Forcing settlers to relocate, the Aspen way

Posted: July 7, 2009 by Jonathan Boyko in Gaza, Israel, Own Articles, Palestinians, Peace Process, Press and Media, US, West Bank

Israeli settlers

AT TIMES, SMART people offer solution different from all others. At times, though, smart people offer solutions based on wrongful facts and forgotten history. Now meet Mickey Bergman, the special advisor to Middle East Strategy Group of Aspen Institute. Bergman is also the director of US-Palestinian Public-Private Partnership program. Bergman wants Netanyahu to force settlers out.

Bergman believes Israel should adopt a ‘Compensation Law’, a bill that would allow people taking their belongings and resettling on the eastern side of the Green Line to receive monetary compensation from the State. The offer would be limited, and those who would refuse it, would not get any funds when the government decides to forcefully resettle them. Taking aforementioned step, Bergman believes, would allow Obama to pressure Palestinians into concessions, with Israel having the right to tell the world: Here, we are moving towards peace.

As sad as it is, Bergman oversees countless facts in recent Israeli history, substituting reality with his vision. Spiraling down into the mist, Bergman oversees several major issues with his plan, addressing his vision for happy future instead.

First and foremost, it is unclear how removal of settlements would affect Palestinians’ determination for concessions, and while Israel is being asked to make any further concessions at all. After all, while not much, since Oslo agreements in 1993 Israel did cede over 13 per cent to Palestinian Autonomy, assisted in creation of its armed police force, supplied Palestinian rulers with water, gas and money. Moreover, Palestinian Autonomy, under the rule of Yasser Arafat, accepted over $4.5 billion from world’s nations. Still, none of those steps made Arafat and Palestinian people make peace with Israel their major goal. Until this day, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas calls for total Israeli withdrawal to 1967 (not accepting land exchanges) and return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants (counting between four and five million souls) into the 1967-bordered Israel. Since Arafat and Rabin shook hands, terror rose to huge proportions, years before the second Intifada. All facts counted, Palestinian people and their leaders took no one step to promote peace.

Why would then Palestinians agree to compromise on certain issues, despite the steps already taken by Israel? After all, in 1994 Israeli settlements weren’t as much of a problem as they are now – less than half of current population resided then in West Bank settlements. Surely back then it was easier to reach a peace deal than now?

Bergman also omits some major milestones in Israel’s quest for peace, after the second Intifada started. For example, several months after the Palestinian uprising and IDF’s military action against Palestinian terrorists, Arafat personally requested IDF pull its tanks back and allow Palestinian security personnel take control over PA-governed areas. Each time such attempts failed and more attacks followed, with IDF eventually locking Arafat inside his compound, yet allowing endless supply of foods inside. We are not, by the way, talking poor man’s feast.

In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated Jewish settlements from Gaza, with PA taking control over the entire Strip. While many make the point that Gaza wasn’t really liberated – Israel still controlled most of its borders, including sea and air space. Yet, is this excuse enough to unleash a new wave of attacks against Israel? If Palestinians indeed longed for peace, wouldn’t Israel’s pullback reflect on its will to leave Gaza alone? Sharon’s defiant move allowed Gazans to take control over their territory; if PA and HAMAS would begin creating a flourishing society (by opening new markets, building new playgrounds for children, establishing open trade, establishing security control and disarming terrorists), no doubt Israel would within few years allow Gazans full sovereignty over their soil. We all know how that played out.

Bergman also omits the fact that before Israelis realized allowing Palestinians self-control leads to disaster, they elected new Prime Minister – Ehud Olmert – whose key pledge was full evacuation of Jewish settlements from within the West Bank, excluding several large outposts, for which Palestinians would be compensated with other lands. Olmert, according to sources familiar with the matter, was ready to cede control over the Temple Mount and East Jerusalem. Despite such promises, Palestinians refused to cooperate.

Israel took several great, painful steps towards peace. They might not have been great – but those were steps. There is no – absolutely none – indication Palestinians would make a step, even a tiny one, towards real peace. For example, only recently, a new FATAH TV channel was launched, with people familiar with its content saying its shows regularly carry same Jew-hating themes as HAMAS’ TV in Gaza.

Last, but not least, is Bergman’s failure to address the issue of the majority of the settlers. He says even if 10 per cent of residents of the West Bank would leave their homes and find new ones inside 1967 Israel, Palestinians would view this as major stride towards peace. The rest should be left uncompensated he says. When the soldiers come to evacuate them – they will be on their own.

From his bio, Mickey Bergman sure seems like a smart man. How can a smart person come up with such ideas? What about the consequences? What would the state do with 450,000 homeless, jobless persons, many of them children? How would the state accommodate the needs of tens of thousands of families, even without reimbursing them? Now, four years later, meager thousands of Gush Katif evacuees still have no permanent jobs or housing – how would Netanyahu and his team (or whoever comes next) solve same problem for hundreds of thousands such citizens?

As it is proven once and again in modern world, university degree or position says nothing about your intellectual skills; says nothing about your honesty and will to objectively view the situation. While it is true that Israel should prepare contingency plan in case Palestinians elect a leader capable of compromise. Yet, even though they resent it so much, the ball is in Palestinians’ court now – it has been for the past 15 years.

  1. Mickey,

    Thank you for your response.

    If there is something I would agree with Israeli Left wing is that violence is not always the answer. I believe the first way to start is to attempt to change image of IDF soldiers. There are various ways to do that. For example, I wonder, what would happen if one day IDF troops would enter a Palestinian village, escorting several trucks and bulldozers, and when they’re finished, they would leave a newly-repaired road behind them. You get my thinking.

    That is not to say violence is not necessary. Sadly, in many cases IDF has to use violence in order to battle the terrorists – particularly in Gaza. But in the West Bank (and gradually in Gaza) IDF could portray itself as the army that wants to help – not kill. I believe it is possible, albeit hard. There is no doubt terrorists would use IDF’s intention to help in order to attack the soldiers – and politicians and officers should be clever enough to distinguish between civilians and militants.

    That’s on the matter of attempting to change IDF’s image.

    If we go back to reality, though, it is important to understand that there is quite a low chance of Palestinians – even the regular people – appreciating such efforts by the troops. IDF’s will to bring relief to Palestinian civilian population would be spun by their leaders as defeat of Israel. Propagandists would cry victory on every corner and would call for the Palestinians to renew their jihad.

    Sadly for the Arabs, Israel’s tactics of suppression works. It is true that IDF made mistakes at times – mistakes some officers and soldiers did not pay enough for. However, according to recent data, number of terror attacks dropped significantly in past several months. Rockets are rarely fired from Gaza. Suppression wins.

    Now Israel decided to take steps of relief for Gazans. Slowly, they will receive more freedoms. And it will be their call – should they renew terror or force their leaders to establish a normal society. There clearly is dot of light in the end of the tunnel – recent polls show Palestinians’ support for HAMAS dropped 9% – to 18.8%, while Abbas’ FATAH movement won over these people. Maybe there is still a chance.

    But it is only when Palestinians drop the idea of drowning the Jews in the sea when they will have peace. It will not happen in our time.

  2. Mickey says:

    Dear Mr. Boyko,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I think your comments are very valid and highlight a major dilemma we are facing: how can we make progress towards a peaceful resolution for the Middle East conflict without having it being perceived as a win for the extremists and violent groups? How can we (not only Israel, but the international community) continue to send a clear message to the Palestinian and Arab population out there, that there is peace to be made, without having Hamas and others capitalize on it and sell it as a proof of weakness?

    Thanks again for this productive dialogue,

  3. Dear Sir,

    First and foremost allow me to thank you for your service in the Israeli Defense Forces. Protecting Israel is the most noble goal one can accomplish, and I greatly appreciate your role in protecting our homeland.

    Secondly, please allow me to apologize. If my article made you believe I think little of your intellect or your honesty you deserve sincerest of my apologies. That certainly was not my intent, although re-reading my words I can agree that those could hurt your feelings.

    You do make a good point that those settlers willing to leave should be allowed to do so, and the Compensation Law would certainly accomplish that. However, my major beef with the theory is that Israel should portray its willingness to achieve peace. State’s involvement in reducing the population of the West Bank would be seen as weakness by the Palestinians, not a step towards peace. As with the Oslo agreements, the 2000 Lebanon pullout, the 2005 Disengagement – all those were hailed by the Palestinians as a victory for the struggle of Palestinian freedom fighters, not a step to peace. Accepting such law at this moment would, I believe, strengthen the stand of FATAH’s military wing and that of HAMAS, probably inciting more violence once again – as it happened on previous occasions.

    Moreover, I believe that during the current recession, quite a few people might be tempted to take the money, despite the fact the would otherwise stay in their homes.

    Please do not misunderstand me – I do want peace. Moreover, I am ready to cede lands in order to achieve peace. However, Israel made several steps towards peace, particularly in the years 1994 to 2000. For some reason, most commentators now forget Israel’s past efforts, and now it is being asked once again to stride for peace – even though Israel’s opponents do not.

    As you no doubt know, the hatred towards the Jews (not just the Israelis) mounts among the Palestinians. The opening of a Jew-hatred-TV by FATAH recently obviously portrays inner struggles among Palestinians – but also shows us they fight among each other at Jews’ expense. This should not be the case.

    While I understand the complexity of the situation, I do know that it is the Palestinians’ turn. I understand that if Mahmoud Abbas would declare that Palestinians should cease fighting Israel, it would be viewed with fury by many of his people, and HAMAS would certainly exploit the situation. But that is the right thing to do for the sake of peace. It should be done gradually, of course – no one changes course 180 degrees overnight. But establishing a new outlet for Jew hatred is definitely the wrong way to go about this.

    You point is certainly valid and I appreciate your words. I do believe such step would be dangerous at the moment, unless Palestinians take it upon themselves to establish a peaceful society, instead of a violent one it is now.

    Last, but certainly not least, please allow me to apologize once again for my harsh words.

    with Warmest regards,
    Jonathan M. Boyko.

  4. Mickey says:

    Mr. Boyko,
    Your piece fwd’d to me by my mother (google alert….go figure). I wanted to respond to your comments, since you are actually one of few that responded to the substance and not just slogans.

    1. I think your title is misleading. As you point out, I do recommend a voluntary compensation law. Yes, I do make the point that once a deadline has passed the compensation will expire, and that might suggests that the people left will need to be evacuated, but this is only once a peace agreement accepted by Israel is made. Towards the end of your piece, however, you suggest: “that Israel should prepare contingency plan in case Palestinians elect a leader capable of compromise”. What is this contingency plan? How will you treat settlers that refuse to evacuate within the context of a peace agreement ratified by Israel? Will compensation work then? I hope you see the contradiction I am pointing to.

    2. I do not assume that I will determine all elements of a very complicated law. I don’t even assume being able to discuss it in 750 words piece. I am simply trying to introduce a tool, that I think can be useful.

    3. I actually have very little argument with most of the data you put forth at the center of your piece. Palestinians specifically, and Arabs in general, have done very bad things, did little to infuse confidence in the past, and have behaved criminally (to say the least) many times. In fact, you will find NO praising of Palestinian or Arab behavior in my article (and in 750 words op-ed, you must focus on very specific points).

    4. Having said that, I am not engaged in a conversation of blame. I am dedicating my time and efforts to try to get Israel out of this violent conflict. Like you, I served in the IDF in a combat unit. I spent 6 years in South Lebanon. I saw combat, lost friends and was injured myself. I want Israel to emerge from this conflict and not be stuck in it, whether the Palestinians want it or not. I am not willing to give up and declare this state of insecurity as a permanent status for Israel.

    5. I do think that something has been happening in the Arab world. Maybe not as much in the Palestinian population, but certainly in the Arab world. And I think it is our responsibility to check and see if this is real. I am not suggesting any additional security risks by recommending the compensation law. What you assume about my un-written beliefs is irrelevant.

    6. I cannot and will not promise that if we pass the compensation law we will for sure end-up in peace. No one can/should promise that. But even if we don’t, I just don’t understand why those of the settlers wishing to move out of the West Bank and into Israel cannot be compensated now for doing so? Why are you against letting them make their decisions? It is their lives, families and children.

    7. I think that this dialogue can be much more effective and powerful without trying to take personal stubs and insults. I think we both have the same goal: securing the safety and eternal existence of Israel as a Jewish Democracy. I am not doubting our honesty, don’t doubt mine. I am not questioning your intellect, don’t question mine, especially not base on 750 words of an opinion piece.

    Will be happy to hear your thoughts,

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