The European Union's decision to exclude the settlements from its agreements with the State of Israel is a turning point. The decision means that any activity in a West Bank settlement will not benefit from any aid received from the EU by activities within the sovereign State of Israel (the 1967 lines).
Any agreement the European Union signs with the State of Israel will not apply to the territories it conquered in the Six-Day War, and to be exact – the 150 settlements established on these territories.
Behind this decision stands the settlements' lack of any international legitimacy. The international community sees them as an act contradicting international law. Israel controls the West Bank in order to protect the settlements, where the number of residents has grown over the years to 350,000 people.
The political essence of setting up the settlements and expanding them to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. The leader of Judea and Samaria, the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi proudly admit it. It's possible that Minister Bennett's arrogant statements and the chilly response to Secretary Kerry's initiative affected the timing of the decision.
The need to protect the settlements requires massive IDF presence in the West Bank – and there is no escape from defining this presence as occupation. As I said earlier, there is no understanding, support or legitimacy in the world, neither for the settlements nor for their protection. Israel's international image is that it is preventing the Palestinian people, through the settlements, from fulfilling their right to their own state. The vote of 138 countries at the UN General Assembly in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state, compared to nine which were against it, demonstrated just less than a year ago the diplomatic isolation the settlements are casting on Israel.
The public in Israel is stubbornly repressing this situation. Warnings that this diplomatic isolation may turn into economic isolation have fallen on indifferent, complacent ears. After all, our economy, as it is based on exports, is really strong and stable. I see my neighbors at the Herzilya industrial zone, where there are many export-rich high-tech companies, going down for lunch in thousands, and I am not under the impression that their appetite is spoiled by the risk that Israel's political situation will negatively affect their livelihood.
Slippery slopeJust a few months ago, the BBC published an extensive survey which ranked Israel fourth, after Iran, North Korea and Pakistan, on the list of the most hated countries in the world. No one gave a damn. This complacence serves the leaders of the parties, nearly all of which pushed the need for a peace agreement with the Palestinians off their agenda.
Since the 1992 elections, in which Yitzhak Rabin defeated Yitzhak Shamir, the nation has not been required to make a sharp decision on the future of the State of Israel. The EU's decision, for those who understand its meaning, is a blow to cognition. It's an indication that diplomatic isolation carries an economic price as well. We can't signal to the Palestinians and to the world for long that we are burying the two-state vision through the settlements, and enjoy open export markets, international investments and generous European grants.
Perhaps now, as we are at the start of the slippery slope of a boycott and sanctions, we will be required to make a national decision which has been pushed under the carpet: An ostracized apartheid state, a democratic but not Jewish state, or a Jewish and democratic state, without the West Bank and without some of the settlements.
Down the slope, which we have yet to reach, lies a boycott on Israeli produce and a cessation of investments in Israel, which will lead to the loss of workplaces and stop the economic growth.
The border line, indicated in the understandings reached between former Prime Minister Olmert and Abbas in 2008, allow the vast majority of settlements residents to remain within the boundaries of the State of Israel. We must make a decision.
Dr. Ephraim Sneh is the chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College