And many residents of the West Bank - or Judea and Samaria, terms as historically and geographically valid as Galilee - actually live in good-sized towns themselves. The four largest are now Modi’in Illit, population 34,514; Maaleh Adumim, 33,259; Betar Illit, 29,355; and Ariel, 17,723.
Given that the era of “pre-1967 Israel” came to 19, while the “post-1967” era now approaches four decades, does it still make sense to call those communities settlements? Does it make sense to call an Israeli who moves from a Galilee hillside to an Ariel apartment block a “settler”?
Israelis and pro-Israelis of goodwill have made various arguments against the settlements. Some said they compelled Israel to keep ruling over Palestinians and lose its character as a democracy. Some said particular settlements were too isolated and an unnecessary headache. Some said the settlements angered Palestinians and other Arabs and drove peace further away.
Even if those arguments were right, doesn’t a time come when the size of a population makes it simply a fact, and talk of its forced relocation becomes immoral?
True, when in summer 2005 Israel forcibly removed 8,000 settlers from Gaza, many people found it morally acceptable. It’s also true that in March 2006 Israelis elected an Olmert government - now drastically unpopular - that touted the “convergence” plan of dismantling some uncertain number of West Bank communities.
But “convergence” has now been shelved as most Israelis realize from the Gaza experience that clearing an area of Jews hardly made it more peaceful.
But does that mean Israel, if its West Bank population continues to grow, is doomed to lose both its democratic character and its hopes for peace? Not at all, for two main reasons.
First, the Palestinian Arabs of Judea and Samaria already have their own government, known as the Palestinian Authority. True, it’s not fully sovereign; Israel is still able to conduct security operations in the West Bank and to maintain communities there.
(It can also be strongly argued that the PA in its present form poses such grave danger to Israel that it should be dismantled; but for now that is not on the horizon.)
Settlers neither moral nor pragmatic problem
But the fact that the West Bank Palestinians have something short of sovereignty can only be viewed as a moral problem, or as compromising Israeli democracy, if one sees an obligation to create for the Palestinians a fully sovereign jihadist dictatorship - the only kind of regime of which they’re currently capable.
Otherwise, Israeli is doing what a democracy should: refraining from annexing the West Bank, thereby leaving the possibility of a negotiated solution, while upholding its own security needs and historical-religious values there. Settlement makes a contribution on both counts - by ensuring Israel’s hold on areas critical to its security, and reestablishing the age-old Jewish presence.
Second, if the West Bank Palestinians were a unique people existing only in the West Bank (and Gaza) who could never exercise full sovereignty anywhere else, one could argue that settlement threatens to annul their aspirations. If so, the Palestinians could be seen as justified in fighting the Israeli encroachment.
But if many people think that about the Palestinians, it’s because of a media campaign to obscure the fact that Jordan is a country in historic Eastern Palestine with a majority-Palestinian population - reasonable criteria for a Palestinian state.
A genuine negotiated solution for the West Bank - if there is ever enough acceptance of Israel in the region to make one possible - would take that reality into account. Such a solution would probably involve arrangements between Israel and Jordan that are not hard to imagine if the missing ingredient of Arab acceptance of Israel is present.
The Western and Israeli-Left hang-up with settlements actually further distances such a possibility by pushing for a truncated Israel that would be a further invitation to terrorism and war.
The Israelis in the West Bank, then, do not pose either a moral or a pragmatic problem. And since the word settler is loaded with negative connotations of “intruder,” it would be best to cease applying it to them - and to drop the immoral paradigm of their forced removal.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv and a columnist for FrontPageMagazine.com