Why Can’t Jewish Settlements Remain in a Palestinian State?

Looking Past the Biggest Obstacles to Peace Deal

Future Palestinians: Could Jewish settlers ever accept to live in a Palestinian state?
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Future Palestinians: Could Jewish settlers ever accept to live in a Palestinian state?

By Hillel Halkin

Published February 13, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
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“There’s no greater cliché,” I wrote in this column a month ago, “than the one that keeps insisting that the settlements are an obstacle to peace. They may have been that once, when they were few and sparsely populated enough to be removed. Now that they’ve long passed that point, any peace agreement will have to make room for their existence.”

In response, I received a letter from a reader that said:

“Every once in a while I wake up to a reality that’s been staring me in the face. Today’s was: Too late on the settlements. Duh! You’re right: Those settlements are eminently there. But I still don’t understand what, if not for a state, the scenario is meant to be for the million Palestinians living next door to them.”

My reader, of course, was expressing what is just about a universal belief. It takes the form of a simple syllogism: 1) Peace between Israel and the Palestinians depends on the establishment of a Palestinian state. 2) Jewish settlements cannot exist in such a state. 3) Therefore, the settlements are an obstacle to peace.

The odd thing is that no one stops to ask: But why can Jewish settlements not exist in a Palestinian state? In what book of rules is that written? Why, if over a million Palestinians currently live in Israel, can hundreds of thousands of Jews not live in Palestine?

Duh!

Not that there aren’t answers to this question. I can list half a dozen of them off the bat. Jews will never agree to live in a Palestinian state. Palestinians will never let Jews live in a Palestinian state. Jews should not want to live in a Palestinian state because that’s not what Zionism is about. Palestinians should not want Jews to live in a Palestinian state because they will be living on Palestinian land. Nobody should want Jews to live in a Palestinian state because Jews and Palestinians can’t get along. Jewish settlements in a Palestinian state will be a perpetual source of friction and violence.

These are weighty arguments. They deserve to be taken seriously. But the argument that, like it or not, the settlements are here to stay is even weightier. (Personally, I like it. For both pragmatic and principled reasons, I want Jews — many Jews — to live in the entire Land of Israel. I’d prefer them to live there under Jewish sovereignty, but if that can’t be done everywhere, I’ll settle for less.)


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