Earlier this month I spoke at a conference on the theme of intellectuals and terrorism at Ariel University, Israel’s major center of higher education in Samaria—that is, across the so-called Green Line demarcated by the 1967 borders. Ariel trains many Arab students in Israel; the campus was full of young women in Muslim headscarves. Close by is an industrial park employing more than 3,000 local Arab workers in some of the 150 manufacturing plants on site, paying Israeli wages with Israeli benefits—which is to say five times more than the same workers would earn in plants on Palestinian Authority territory.
David Ha’Iviri, the executive director of the liaison office for Israeli settlers in Samaria, spent some time with me after my talk at Ariel. He’s now visiting New York, and explained to me over lunch that the Jewish settlers created their own volunteer emergency units, initially in response to terrorist attacks. As the attacks abated, the volunteer organizations kept expanding. Now they spend most of their time rescuing Arab victims of road accidents. The Western press seizes upon the rare incidents of settler violence against Arabs, but is silent about the hundreds of Arab lives that settler-volunteers save.
Jews build schools, plant gardens, start businesses wherever they are. The Samarian settlements are an exemplar of high-tech organic agriculture with a minimum environmental footprint, blended with light manufacturing. With sweat and ingenuity, and very little support from Jewish institutions, the settlers have managed to do more to educate and employ and otherwise better the lives of Samarian Arabs than the feckless and corrupt institutions of the Palestinian Authority in the region. It is a terrific story for any journalist willing to spend a few days with open eyes and without prejudice—but I doubt that the mainstream media will touch it.
To acknowledge that the settlers do good for their Arab neighbors is to admit that the Palestine Authority, despite the billions shoveled into the sieve of its finances by Western and Arab donors, is incapable of creating a civil society. It speaks volumes that the accomplishment about which Washington brags the most—General Keith Dayton’s little Palestinian military force—is yet another gang of young men with guns. On this see Daniel Pipes’ NRO commentary. Where are the school boards, the hospital committees, the volunteer rescue squads, the whole apparatus of subsdiarity (we Jews call it tzedekah, or “righteousness”) that holds a society together?
I have long been on record in support of the settlers. If you believe in “Land for Peace” (and it takes a mystical trance to sustain that belief after Israel’s withdraw from Gaza), then it follows that you should believe in less land for less peace. As I wrote earlier this year:
Settlement represents the only logical riposte to the so-called Palestinian refugee problem. When Ariel Sharon talked of creating “facts on the ground,” he was responding to the most important fact on the ground, namely the maintenance of the only third-and-fourth-generation “refugee” population in the world as a weapon against the Jewish state. In the aftermath of independence a roughly equal number of Jews came to Israel and Arabs left, in one of many 20th-century population exchanges (and one of the least bloody, as a matter of fact). That should have been the end of it, except that the United Nations and the Arab world kept the refugees corralled in “camps” (settlements with much better amenities than their previous homes). The Arab demand for right of return, which has accompanied every so-called Arab peace plan, proposes to liquidate the Jewish state.
Against this, the setttlements crea te a countervailing set of facts on the ground: refuse to make peace, they tell the Arabs, and you lose territory. The more settlements, the better. Short of killing people, seizing land is the best way to give the Arab side an incentive to make peace sooner rather than alter.
There is a comfortable illusion among American Jews, for example the distinguished defender of Israel Alan Dershowitz, that Israel can obtain peace and security by throwing the settlers under the bus. The vast majority of American Jews, according to the American Jewish Committee’s most recent yearly survey, oppose any compromise of Israeli jurisdiction over Jerusalem (61% vs 35%). But 56% would dismantle some, and 34% would dismantle all West Bank settlements “as part of a permanent settlement with the Palestinians.”
That is delusional. In some hypothetical world it might be possible to force out the West Bank settlers, as Ariel Sharon forced out the Gaza settlers, in the context of a peace settlement, but it is not the world that we live in. With only 20% of the Arab world willing to tolerate a Jewish State in Israel under any circumstances, there will be no compromise in which Israel keeps Jerusalem and gives up Judea and Samaria. The only settlement Israel could obtain under present circumstances would be a far worse version of what Ehud Barak offered Arafat in 2000.
Until a reasonably large portion the Palestinians and the Arab public generally are willing to live next to a Jewish state, there will be no settlement. Any land conceded by Israel will turn into rocket platforms. In the meantime, the best thing you can do for West Bank Arabs is to keep the settlers there to give them access to world-class university education, jobs at Western salaries, and other benefits of living in a civil society cultivated by Jews.