Monday, March 18th | 11 Adar II 5779

November 7, 2014 3:36 pm

Settlements Have Led to Better Lives for Israeli Arabs

avatar by Ariel Kahana

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The Jewish community of Beit El in Judea and Samaria. Credit: Yaakov via Wikimedia Commons.

There is no wider-acknowledged international convention than “Settlements are an obstacle to peace.” Israel doesn’t even try to argue with the assertion. Even the settlers themselves can be quite flummoxed by it, at times.

But there really is no point in pretending. The vision of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria was not born to appease the country’s Arabs. The settlement enterprise sought to fulfill Zionism and expand the settlement of the patrimony of the Jewish people throughout the Land of Israel.

But after considering the facts of the issue on their merits, a question arises: do the settlements push peace further away, or do they foster it?

There is no doubt that the settlements are like a bone in the throat of the Palestine Liberation Organization. An easy, catchy slogan, and one perfectly formed for hanging all the Palestinians’ woes upon. The well-honed message has been absorbed worldwide and has become the soft underbelly of Israeli hasbara efforts to make its case internationally.

But, after shedding the political spin and rhetoric, one must honestly ask whether the removal of the settlements would bring peace, prosperity, economic development, democracy, and allow the rights of the Arabs of Judea and Samaria to flourish – or whether the exact opposite will transpire.

Events of recent years provide an irrefutable answer. Where there is Israeli settlement, Arab settlement flourishes. Where there are settlements, there is peace.

Let us “Arise and walk the land,” it says in Genesis, from north to south.

Imagine the Golan Heights were now in Syrian hands. What might be the fate of the 20,000 Druze in Majdal Shams and Buq’ata? Besides Israeli settlements, what’s keeping them from slaughter by Assad’s brutal regime or jihadist groups? How are they any different from the residents of nearby miserable Deir al Zour in Syria?

The answer is 18,000 Israeli settlers in the Golan Heights, working the earth. Without them the plateau would have long returned to Syrian hands and the predictable outcome.

Let us descend to the southwest through the Galilee and Wadi Ara. While, here, there is no immediate threat of an Israeli withdrawal, in comparison to their brethren in Arab countries, Israeli Arabs have it far better.

While this may sound a bit arrogant, let’s let the numbers do the talking.

The Israeli Arab standard of living is significantly higher than the norm for their neighbors. They enjoy freedoms that simply do not exist in the Arab region – first among them a fair and stable democratic government allowing them to live their lives.

Unlike, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Iraq, and the like, Israeli Arabs do not face the threat of casual and random killings in the streets. Israeli settlements – in this case within the ’67 lines, are the guarantor of their well being.

The next and most prominent stop along the way is the Gaza Strip, practically a scientific experiment proving the thesis.

Settlers, followed by the army, were forced to leave Gaza during the 2006 withdrawal. What has happened since? Has the civil and economic welfare of the Arabs of Gaza improved or deteriorated? Did their per capita GDP increase or decrease? Did democratic freedoms and personal security rise or fall?

The answers are well known.

Israel’s exit from Gaza devastated not only the lives of the settlers but also the lives of those remaining in the coastal enclave. Since the shameful retreat, tens of thousands of jobs that Israel and the settlements provided Gazans have disappeared. GDP per capita fell and unemployment soared. A terrorist, fanatical, and violent Islamic regime seized power and destabilized the region as a whole.

With the loss of the settlements, so too was peace with the Arabs of Gaza lost. No, not a full peace, not a rosy-hued peace, not a platonic peace, but rather peaceful relations that allowed one to live a relatively quiet life, the heart’s desire of any sane person – and certainly if they live in the Middle East.

Today, in Judea and Samaria, relative peace prevails. Settlements are helping tens of thousands of breadwinners, to the benefit of local Arabs and for mutual profit. (The Palestinian Authority withdrew its plans to stop Palestinians from working in settlements two years ago, after it realized how damaging and painful that would be.) Thousands of others, thanks to the Israeli presence, are allowed to work within Israel “proper.”

All this is happening thanks to the settlers.

So too in political aspects. Thanks to the connection to Israel, the Palestinian Authority is the most democratic entity in the Arab world. The IDF presence prevents the rise of Hamas and guarantees a secure and relatively peaceful life for Arabs of Judea and Samaria.

The Arabs of Judea and Samaria are spared the dangers of slaughter, tyranny, and military coups, so common in the region, because of the settlers who insist on staying in the land of their ancestors.”Ž

No one knows what the ultimate political solution to the conflict will be, but in the meantime life goes on. Here and there, there are even signs of cooperation: blossoming industrial areas and agriculture. Even as there is a struggle against the security barrier, shopping centers sprout up like mushrooms after the rain.

In conclusion, the removal of the settlers would endanger not only the safety of Israel but also the safety of the Arabs of Judea and Samaria.

Although saying it aloud isn’t politically correct, the plain truth is that the settlements bring peace.

Ariel Kahana is the Diplomatic correspondent of Makor Rishon weekly and in Israel.

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