Peace Demands An End to the Tragedy of the Settlements

by Steve Masters, Philadelphia attorney and president, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace I support Israel. I always have, and I daresay I always will. I believe in the right of the Jewish people to a national home, and I love the home we’ve built. I’ve lived there, worked there, found friends and loved ones there. But I long ago learned that supporting Israel can’t mean unconditional acceptance of official policy. One can love a place and still question its leaders. Indeed, sometimes that is exactly what love demands. When it comes to Israel’s settlement policies, that’s the kind of love I hold in my heart – the kind that questions, and demands change. Simply put, the settlements represent one of the greatest threats to security of the Jewish State. There are many reasons this is so. Israeli soldiers on settlement duty aren’t available to defend the country’s borders; money spent on settlement defense is money taken from Israel’s other military needs; time and resources spent preparing soldiers for such duty mean less training for conventional wars (a fact we saw play out to Israel’s detriment in the course of the 2006 Second War in Lebanon). Moreover, the continuing expansion of the settlement project – whether deep inside the West Bank, or on the outskirts of Jerusalem – creates a festering crisis of confidence with Palestinian moderates, and undermines the Palestinian people’s belief in Israel as a partner for peace. It is far more difficult to keep militants in check under such circumstances, as an angry populace wonders why their leadership can do so little to advance their cause. Having already watched the settler presence more than double since the signing of the Oslo Accords, many Palestinians have concluded that Israel has no intention of ending the occupation. And so when rockets are launched, and terrorists dispatched, moderates can do little to stop it. The threat to Israel’s security goes much farther than anything so immediate, however. The settlements break up the contiguity of the West Bank, in effect cutting the territory in half across the middle, and slicing and dicing each half into smaller pieces. Yet for years, both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership have known – and said publicly – that the eventual resolution of the conflict will entail the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, in keeping with the 1967 borders, with a few small and mutually agreed-upon adjustments. Thus, the continuation of the settlement project pushes the possibility of a durable peace agreement ever further into the future. The settlements – no matter the intention of those living in them, no matter their relation to our Biblical past, no matter the assurances of Israel’s policymakers – mean the indefinite continuation of the bloody conflict with which Israel and the Palestinians have been living for decades. The Adva Center, a nonpartisan Israeli policy analysis center, recently put it this way: "The conflict with the Palestinians is like a millstone around the neck of the Israel: it undermines economic growth, burdens the budget, limits social development, sullies its vision, hangs heavy on its conscience, harms its international standing, exhausts its army, divides it politically, and threatens the future of its existence as a Jewish nation-state." As a supporter of Israel, as a lover of Israel, I cannot sit idly by and watch official government policy perpetuate this folly. It’s true that I have dedicated much of my professional life to achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace, but beyond that, my heart demands that I do everything in my power to advocate for a true resolution of the conflict. And so, as an American Jew who has loved Israel all his life, I have spoken out for strong US policies that hold Israel accountable for its commitments to stop settlement expansion and dismantle settlement outposts - because Israeli security demands peace, and peace demands an end to the tragedy of the settlements.