The Problem of the Settler State

The Problem of the Settler State

A reflection by Dr. Bernard Sabella, Jerusalem

The tragic violent developments that we have witnessed since the failure of the latest peace efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry and his team are a preview of how life will be under a Settler State. If the present state of affairs with Israeli Jewish settlers in the West Bank is to persist, then more expansion of settlements is in order with more settlers, presently at over 350,000 in the West Bank and over 200,000 in East Jerusalem, are expected to double in  the next ten years. Settlers with their right and ultra-right ideology especially those in the West Bank are becoming a formidable force in Israeli political life beside their influence in the army and in other important state institutions and ministries. Settlers break international law by the mere act of settlement in the occupied Palestinian  territory as settlements are considered illegal. Settlers ignore international law and consensus on the illegality of settlements and they live by their own laws as they receive support from the Israeli political and military establishments. A settler state that is consolidating out of the West Bank will not only affect relations with the indigenous Palestinians negatively but will eventually imprint Israel itself and its institutions with the settler ideology, some would argue that it already had, that would be oblivious to international legal obligations and to the need of reaching a political solution with the Palestinians. This settler state would make a two-state solution an impossibility but it would not also entertain the possibility of a one-state solution. Hence an Israeli settler state would have to rely on means and methods of security and control beside outright discrimination in order to maintain itself and its survival.

Some reflections on the most recent developments, taking into consideration the growing consolidation of the settler state are in order.

First, the “security and control” argument of the Israeli settlers and their right wing supporters in both the Israeli government and army does not hold, as shown following the disappearance and killing of the three young settlers and the brutal killing of the Palestinian youngster in Jerusalem. If these incidents are an indication, then they simply point to the unfeasibility of having settlers live “normally” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The argument that settlers, the Israeli army and various security measures can keep Palestinians under control ad infinitum and accordingly can guarantee normalcy for settlers is fallacious and should be reexamined by Israeli politicians, especially those bent on annexing the West Bank and refusing to go forward with the peace process.

Second, the call for revenge by Israelis of all walks of life, following Israel’s announcement of the death of the three settler youngsters, and their refusal to listen to opinions outside of the national consensus on this and other topics of vital interest are another indication that for some or even for a good number of Israelis, Palestinians are thought of as legitimate subjects of hate, that their hate towards Palestinians is a value to be kept and that they are a sort of sub-humans, that are outside of the moral and ethical standards that these Israelis claim to embrace. This hate environment was encouraged by irresponsible political rhetoric voiced by some Israeli politicians following the killing of the three teenagers. Hate and angry rhetoric make the calling for and carrying out of revenge acts, such as the kidnapping and killing of the Palestinian youngster from East Jerusalem, an unsurprising outcome.

Third, the emotive and massive reaction of Palestinians, and those youngsters in East Jerusalem in particular, to the trauma of the kidnapping and killing of the Arab youngster from the Shu’fat neighborhood in the Palestinian part of the city, is an indication that young Palestinians will not acquiesce to the policies of control and accomplished facts imposed by the Israeli authorities since the occupation of the Eastern part of the city in June of 1967. The message of the Shu’fat and other East Jerusalem youngsters who responded with rage to the kidnapping and killing of one of their fellows is refusal to accept Israeli measures that are meant to deny Palestinians their right to self-determination; to determine their national and communal identities and their own future within their city. It takes a tragedy to bring this refusal to the forefront.  

Fourth, the way the Israeli government or some of its key members used the tragedy of the disappearance and killing of the three settler youngsters speaks mountains of the political motives and designs that were set to derail any effort at intra-Palestinian reconciliation. But that was not the primary motive as the Israeli government reneged also on agreements and accords with the Palestinians, arresting and intimidating hundreds of them some of whom have been released in previous agreements with the Palestinians, invading the privacy of Palestinian homes and families, imposing measures of collective punishment especially in the Hebron area and in the proximity of the locality where the three young settlers disappeared. The immediate impact of these Israeli measures was to make Palestinians feel that they were living in an Intifada environment but the long term effects include the emotional cost of these Israeli measures to Palestinians of all walks of life who felt that the Israeli government was treating all of them as guilty for the disappearance of the Israeli youngsters.

Fifth, if the lesson learned from the tense, emotional and tragic events that we all experienced in the last three weeks, then it should be that we are in need of a genuine political process that would bring to an end Israeli occupation, its settler manifestations and implantations and its control mechanisms. This political process should aim  at separating our two peoples in a manner that would ensure rights and the exercise of our Palestinian people of its right to self-determination with the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.Settlers cannot continue to determine the future course of Israeli-Palestinian relations because the detrimental effects of their vested interests in annexing more Palestinian land, securing and expanding their settlements with control and other aggressive methods, determining the political priorities of Israel to the disadvantage of other Israelis who aspire to live in a normal state will all contribute to destabilization in the long run and to a phenomenon of on and off escalation of violence with Palestinians.

Sixth, what we are witnessing at present, with all its tragedy, is a wake-up call. Would Israeli politicians heed the call or would they, as we have grown accustomed, continue with heeding only their narrow political and party interests that will bring all of us future disasters? Would they be able to control the settlers or do the settlers really control them and what does this mean for a future Palestinian State and for the State of Israel itself

*Dr. Sabella is Executive Director of the Middle East Council of ChurchesDepartment of Service for Palestinian Refugees, a Global Ministries partner.  He lives in Jerusalem.