THE BLOG
08/04/2014 08:44 am ET Updated Oct 04, 2014

Israeli and Palestinians at Harvard: Part 4 of 9

The Settlements
Israeli civil servant Natasha told me that in the 1970s there was a movement on the left in Israel that said that settlements in the acquired lands should not be built since it "will complicate our lives" in the future. However, for the mainstream, "it is Jewish land and no one negotiated with us so we had better build a buffer zone from the countries around us", said Natasha.

An Israeli settlement is a Jewish community built on land captured from Jordan, Egypt and Syria in the 1967 war. There very existence is hotly debated. Settlements should be expanded according to some and demolished according to others. Truly, there is no easy solution to settlements.

Various Palestinians have weighed in on the Israeli settlements. According to one Palestinian named Wassim "Settlements are contrary to international law; they constitute a grave violation to the fourth Geneva Convention, meaning that these are actually war crimes being committed. And, at the end of the day, if we are talking about a solution to build on the future Palestinian state, it doesn't make sense."

"Enlarging the settlement movement is contrary to the Israeli interest" said one Israeli. Eighty percent of the settlers are there for economic reasons; the Israeli government gives enticements to live there. Meanwhile, twenty percent settle for ideological reasons - they settle in the West Bank because they believe that God gave the land to the Jewish people. "It is the government's decision to protect the settlers, to provide water, electricity, roads... its state policy to have settlements ... Israel can solve the problem by stopping the incentives and then give incentives to relocate elsewhere. They we have to deal with 20% who are there for ideological reasons", which translates into 100,000 settlers. "Some would say that Israel is using settlements as a chip for negotiation, and others would say that the Likud government doesn't really believe in the establishment of a Palestinian state." Harvard Business School MBA student Maurice from Lebanon said that Israel has placed settlements:

In the area that is the most fertile, that if you look at the West Bank it looks like Swiss cheese. If you look at a map the map is perforated with dots and these dots are settlements. And some of them have become cities of more than 50,000 people. The Israeli government provides water for the Israeli houses but right next door is a Palestinian and they have no water, which is being demolished and the next day settlers move in the next day.

When I asked Maurice why the Israelis would do this, he responded:

The Israelis have been traumatized throughout history. They have always been in fear of being attacked by the other. When Israeli leaders wake up, their first thought is defense; it is not long term strategy. They are very myopic. It is about preserving it today but also destroying any risk or opposing group that opposes Israel's right to exist... This defines everything they do and everything becomes justifiable.

A Palestinian Imam told me that the pattern of Israeli settlements makes no sense unless you consider the value of the land, meaning that the settlements are on areas that have fertile land and better access to water. He continued:

If you want to have an agreement, base it on justice. And if it is just, it will survive; if not, it will not survive. If both sides benefit, that will last." He continued to say, "If you push the Palestinians and have a bad agreement with them, someone, one day will say I don't need this anymore and unpack it... and the Americans are doing anything to achieve this justice."

Speaking of the same issue, Israeli Barak said:

Thinking about the long run, there is no sustainable Israel with a majority of Jewish population in a one-state solution, because demographically, we know the forecast and there is no way; whoever wants a one state solution doesn't understand the figures. Because in twenty or thirty years from now, we are the minority... the other thing is that more than 72% of Israeli Jews are in favor of a two state solution where we do swaps with the fence. I know the major settlements are going to have to stay in Israeli control."

Israeli Natasha agreed with land swaps and said that it isn't possible or pragmatic for Israel to move 500,000 Jews out of the 'towns' in the West Bank; it will be a "civil war."

PAUL HEROUX previously lived and worked in the Middle East, was a senior analyst at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, and is a frequent guest on TV and radio stations discussing the Middle East. Paul has a Master's in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master's from the Harvard School of Government. Paul can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.

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