Everything Elliott Abrams knows about Israeli settlements is wrong

The Israeli government uses the pretext of the two-state solution’s inevitability to justify building settlements on Palestinian land, all without ever earnestly seeking a two-state solution.

Elliott Abrams (Photo by Miller Center / CC 2.0, cropped)
Elliott Abrams (Photo by Miller Center / CC 2.0, cropped)

Imagine that the Palestinian Authority announced that based on an offer made by Israel in past peace negotiations — and irrespective of the result of those negotiations — it was launching a program to send Palestinian refugees to resettle inside Israel proper. Indeed, there is documentation that former prime minister Ehud Olmert made a concrete offer to absorb 10,000 Palestinian refugees as part of a two-state agreement. The only problem, Israel points out, is that no peace deal has been reached. In fact, there are not even any plans for negotiations to resume.

That scenario is imaginary for countless reasons, but the tactic described is identical to that which Israel is employing today.

In a condescendingly titled article in Foreign Policy last week (“Everything You Know About Israeli Settlements Is Wrong”), former Bush advisor Elliott Abrams argues that the Israeli government’s latest land grab in the West Bank is actually not such a big deal because the land is part of an area that is “going to remain Israel’s no matter what.”

Yup. No matter what.

Israeli policy, and the thinking behind it, Elliott explains rather well, is that it can treat concessions it hopes to win in future negotiations as faits accompli and simply establish them as facts on the ground.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like most of his predecessors, is playing a clever and time tested game. Netanyahu uses the pretext of the two-state solution’s inevitability to justify building settlements on Palestinian land — in areas he calls “consensus settlement blocs” that Israel expects to annex in a peace deal — without ever credibly and earnestly seeking such a two-state solution.

A policy of ‘restraint’

Israel’s separation barrier stands on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Bil’in; the wall was built surrounding the Israeli settlement of Modi’in Illit (seen in the background). In a protracted court battle, Bil’in managed to win back some of its land but landowners are still cut off from a significant portion which has been appropriated by the Jewish settlement – both to build on and as a “security zone.” (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)
Israel’s separation barrier stands on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Bil’in; the wall was built surrounding the Israeli settlement of Modi’in Illit (seen in the background). In a protracted court battle, Bil’in managed to win back some of its land but landowners are still cut off from a significant portion which has been appropriated by the Jewish settlement – both to build on and as a “security zone.” (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Abrams, who is considered to be close to the thinking of Israel’s right-wing corridors of power, praises Prime Minister Netanyahu for “notably maintain[ing] his policy on constraining settlement construction beyond the fence line.”

Such a policy would, indeed, be notable if the fence line were a negotiated border. If that were the case, one could argue that the prime minister wasn’t encroaching on land earmarked for a Palestinian state.

The problem with such thinking is two-fold. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, no land has been earmarked for a Palestinian state because the process that might result in such a state’s creation has failed time and again.

Furthermore, in peace talks Netanyahu has refused to present any map that denotes his hopes and plans for negotiated borders. He has also consistently refused to treat agreements reached in previous rounds of negotiations as points of reference, or starting points, in any peace talks in which his government engages. In other words, according to Netanyahu, there is no land destined for a future Palestinian state — only land earmarked for future annexation by Israel.

Read also: Figures show peace talks, settlement construction go hand in hand

Secondly, when former prime minister Ariel Sharon began construction of the fence and making plans for its route public, he went to great lengths to reassure the international community that it was not a land grab. In a 2004 letter to U.S. President George W. Bush, Sharon wrote: “The fence is a security rather than political barrier, temporary rather than permanent, and therefore will not prejudice any final status issues including final borders.”

Israel has indeed argued ever since that the barrier’s route is temporary — when such arguments are expedient. Other times, and more frequently in recent years, Israeli officials have been more blunt about the barrier’s consequences, if not the intentions behind its construction.

In 2010, then minister Dan Meridor stated clearly that in an — acceptable to Israel — two-state resolution, “the new border has to be based on the principle of the security fence route and the settlement blocs. That is what we have to aspire to.”

‘A state of scattered territories will not work’

The Israeli separation barrier snakes through the West Bank. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)
The Israeli separation barrier snakes through the West Bank. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The settlement blocs and the fence that snakes around them, if retained according to Israeli aspirations, would chop the West Bank into pieces. President Bush, whose Road Map for Peace Elliott Abrams worked on (or some would argue, against), made very clear that “changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to. A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity of the West Bank, and a state of scattered territories will not work.”

One of the most consistent Palestinian complaints about Israel’s settlement policy is that it is attempting to create a network of bantustans that would leave the prospect of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state unviable. Without contiguity, the best Palestinians can aspire to is a series of semi-autonomous pockets eerily similar to today’s reality — and no Palestinian leader will ever agree to that.

The bottom line is that Israeli settlements, even — or perhaps, especially — the ones that are suburban and peaceful, are the number one factor perpetuating Israel’s 47-year military occupation of the Palestinian people in the West Bank. As the settlements continue to grow, the occupation becomes even more entrenched. If they were to disappear, so would Israel’s interest in maintaining such a costly, immoral and often-times criminal military regime. That, more than anything else, is what Elliott Abrams doesn’t understand about Israeli settlements.

Related:
Settlements as punishment prove Palestinian lives are bargaining chip
Addressing Israel’s addiction to settlements
Why the EU needs to rein in Israel’s settlement policy

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