The past few months have seen the formation of a strange alliance between some settler representatives and leading leftist figures, which is based on the lack of faith in the "two states for two peoples" paradigm.
The sense of helplessness in the face of the Elkin-Danon-
government, coupled with new reports of increased settlement construction, has managed to demoralize many who are choosing to wave the white flag and declare victory for the settlers. Instead of holding their heads up high and fighting for the only solution that will safeguard Israel's democratic and Jewish character, many prefer to admit defeat and write off any chance for a separation from the Palestinians in the form of two states.
Yesha Council Chairman Danny Dayan
was quick to identify this trend and declare on every stage and at every opportunity that the settlement enterprise has become irreversible. Like a judoka, Dayan knows how to use his rival's strength to his advantage. For instance, he took full advantage of the reports published by Peace Now regarding the accelerated pace of Jewish construction in the West Bank, and instead of attacking the reports, he uses the data to bury - in terms of awareness - the only chance for an agreement.
There is no shortage of leftists who are willing to jump on Dayan's bandwagon of despair, and it is easy to understand why pessimism has taken control over the hearts and minds of so many people. The news coming in from the territories is not good, and construction in the West Bank has significantly increased over the past year, but despite the accelerated construction, a change in the strategic reality on the ground is still far off.
The number of settlers living in isolated settlements, which Israel will have to evacuate as part of any permanent agreement, is rising – but not dramatically. The settler population is growing mainly in the ultra-Orthodox settlements, such as Modi'in Illit
and Beitar Illit. These settlements are situated close to the Green Line, so they will almost certainly remain under Israeli sovereignty under any future agreement.
The number of settlers Israel would have to evacuate in the framework of any peace agreement is still estimated at around 100,000 – or 1.5% of Israel's population. This is not a small figure, but it is far smaller than the number discussed during the negotiations between Olmert and Abbas or between Barak and Arafat.
The territory is changing, the reality is becoming more and more complex, the price of a peace agreement continues to rise, but it should not be written off just yet. The State of Israel, which succeeded in absorbing a million immigrants in a decade, which succeeded in evacuating the largest outpost in the territories in just six hours, will manage to evacuate 1.5% of its population in order to end the historic Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The price of evacuating the settlers is an important factor in assessing the viability of an agreement, but it is not the only one. The Israeli public's motivation to end the conflict outweighs any number of settlers.
If the current, relatively calm period is not translated into action, it is entirely possible that the next opportunity for real change will come only after another painful round of violence with the Palestinians, which, whether we like it or not, is inevitable. Capitulating to the settlers would mean giving up on Israel's identity as a Jewish and democratic state that lives in peace with its neighbors.
Yariv Oppenheimer is the secretary general of Peace Now