Home Page

With Mideast peace, settlers may become Jewish Palestinians

By: Shaul Arieli, Ha'aretz


One of the most difficult issues to be faced in the negotiations between us and the Palestinians relates to the number of settlers who are supposed to be evacuated. The number stands at between 110,000, according to Mahmoud Abbas's suggestion, and the 70,000 that Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert have suggested. The total number of Israelis living across the Green Line is currently half a million.

Recently, the Palestinian leadership has reiterated its readiness to consider compromises with regard to leaving Israelis under Palestinian sovereignty, and from time to time similar declarations can be heard from the settlers' leadership. However, before we happily adopt this solution, it is worthwhile to examine it closely.

In 1947, when a UN commission determined the partition borders, it left behind some 10,000 Jews in the planned Arab state. It saw in their presence, just as in the presence of an Arab minority in the Jewish state, a kind of guarantee that would ensure cooperation between the new states. And indeed, the presence of a Jewish minority in Palestine will serve as a challenge to both states and will oblige them to relate to questions of civic equality, cultural autonomy and participation in government. However, the question whether this challenge will turn into a threat to stability is dependent on the extent to which the minorities internalize their status as such.

A solution whereby the settlers remain under Palestinian government will relieve Israel of having to deal with their evacuation, but it is likely to undermine Israel's stance with regard to territorial exchanges. The lack of a clear connection between Israel's territorial position and the issues of security, water and infrastructures, and its apprehension about the threat of an evacuation, make it possible for the Palestinians, if they adopt the solution of Israelis remaining there, to demand more vehemently that the "fingers" of settlement that push deep into their territory, like Ariel and Kedumim, be cut back.

A solution that leaves settlers in Palestinian territory will necessitate relating to the scope of the area including 96 settlements that is not included in Israel's territorial demands, or to the 107 that are outside the Palestinian proposal. Their joint area covers between 83,000 and 114,000 dunams, which constitute 1.5 to two percent of the area of the West Bank, according to the respective positions of the sides. Will this fact generate a Palestinian demand that, in addition to territorial exchanges, Israel must allocate an area on an identical scale for the benefit of new communities for its Arab minority?

The sides will not be able to evade dealing also with the status of these lands. Since 1967 and to this day - despite rulings by the High Court of Justice which barred it - Israel has continued to build settlements and outposts on private land. They today constitute some 40 percent of the lands of the settlements that lie east of the separation fence. Both Israel and Palestine will be obliged to show great generosity toward the owners of these lands, so that they will be willing to accept the settlers as their neighbors.

In order to make this solution more feasible, steps must be taken to block the continued intensification of its disadvantages. First, Israel must cease expanding the settlements that lie outside the line of its positions. The permission granted "during the year of freeze" for some 1,500 new housing units east of the fence, and the granting of national priority status to isolated settlements, are not the way to do this. On the other hand, stopping the "laundering" and the evacuation of unauthorized outposts - of which, according to Peace Now figures, approximately 84 are located either completely or partly on private land - can reduce the private lands problem.

Palestine and Israel can exist with a Jewish and Arab minority in their midst. The establishment of a Palestinian state will ensure, firstly, that the Palestinians will be able to realize their right to self-determination outside the borders of Israel, and secondly, that those who do not grow accustomed to being a minority will always be able to emigrate to the homeland of their nation that lies across the border.

The writer is a Geneva Initiative Signatory and a member of the board of directors of the Council for Peace and Security.