Israeli Settlements Are Irreversible

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The evacuation of hundreds of thousands of settlers seems impossible for any Israeli prime minister, argues Shalom Yerushalmi.

Is there a prime minister, from the right or the left, who will evacuate Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem or settlements in Judea and Samaria?

In a fascinating interview with former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin in Yedioth Aharonot [Jan. 4], Diskin paints a gloomy picture of the political process. According to Diskin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not really want a Palestinian state to rise on the West Bank based on the Bar Ilan guidelines that he himself spoke of in June 2009 and that he does not even believe in it. “Netanyahu has ideological reservations about entering into the two-state process. Beyond that, his personality is such that he cannot make the kind of momentous decisions that were taken by [late prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin or [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon,” Diskin said.

In the situation that has been created, argued Diskin, we are heading towards a severe entanglement with the Palestinians, many of whom have lost faith in diplomacy. Now they are preparing the way for Hamas to replace Abu Mazen, the Palestinian Authority chairman whom Israel knows how to alienate and humiliate. “I don’t know how long the deterioration process will take, and I don’t want to say that it is irreversible. I actually think that it is still reversible. The question is, what should we do so that it will be reversible,” assesses Diskin.

I want to disappoint him even more: The situation has long been irreversible. We have created an Israeli-Palestinian reality on the ground that we don’t know how to cope with, and we don’t have leaders who can change it — even if they wanted to. It doesn’t matter at all if we have a partner on the Palestinian side or not, because this terrible reality is not a partner for peace.

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In Judea and Samaria today, beyond the Green Line, live 700,000 [Israelis] (according to conservative estimates), including the neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Let us assume that the Palestinians are willing to concede us the [large] settlement blocs that Diskin and I are talking about (and they, of course, are not waiving them). These are the Ariel-Elkana bloc (at least 50,000 settlers); the Etzion bloc (at least 30,000 settlers); the Ma’ale Adumim bloc (50,000 settlers), and the Beitar Ilit bloc (50,000 settlers). That still leaves us with almost 150,000 settlers in scores of towns and settlements who will have to be moved to the blocs.

Is this possible? After all, a world war erupts over every outpost held by twenty hilltop youths. It took 12 years to evacuate Migron, and even then, the small settlement was only moved 500 meters to the east. Can someone stand up today and evacuate Emanuel, Kiryat Arba, Karnei Shomron, Beit El, Ofra, Shiloh, or Elon Moreh? In the current political situation that has been created, it is becoming clear, as we near the elections, that an absolute majority of the future coalition members will demand to impose sovereignty on these territories, not evacuate them.

There is no prime minister in Israel who can cope with such an evacuation. Diskin was correct: Netanyahu also does not want to try it. The Bar Ilan speech was a kind of sleight of hand, a tactical move and nothing else, as Likud MP Tzipi Hotovely says. Netanyahu has written thick books about the dangers of a Palestinian state — even a demilitarized one — mainly due to the demographic threat. Diskin talks about the death grip of the Israelis and Palestinians in the territory, but the right-wing politicians also have the prime minister in their grasp and will not allow him to evacuate even one established settlement.

Is a left-wing prime minister capable of conducting such evacuations? No way. The Right won’t let him move, and we saw what happened in the days of Yitzhak Rabin, may he rest in peace, and the Oslo Accords. In fact, can there be a prime minister in Israel today who evacuates thousands of Jews from the mixed neighborhoods in East Jerusalem? From Sheikh Jarrah, Jabel Mukaber, Ras al-Amud, or from al-Tur? Let’s even assume that there is an agreement for partitioning the Old City between the various quarters. Can anyone imagine that it will be possible to evacuate the Jewish residents who live and study in the Muslim Quarter and legally bought houses there?

The situation is irreversible — and how. This means that we are even closer to the catastrophe described by Diskin in the interview than to a solution that does not stand a chance. Everyone is responsible for this situation — a situation that leads us the hard way to a dual national state, including generations of Shin Bet chiefs who now wring their hands in anguish but could have done more to use their influence in real time.

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