Stopping the settler state

Can an Israeli government reverse this and withdraw over half a million of its citizens?

Chris Doyle
Chris Doyle
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Sit back and imagine for one second what would be involved in moving six million American citizens into Afghanistan? Perhaps it is easier to envisage 400,000 Russian civilians crossing over into the Crimea. How many troops would be required to bring this about and the keep them safe from an unwelcoming population?

Well this has been the equivalent scale of the Israeli settlement project. There are nearly 600,000 Israeli Jewish settlers in 150 settlements amongst almost 3 million Palestinians. Half a century this has taken and the illegal enterprise is far from complete. Thankfully but amazingly very few settlers are killed. Palestinian ability to resist has been doused by a mixture of force, intimidation, barriers, checkpoints and curfews. The entirety of the West Bank can be locked down into separate parcels in minutes.

Can it ever be undone? Can an Israeli government reverse this and withdraw over half a million of its citizens, some of whom believe they are on a divine mission in the West Bank? Can an Israeli Prime Minister commit to his word to crack down on settler terrorism?

The terrible arson attack and murder of 18-month-old baby Ali Dawabsheh on July must 31 be seen in this context. He was born under occupation where Palestinians exist on ever diminishing land and resources, confronting an ever-expanding more powerful settler movement. Not all settlers want to see Palestinians being kicked out but most do not want them to get in their way of the expansion of their cities, towns and villages. Making life as unpleasant as possible for Palestinians is an essential part of the settler strategy, and therefore the government’s. Burning Palestinian crops and olive graves, harassing them at every opportunity are designed to make them want to leave.

Can an Israeli Prime Minister commit to his word to crack down on settler terrorism?

Chris Doyle

Those that should be on trial are the Israel government and security apparatus who have indulged this illegal movement? They now find that in many ways it is a threat to the state of Israel itself.

What should the international community expect realistically from Israel? Let us dare to dream.

If major players are serious (doubtful), the long-term demand should be the complete evacuation of all settlements. Only if Palestinians agree, can there be land swaps based on equal size and quality. It should clear that no matter how many settlement announcements, how many tenders offered, how many homes built, this titanic violation of international law cannot continue. The International Criminal Court lurks around the corner, as the settlements are a breach of the Rome statute as a war crime. Ideally settlers should be withdrawn – the lands and resources returned to the Palestinians. Does anyone see this happening?

But short term, there is much the Israeli government could do or be made to do even without a political process if it wants to convince the world it is serious about settler terrorism en route to ending the occupation. It has to end the settler state.

Protect Palestinians too

First, the perpetrators of these attacks must face the full force of the law meaning that the existing figure of 2.5% of Palestinian complaints against settler crimes leading to conviction might go up. This must be done but both settlers and Palestinians must have with their full rights respected. Neither should face demolition of homes as a collective punishment as currently happens to Palestinians. The Israeli security cabinet has just approved administrative detention for Jewish terrorists. Just as it was wrong for Palestinians it is wrong for settlers – all save in exceptional circumstances.

Second, the Israeli military should change their mission not just to protect the settlers but the Palestinians too. No longer should soldiers stand aside and just allow settlers to harass and attack Palestinians with impunity.

Third, settlers should come under the exclusive jurisdiction of military law in just the same way as Palestinians do. At present they are governed by Israeli domestic civil law. This would end the dual legal system, the two laws for two peoples apartheid-like existence. Settlers would appear side by side with Palestinians in a military court. Roads should be open for all. If all this happened, settler pressure would ensure that a whole raft of unfair existing military orders would soon be changed.

Fourth, settlers should be disarmed. Only by taking away their Uzis, Galils and M16s will settlers understand that the law has to apply to them too. This was mooted back in 1994 after the Hebron massacre. Sadly, Yitzhak Rabin, then Prime Minister and ultimately a victim of a far right Israeli assassin himself, baulked at this opportunity and a chance was missed.

Fifth, Israeli politicians instead of pushing solely for Palestinians to stop incitement must end their own. The climate and hatred, racism and bigotry has reached frightening levels even at the heart of the existing coalition. Should Israel have as a Deputy Defense Minister a man who stated about the Palestinians in 2013: “To me, they are like animals, they aren’t human?” Why not rename all the myriad streets in Israel named after Jewish terrorists?

Finally, there should be a proper settlement freeze that includes Jerusalem and existing settlement building. In addition there should be no more soft loans and no settlements should be allowed to be given National Priority area status, where currently, settlements get a third of all the state’s budget for subsidizing housing units. Settlers should not get cheap mobile homes to expand their empire.

In short, Israel must end the privileged status for settlers and settlements to be taken seriously.

For the Palestinians, containing their anger and desisting from revenge attacks will be tough but necessary. Some clashes are inevitable as seen on Al Aqsa on Sunday. The West Bank was already boiling and renewed talk of a third Intifada will gain volume. Yet Palestinians must not sink to the settler level. Hamas’s call stating that Israeli soldiers and settlers are “legitimate” targets might sate their thirst for revenge but is wrong and counterproductive. A Molotov cocktail attack on 3 August in northern Jerusalem is a reminder of where this might go.

And for the international community? Well, the chance of this Israeli cabinet taking on the settlers as described above is about as likely as Donald Trump becoming President of Mexico.

The EU in particular should grow a spine and actually start taking some action to see its own declarations and laws fulfilled. How about an EU price-tag policy, impose a cost on Israel but in this case to reinforce international law not break it.

Settlement goods should become akin to conflict diamonds whose trade is outlawed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1173. Like these diamonds, settlements and settlers exacerbates a conflict. A full legal ban on settlement products and services in the EU should be the logical outcome of declaring routinely that all settlements are illegal ever since 1967. Why not stop the sale of settlement properties in the EU where they are still freely advertised? Banks, insurance companies, and other financial services should not be allowed to deal with settlements. The barest minimum should be that the much promised labeling of settlement goods could be formalized. So far only the United Kingdom and Denmark have done this. Another suggestion is a visa ban for settlers who carry out or promote “price-tag” attacks.

When Russia illegally annexed the Crimea, immediate and tough EU measures were taken including prohibition on imports and investment as part of a complete non-recognition policy. Israel should not be treated any differently.

The vast majority of the diplomatic statements on this conflict are fit for the ever-expanding garbage mountains of Beirut. The Israeli government and settlers gleefully ignore the rhetorical condemnations. It is only specific actions with specific consequences that will have any meaningful impact. Stop dreaming now. The nightmare will no doubt continue.


Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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