For two decades Israeli government policy regarding "settlements" – the right of Jews to live in Judea, Samaria, Gaza eastern Jerusalem and Golan - and the "two-state plan" - the right of the Palestinians to establish a state on all, or nearly all of that same territory - has been confused, contradictory and inconsistent.
This schizophrenic position has led to paralysis of thinking, self-destructive unilateral withdrawals and concessions that allowed the continuation of terrorism, the emergence of a quasi- Palestinian state, and Israel's increasing isolation and de-legitimization.
Efforts to combat de-legitimization, therefore, are crippled by Israeli government policy which (1) has refused to assert the legal and historical rights of Jews in Judea and Samaria; (2) has refused to annex Area C of Judea and Samaria, in which all of the settlements reside, over 300,000 Jews and a relatively small minority of Arabs; (3) supports the establishment of a second Arab Palestinian state based more or less on the 1949 Armistice lines; (4) has implemented restrictions and freezes on Jewish building in Area C; (5) wantonly destroys Jewish homes in Judea, Samaria and Gaza; (6) equates Zionism with Palestinianism.
On one hand, Israeli governments have virtually conceded Jewish legal and historical rights in these areas. On the other hand, all Israeli governments have permitted and supported Jewish building in these areas. This has encouraged BDS movements that condemn and delegitimize Israel for policies which are controversial, even in Israel.
The failure of the Israeli government to clarify its policy and present a consistent position has created a vacuum where friends and foes, Jews and non-Jews, Zionists and non-Zionists place the burden of blame on "settlers" and "settlements." This is reflected in the media, which identify those who oppose settlements as the "peace camp" – implying that supporters of settlements favor war.
Given the Israeli government's ambivalence on this issue, its unilateral withdrawals and offers to remove all or most settlements, opposition to all settlements by the UN and the international community, and wide support for the PLO and the PA, it is no wonder that the Palestinian position has been consistent: "No to Israel as a Jewish state, no to interim borders, no to land swaps;" no to giving up claims to eastern Jerusalem, and no to canceling the "Palestinian right of return.”
Ambiguity creates confusion
Since Israel cannot make up its mind about the status of Judea and Samaria, why should anyone agree to any Jewish Israeli claims? As long as Israeli governments continue to support the two-state plan, rendering settlements as bargaining chips towards a future peace agreement, the question of who is entitled to Judea and Samaria has already been decided; what remains is only the timing and the price to be paid.
This has created a situation where Israel appears to be haggling over technical problems of quantity, preempting ideological, legal and moral entitlement issues. Hence, BDS campaigns, which reflect opposition to settlements ("the occupation"), are not inconsistent with the Israeli government's own ambivalence.
Efforts to isolate, condemn and delegitimize Israel because of its policies in Judea and Samaria, therefore gain traction from Israel's silence or unwillingness to state clearly to whom this area belongs. The more the government refuses to defend the rights of Jews to live in Judea and Samaria, the weaker is its ability to defend itself against BDS and de-legitimization campaigns.
The belief that in order to defend Israel's claim to its pre-1967 contours, Israel must concede all or most settlements, including (according to the international community) those in eastern Jerusalem and the Golan, undermines support for those settlements. The issue becomes not if, but when.
Hence, Israeli governments created this trap, a no-win situation directed by the architects of the Oslo Agreements and perpetuated by Israeli government since, based on the delusion that the conflict between Israel and the Arabs is primarily territorial – not existential. As long as this myth persists, Israel will lose, and in the process, fuels de-legitimization campaigns.
Israel's dilemma is that it cannot abandon settlements in Judea and Samaria without surrendering the most important Jewish historical sites in the world and relinquishing vital strategic positions, especially secure, defendable and recognized borders that are the basis for ending the conflict.
Opposing settlements in order to create another Palestinian state, therefore, enables and encourages BDS and de-legitimization campaigns by accepting the premise of those campaigns: "the occupation" is illegal and immoral.
The more Israel promotes another Palestinian state, the more its position in Judea and Samaria becomes untenable, and the more that issue will be used to delegitimize Israel. If the areas of settlement in Judea and Samaria don't belong to us, what are we doing there?
Israel needs to act in its own self-interest, for its survival. Ambiguity only creates confusion; a sign of weakness, it invites derision.
The author is a historian, writer and journalist living in Israel
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