I was having a conversation with my mother on Sunday. Like many American Jews of her generation, her politics are to my left on pretty much everything -- except Israel. We got to talking about the settlements in a future/hypothetical State of Palestine. She asked: Post-statehood, why can't Israel just tell the settlers that now they're citizens of Palestine? If you live on one side of the border, shouldn't you just be Israeli; and on the other side, you're Palestinian?
And I sympathize! Life should work like that. And to some extent, it will: both sides agree in principle to negotiated land swamps during final-border negotiations, in order to -- for the purposes of this conversation -- incorporate the biggest and most contiguous settlement blocs (Ma'ale Adumim, for instance) into Israel. Lots of settlers live in the West Bank because successive Israeli governments made it financially sensible to settle there, rather than out of an ideological project of preventing the State of Palestine from ever existing.
But here's why Israel really does have to uproot most of the settlements.
After setting the fire in the early-morning hours, vandals spray-painted the words "revenge" and "price tag" on the walls of the mosque in the Bedouin village of Tuba-Zangaria.
Similar messages have been left in the West Bank, where attackers have burned mosques, cars belonging to Palestinians and olive trees. They have also vandalized an Israeli army base and the Jerusalem home of an Israeli anti-settlement activist.
Monday's mosque attack didn't happen in the West Bank. It happened in northern Israel. But what's happening there is a lagging indicator of what's happening in the West Bank. So says the Shin Bet. This is from a September 13 Ha'aretz piece:
Extreme right-wing Jewish activists in the West Bank have moved from spontaneous acts against Arabs -- following the demolition of Jewish homes by Israeli authorities, or terror attacks against Jews -- to organized planning that includes use of a database of potential targets, according to new analysis by the Shin Bet security service.
The small groups of Jewish extremists are difficult to infiltrate and carry out surveillance on Arab villages and collect information about access points and escape routes in the villages. They are also collecting information about left-wing Israeli activists.
This is a potential future, if the IDF and Israeli intelligence do not treat these settlers like they do Palestinian terrorists: imagine a Palestinian state that incorporates thousands of Israeli settlers as part of a final-status deal. Suddenly, the State of Palestine includes among its citizenry lots of wealthy, ethnically separate people who live in enclaves and stockpile weapons*. Unless Palestine bulldozes lots of access roads, they will have access to numerous transit routes.
They are not ethnic separatists in a traditional sense. They don't merely believe that they ought to live in the political entity known as Israel -- actually, in many cases they don't recognize Israeli political authority. They believe they must live in the West Bank for religious purposes. And their premiere political project is to stop the West Bank from falling under Palestinian sovereignty. Failing that, their premiere political project will be to roll that Palestinian sovereignty back. The only way to do that is the way that Palestinians have tried for decades on Israel: terrorism.
What Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and all other interested parties need to consider is what happens after the first incidents of Jewish terrorism inside the State of Palestine. Palestine will need to retaliate, as any state does. You can imagine a Palestinian defense or interior minister even picking a deliberately provocative title for an operation to uproot Jewish terror cells, like, say, Operation Defensive Shield. You can also imagine what will be on the minds of those Palestinian security forces: payback.
Suddenly we can imagine televised images of Palestinian cops in riot gear and soldiers in armor attacking people who look like -- and, probably, in many cases, are -- Jewish civilians. Women and children. The pressure on any Israeli government to retaliate will be overwhelming. The race to the violent bottom will accelerate.
Uprooting settlements will be emotionally wrenching work. We know this because the IDF already does it. And for its efforts, the settlers vilify the IDF; they also infiltrate it in the hopes of preventing settlement destruction. There will be many cries about making this-or-that part of the West Bank "Judenrein," designed for maximum emotional resonance. (It's been a standard settler tactic for decades.) But outside of incorporating select settlements into Israel through negotiated land swaps, the alternative is a continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after a (hypothetical) final status deal.
*When I was younger, my father had an apartment on Avenue J in Brooklyn's Midwood neighborhood. It's one of the commercial hearts of a rather, ah, conservative part of Jewish Brooklyn -- during the Second Intifada, you could see wheatpasted posters of Meir Kahane on streetlamps and the sides of buildings. When we'd go to get sandwiches at the deli, we'd see tzedakeh (charity) boxes on the counters. The small placards accompanying the boxes had pictures of snarling dogs. Their legends advertised that donations were needed to help our fellow Jews in Judea and Samaria defend themselves against the Arabs.
"Huh," I remember once saying to my dad after we left the deli, "so they buy Rottweilers for the settlers?"
"Are you kidding me?" he responded. "That's to buy them AK-47s."