West Bank Jewish Settlements: The Real Obstacle to Peace

By Curtiss, Richard H. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 31, 1994 | Go to article overview

West Bank Jewish Settlements: The Real Obstacle to Peace


Curtiss, Richard H., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


West Bank Jewish Settlements: The Real Obstacle to Peace

"Real agreement with the Palestinians cannot be achieved without removal of the settlers. If the government wants this agreement to work, it has to be courageous and evacuate them."

--Israeli "Peace Now" leader Tzaly Reshef, March 14, 1994

For most of the past 47 years, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has been at one "turning point" or another. Usually one or both parties hesitate over a key decision, something unexpected occurs, and an opportunity is lost. This is one of those turning points.

For both Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, it may be the last chance to make a mark in history as a peacemaker rather than a warmaker. Rabin is in his seventies. If he fails to slip through what he now describes as a "narrowing window of opportunity," there will not be another. His party probably will lose the next election.

Arafat is in his mid-sixties, but not in good health. His standing among Palestinians last September was extraordinarily high. Now it's very low. It still can go either way. All of that is inconsequential, however, compared to the significance of this moment for both of their peoples.

It seems to be the last chance for a "two-state" solution in the land of Palestine. If it is lost, there probably will be only one state. For the short run, three decades at the most, it will be Israel. In the long run, however, it will be Palestine. With luck, Jews still living there will have equal rights, unlike the situation today where Arabs living within Israel do not.

Demographically, economically, geopolitically it is impossible for a tiny Jewish state, with a declining population of fewer than four million Jews, to survive on hotly disputed land in a sea of hostile Islamic nations with exploding birthrates. Demagogues inevitably will emerge as the Arabs and the much larger Islamic world begin their deadly serious struggle to achieve the modernization necessary to support their expanding populations.

These demagogues will use Israel, just as Hitler used the Jews of Europe, as a catalyst for seizing power, and justification for holding it. If the Israelis don't make peace now while they can, sometime in the 21st century they will have to give up exclusive power or share the fate of the Jews of Europe as that continent made its bloody 20th century transition from the narrow nationalism and bigotry that can no longer co-exist with modern warfare and weaponry.

On the other hand, there are highly educated modernists in every Muslim nation. They are keen to make a bloodless transition from the benighted old ways of illiteracy, autocracy and poverty to a new age of universal education, popular participation in government and equality of economic opportunity. They would welcome and support an immediate, just settlement of the Israeli- Palestinian dispute.

They correctly see an unrequited Palestinian grievance, which has become the burning, personal burden of every Muslim, and of Christian Arabs too, as a time bomb which can destroy all the hopes of their peers across the entire swath of Islamic nations. For the modernists of the Muslim world, what is at stake is peaceful evolution or bloody revolution for more than a billion people from the Atlantic rim of Africa to the Pacific rim of Asia.

The road chosen for more than a fifth of the human race, and their relations with the other four-fifths with whom they share the planet, will be heavily influenced by the turning point in Israel and Palestine.

Confronting the Hebron Massacre

"The massacre brought into full public view, where it must be dealt with, the question of West Bank-Gaza settlements, which was being denied. It forced the Israeli right (no territorial concessions) onto the defensive on an issue it had to defend only lightly before. It precipitated the now unstoppable debate that gives the center and left (pro-territorial concessions) their best argument for a negotiated solution. …

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