should be granted home rule and Jordanian citizenship. Over the years, some cabinet members – Rehavam Ze’evi, Rafael Eitan, Effi Eitam and Avigdor Lieberman, for example – have openly advocated ‘transfer’, a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. There has been general agreement that, rather than adopt a formal position on the future status of the West Bank’s residents and risk provoking international opposition, Israel should continue to create ‘facts on the ground’ while remaining discreet about their purpose. In time, it was thought, the world would come to accept the Jordan River as Israel’s eastern border.

These books give the lie to the carefully cultivated narrative that has sustained the occupation. According to that narrative, the government of Israel offered peace to the Palestinians and to its Arab neighbours in the aftermath of the war of 1967 if they would agree to recognise the Jewish state. But at a meeting of the Arab League in Khartoum on 1 September 1967, the Arab world responded with ‘the three ‘no’s of Khartoum’: no peace, no recognition and no negotiations. This left Israel no choice but to continue to occupy Palestinian lands. Had Palestinians not resorted to violence in resisting the occupation, the story goes, they would have had a state of their own a long time ago.



The story is a lie. Israel’s military and political leaders never had any intention of returning the West Bank and Gaza to their Arab residents. The cabinet’s offer to withdraw from Arab land was addressed specifically to Egypt and Syria, not to Jordan or the Palestinians in the territories. The cabinet’s formal resolution to return the Sinai and the Golan in June 1967 said nothing about the West Bank, and referred to Gaza as ‘fully within the territory of the state of Israel’. With only a murmur of dissent, the cabinet, led by Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan, and the then prime minister, Levi Eshkol, committed itself to policies that would allow only local forms of autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza, an arrangement they believed would in time enable them to establish the Jordan River not only as Israel’s internationally recognised security border but as its political border too.


The decision to retain control of the territories was taken days after the end of the 1967 war, and was not a response to Palestinian terrorism, or even to Palestinian rejection of Israel’s legitimacy. Zertal and Eldar cite a report by Mossad officials, prepared at the request of the IDF’s intelligence division and presented to the IDF on 14 June 1967, which found that ‘the vast majority of West Bank leaders, including the most extreme among them, are prepared at this time to reach a permanent peace agreement’ on the basis of ‘an independent existence of Palestine’ without an army. The report was marked top secret, and buried.


Security was the reason offered by Israel to justify the founding of the settlements. But the overwhelming majority of them actually created new security problems, if only because vast military and intelligence resources had to be diverted to their defence. The settlements have also enraged the Palestinians, whose land has been stolen to make room for them – this, too, has done nothing to increase Israel’s security."




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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.