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Hanan Ashrawi

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West Bank Settlements Are Undemocratic

Posted: 07/31/2012 6:16 pm

The United States should be the last country in the world to support the denial of freedom. As the self-proclaimed land of the free, the U.S. is expected to promote the belief that everyone has the right to live in their own free country. So it is my hope readers of the New York Times, including U.S. political leaders, will have taken note of the unusually honest explanation of Israeli strategy that appeared in its pages on July 26.

Dani Dayan stated, with no diplomatic ambiguities, that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are an "irreversible fact" and claimed they are "not going anywhere." Mr. Dayan is a leading figure in the settler movement that is comprised of a half a million Israelis who have built cities, towns and villages on Palestinian land stolen and in some cases illegally annexed by Israel. He is at least candid. This is in stark contrast to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whose occasional statements are apparently in favor of two states, but which on close inspection are so heavy with pre-conditions as to make the Palestinian state impossible.

And that is the whole idea behind the illegal settlements -- to put so many concrete facts on the ground that if there ever were an agreement of two independent states, the settlers in their fortress tower blocks and militarily-defensible hilltops would make it impossible in practice. At that point, Israel would become -- not by negotiations, nor by international agreement, but by force -- a single state governing a population in which a large Palestinian population could be held in subjugation only by denying them any democratic freedom.

Mr. Dayan has stripped away any pretense about the expansion of settlements, which are deliberately making a Palestinian state nearly impossible. The consequence of this must be that Israel ceases to be a democracy, since the permanent settlement of Palestinian land can happen only by one people subjugating another by force.

Is this the outcome that the United States, of all countries, wishes to support? Or will it at last wake up to the reality that the Israeli government is a willing hostage of the settlers, among whom are violent extremists who vandalize mosques, destroy olive groves, and beat up Palestinians with apparent impunity?

Surely successive U.S. presidents have been right all along to believe that the better way of ending this deadlock is to have two free countries living side by side in lasting peace. This outcome has many virtues, including that it is democratic, that it is moral, and that it guarantees everyone the political freedoms which much of the world has taken for granted.

The settlers' alternative can be supported only by abandoning the belief in political freedom. It must be stressed that one cannot believe in freedom without accepting that it applies to all. Freedom that applies only to oneself fits with something else: oppression and occupation.

This is not a theoretical argument about political philosophy. Palestinians are confronted by reoccurring brutal acts that would cause moral outrage if carried out anywhere else.

Take, for example, the recent decision by the Israeli army to extend its military firing range in the South Hebron Hills. There are eight Palestinian communities in the area --villages going back to the 19th century -- all of which are to be removed. There is no democratic right of appeal and no representation in parliament by which those communities can contest the decision. Home, community, family, and tradition count for nothing. This is the deeply undemocratic, anti-freedom nature of the Israeli occupation of which -- it has to be said -- Americans know too little.

It is rare to see anyone openly admitting to a belief that Israel must permanently hold Palestinians under occupation, showing contempt for other people's freedom, history, and culture. Where Mr. Dayan is not honest is in failing to admit that brick by brick the settlements are burying our freedom. He never explains how the settler strategy can be reconciled with democracy because it cannot. Surely, the United States must see that this is not a strategy it can support while proclaiming its belief in freedom. Freedom must be for all, not just for the militarily strong.

Hanan Ashrawi is a PLO Executive Committee member and Palestinian lawmaker.

 
 
 
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