From John Kerry’s speech and similar remarks made by other Obama administration officials in recent years, you would think Israel has been building new settlements day and night.
Yet the fact is that no Israeli government has established a single new settlement in more than twenty years.
When Labor opposition leader Yitzhak Rabin was campaigning for prime
minister in 1992, he strongly criticized the Likud government for
establishing new Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. Rabin argued
that if Israel would stop creating settlements, the Palestinians would
make peace and the world would stop being so hostile toward the Jewish
Rabin’s thesis was based on hope and speculation, not historical
experience. But he won that election, so he had the opportunity to test
his thesis. And he did. Reviewing Rabin’s first several years in power,
The New York Times noted on January 20, 1995 that Rabin entered office
“promising to rein in the aggressive settlement-building of his
predecessor” and he proceeded to implement a policy in which “no new
settlements are authorized.”
When Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister for the first
time, in 1996, he continued that policy: no new settlements were
established. Of course, construction within existing settlements
continued. As Yitzhak Rabin had said in his famous last speech to the
Knesset, on October 5, 1995: “We committed ourselves…not to hinder
building for natural growth.”
How could Rabin have done otherwise? People had children, children
needed schools, and when they grew up into young adults, they needed
apartments. That’s called life. Nobody could expect the Israeli
government – whether Likud or Labor – to choke off people’s lives.
Both Likud and Labor did, of course, continue to develop new
neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The notion that parts of Israel’s capital
are “settlements” is an absurdity that is rejected among Israelis from
right to left.
There are some scattered little “outposts” in Judea-Samaria, but the
government has not sanctioned them. Some of those outposts, in fact,
have been torn down by the government. A few that were built on the land
of existing settlements have been permitted to remain. Others are in
legal limbo. But only a tiny number of Israelis reside in the outposts;
the idea that they constitute obstacles to peace is laughable.
Not only has the government not authorized any new settlements since
1992, but Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom Kerry smeared as an
“extremist,” even froze all construction in existing settlements for 10
months, because the Obama administration insisted that would bring the
Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. The Obama theory
was quickly exposed as a fantasy.
That’s not all. Israel has already torn down existing authorized
settlements. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismantled 21 Jewish
settlements in the Gaza region and expelled their thousands of
residents. Israel was hit by tens of thousands of rockets in return.
So there you have it. No new settlements in 24 years. An
unprecedented 10-month freeze on construction in existing settlements.
Twenty-one settlements torn down. Only a tiny handful of Israelis living
in shacks in some inconsequential hilltop outposts.
According to the anti-settlement crowd, Israel by now should have peace with the Palestinians and should be loved by the world.
Instead, we see exactly the opposite.
The Palestinians are even more violent today. The world hates Israel
even more. And the Obama administration is obsessed with picking fights
with Israel – over, of all things, the settlements.
How can this paradox be explained?
The answer may have more to do with psychology than anything else. The psychology of bullies, to be precise.
We live in a world full of countries that are bullies. They occupy
other people’s land (see: Russia). They sponsor terrorism against people
of other faiths (see: Iran). They explode if an American
president-elect takes a phone call from a rival (see: China). They
swallow each other alive (see: countless warring African countries).
They respect countries that are strong and self-confident. They
despise and take advantage of countries that seem timid or hesitant.
When they see weakness, they smell blood. Israel’s constant concessions –
from halting new settlements to releasing imprisoned terrorists to
stopping wars in Lebanon and Gaza short of victory – have been seen as
signs of weakness. Israel is seen as stumbling, ineffectual, unworthy of
respect, perhaps on the verge of collapse. Israel is seen as a country
that everyone naturally gangs up on, because everyone assumes the
Israelis will make yet more concessions.
That’s what brings us to today’s peculiar reality, in which Israel
makes repeated concessions on settlements, and Obama, Kerry, and the UN
become even more obsessed with settlements. Fortunately, there appears
to be light at the end of this miserable tunnel, as Israel’s leaders
join hands with America’s new leadership to forge a better future for
This post first appeared in the Jewish Press and may be read and commented on here.