The Israeli Settlements

This morning I started writing a post about how Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been outraging me lately. The tipping point came with his call for the pardon of an Israeli soldier who killed an incapacitated Palestinian terrorist. The military’s moral example in convicting the soldier of manslaughter was ruined by the reaction of their prime minister.

However, the post got very complicated very fast as I tried to explain some things and so I decided I needed to clarify some stuff. I don’t know about you, but pictures and video always help me with that.

One of the things I was writing about was UN Security Council Resolution 2334 – the one that condemned Israeli settlement activity – and I found a some pretty good videos to help. Vox published the first two in late September 2016, and they include the point of view of several settlers. They published the third a couple of weeks later.

(Go here for a crash course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is also from Vox.)

Israeli Settlements, Explained


Why Israeli Settlements Don’t Feel Like Conflict Zones


Settlers Are Taking Over East Jerusalem One House at a Time

In this video Johnny Harris focuses on Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem contains sites holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, it will cause the biggest problems in any peace settlement.



The Trump Effect

I don’t think I’ve ever come across two people with the same opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every time I watch or read something about the situation, my opinion changes slightly, and it was no different here. Unfortunately, I became even more concerned about the possibility of peace in the near future.

Donald Trump believes he is going to solve the problems there. His nomination of an ambassador opposed to the two-state solution however makes that unlikely. I suspect his belief that he can fix things is a result of his lack of understanding of the situation. I don’t think he understands just how complicated things are. Further, I doubt he realizes just how invested the fundamentalist religious are, most of whom supported him. They believe we are in the End Times and that Jesus will return in the near future. They actively support the far right in Israel and oppose peace as well.

The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334 in an attempt to nudge the needle back towards peace. I hope it works.


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45 Responses to “The Israeli Settlements”

  1. rickflick says:

    Trumps statements that he can fix the situation in the middle east sounds utterly foolish. The most knowledgeable and skilled diplomat would never say it’s a simple fix or predict easy success. He’s not a deep person. I think he compares international problems the way he approaches some real estate deal. He starts with exaggerated confidence and bravado as a negotiating tactic. He’s anticipating using a list of business maneuvers involving charm, threats, deceit, or all three until he gets his way. Unfortunately the middle east is not a construction project. The only prospect I can see is a more entrenched Israel, and an angrier Arab world.

    • Ken says:

      Really, the starting point for analyzing Trump on this, as with any other issue, is almost exactly the same. He is a textbook narcissist acting completely as we should expect someone with that personality disorder to act. We can expect four years of the same pattern (unless the Reps decide to get rid of him early).

      • rickflick says:

        “get rid of him early”

        The house votes to impeach, and the Senate holds a trial. Besides rescuing the nation, it would make several months of entertaining news programming. The down side, as many have pointed out, is president Pence.

    • I agree with your analysis of Trump. That’s how I see the situation too.

  2. Ken says:

    I’ll try to watch the videos, Heather, though I fear I already know more than I want. As I’ve argued before, the single biggest impediment to ME peace are these illegal settlements. The UN resolution is a huge first step to addressing the problem, but only a first step, which is unlikely to be followed up meaningfully while the Reps are in power. At a time when the US should be freezing its massive funding of the Israeli military, Trump will instead inflame the situation further with actions like shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem. Things are going to get much worse before they get any better.

    • The only comfort I take from Trump’s promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem is that the same thing has been promised by most administrations for decades and none has gone through with it. I don’t think Congress will let Trump do it. The Israelis don’t really want it either because they know it will inflame an already volatile situation. They’ll be required to provide security and it would be a constant target for terrorists, thereby putting their soldiers at constant risk just so Trump can suck up to the fundamentalist Christians and right-wing Jews.

  3. Thoughtful as ever, Heather. Maybe you readers would like to see my attempt to put the Israeli/Palestinian problem into historical context and as seen from a Palestinian perspective.

    • Interesting. It reminds me of the first season of Big Bang Theory when Sheldon proposed solving the problem by taking over an equivalent area of the Mexican Desert and settling the Jews there. On the one hand he couldn’t see how offensive Jews found him, and on the other, the idea that the land was promised by a god to anyone really is a load of rubbish.

      However, they’re there, and we need to make it work, and that means a two state solution.

      Personally, I don’t think terrorism is any more acceptable if it’s from a “freedom fighter,” especially when it’s a civilian target.

    • I’ve just realized that my comment could be interpreted that I was dissing your post William – sorry about that. It was certainly not what I intended! I liked it. 🙂

  4. Claudia Baker says:

    Another great post Heather. I have been doing a lot of reading about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and have come up with no answers or solutions. Understanding what is going on and why is so important though. Too bad Trump won’t spend the same (any?) time in an effort to understand before he does/says more stupid things.

    Back in the 80s, one of my history Professors, who spent a lot of time in N. Ireland had this solution:

    1) Move the Protestants from N. Ireland to England.
    2) Move the Catholics from N. I. to the South of Ireland.
    3) Move the Jews from Israel and give them the whole of N. Ireland.
    4) Allowing the Palestinians the whole of Israel. Problem solved.

    Tongue-in-cheek and made us all laugh at the time.

    Nobody has come up with anything better since though!

    Thanks again for your work on these posts. I love reading them.

    • Thanks so much Claudia. 🙂

      Ha ha! That’s as good a solution as any quite honestly, and very funny (to the right audience!). I’ve got no real answers either. The fact is, all over the world who has control of territory has been changing as a result of conflict since we lived in trees and hadn’t thought of gods. I think of Israel being established as the result of war/colonialism. That’s not nice, but it’s no different than dozens of other countries, including New Zealand. All countries who were involved in that have a responsibility to help make it work.

      In principle, I don’t support any state being established for religious reasons. However, the way the Jews have been treated historically means if there was ever a case, they’re it. As I’ve said elsewhere, they’re there now, and going over the history of who did worse things isn’t really that much help. Both sides have done horrible stuff and at this point neither can be trusted to stop doing horrible stuff. Until that happens we’re probably not going to get anywhere. As Trump would say, “Very sad.”

      • Ken says:

        I agree that there’s no going back to square one. Israel exists where it does and the situation needs to be made to work. And if that is the goal, then we need to stop repeating the false equivalency expressed in your last paragraph, Heather. I’ve said it before, that while it is true both sides have done horrible stuff, two things make the equivalency false. First, Israel has responsibilities as the occupying power that the Palestinians don’t have. International law is not vague in this regard. As a supposedly mature democracy, Israel should be able to meet these responsibilities. Second, Israel has become ever bolder in ignoring these same responsibilities because the international community, led by the US, has allowed them to do so for 50 years. The US proclaims itself to be neutral, but is in fact Israel’s enabler.

        The radicals in Israel (by that I mean the govt) who don’t want a just peace and are working overtime to prevent a two-state solution love it every time liberals throw up their hands and repeat the false equivalence line, because it gives them the space they need to continue their ruthlessly sabotaging of the peace process. The situation may be very difficult, but we know exactly what has to happen to improve the situation on the ground and therefore the prospects for peace. This first step is to force Israel to halt the expansion of the illegal settlements on occupied land. Despite the complicated history, there are few conclusions more simple and obvious than this. I honestly don’t know why we pretend otherwise and allow ourselves to be such suckers. The hope of the recent UN resolution is just this. It needs to be driven home in everything that is said on the matter.

        Just as the international community has allowed the problem to develop and get so out of hand, so the solution is also in our hands, much more so than either Israel’s or Palestine’s. When we pretend otherwise, we become enablers of Israel’s radical religious right wing too.

        • Although I see where you’re coming from, I don’t consider what I said a false equivalency. I was just trying to understand and express things from the pov of many Israelis.

          I’ve written plenty of stuff so that you know I oppose the stance of Netanyahu and the way he sucks up to the far right to retain power. My original post (the one that didn’t get posted) makes this clear. It also strongly expresses my support for the resolution.

          At the same time, we need to be aware that not all Israelis support Netanyahu. He only scraped back into power at the last election and only stays there because the far right, who oppose a two-state solution, prop him up.

          Also, Palestinian terrorist activity does more harm than good towards peace. Each action plays into the hands of the far right. It should also be noted that the terrorists don’t want peace either – they want the overreaction by Israeli leadership. They are prepared to sacrifice their own people towards their ultimate goal of wiping Israel from the map. They use them as human shields, they divert resources away from peaceful solutions, and even educate their children to hate Israelis. Peace can’t happen in those circumstances either. Hamas references ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ in their founding document for goodness sake.

          It takes two, and currently those with the strongest voices on the Palestinian side won’t even recognize Israel’s right to exist. I just think there’s not much point comparing all the bad stuff each side has done. (It should be acknowledged of course.) When it becomes a competition about who’s worse, I think it diminishes the chances of peace.

          • Ken says:

            Heather, I acknowledged the bad stuff on each side and didn’t attempt a competition. But that doesn’t mean it’s a tossup as to what has to happen next. The UN focusses on Israel’s breaches of international law as occupier, because it is in the far stronger position to make things happen on the ground for better or for worse. For too long, it’s been mainly worse. It’s because I know you understand this that I challenge you when you say that we won’t get anywhere until both sides change, because this implies you’re hedging, even if that’s not what you mean to do. The settlements are not just another example of the bad stuff, but because they determine whether a two-state solution is feasible, they are the lynchpin that leads either to real progress or utter failure.

          • I oppose the settlements and support the resolution. I think Netanyahu does not really want a two-state solution. I don’t think I can make it any clearer than that.

            However, there are Palestinians who don’t want a two-state solution either, and they are deliberately sabotaging efforts via terrorism. You can’t expect Israel to just put up with that and let their people be murdered.

            Yes, Israel is stronger, but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones who have to act responsibly. That isn’t false equivalence in my book. That is opposition to terrorism.

          • Ken says:

            Ok, Heather, we’re talking past each other. There’s nothing in your last comment I disagree with. You don’t need to make your opposition to the illegal settlements any clearer as I’ve acknowledged it in each of my comments. For those of us that agree on this and on a two-state solution, it is now a matter of practicality given the reality on the ground. That’s all I’m trying to say. The settlements are the most important factor because of their effect of making two-state unviable. Even if it were the Palestinians who’d done the most to sabotage two-state, and I believe the opposite is true, it would not at all change the urgency of ending the settlements as the key first step to achieving any measure of progress. A large majority of Palestinians now believe there is no possibility of two-state ever occurring. Such hopelessness will only lead to more radicalism. The question is what the international community can do to break the downward spiral given the bad faith on both sides. The settlements are the key to progress of any kind on both sides. Time is Netanyahu’s biggest ally in destroying two-state and his reaction shows actions like the UN resolution are a huge threat to his plans. It doesn’t mean we ignore crimes by the Palestinians, but anything less than a laser focus on stopping the expansion of settlements plays directly into Netanyahu’s hands. After 50 years it is near being too late now to save, so there is no time to lose.

          • Ken says:

            NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully hits the nail on the head: “The focal point for much of the critics’ anger is the direct call for a halt to the settlements. But that call by the council was clear and deliberate because continuing settlement growth at anything like the current rate will render the two state solution a purely academic concept. There will be nothing left to negotiate.”

        • j.a.m. says:

          @K: Agreed on one thing — there’s no equivalence. The settlements are a stumbling block. The fanatical obsession with exterminating Jews is a moral abyss.

  5. Mark R. says:

    To fix anything, the only question that needs answering is “What works!” What goes against the 2nd law of thermodynamics? That’s what works. If we can fight entropy at even a small level (is the broken windows theory real?) maybe we can help this planet. I think and write more than I act…that’s probably a problem.

  6. Malgorzata Koraszewska says:

    I’m just happy that in New Zealand are also people like Perry Trotter:

  7. Yakaru says:

    I can’t resist the urge to attempt a few corrections to the historical summary in the Vox video.

    It is asserted that in 1948 the Arabs rejected the partition “because they saw it as just more European colonialism.” Nothing about anger at loss of land and property; nothing about hatred of Jews or being used as pawns by Pan-Arabist countries wanting to replace the lost Ottoman caliphate.

    The catastrophic decision by Arab countries to attack Israel rather than allow a Palestinian state is passed over with this sentence: “Instead they declared war on Israel, which Israel won.”

    As always, Arabs are presented as passive, even when they are aggressors, and victims, even when they are only victims of their own catastrophic gamble.

    Jordan’s invasion and illegal occupation of the West Bank is described thus: “Jordan had taken control of the West Bank.”

    Then he moves to 1967 when “Israel fought another war with its Arab neighbors”. Again, Arab aggression is passed over without a word. Time is taken to show with words and graphics that Israel took over the Sinai Peninsular, but having mentioned this entirely superfluous point, fails to mention that they later withdrew. Why only tell half of an irrelevant piece of the story?

    (Of course Israel occupied it again in 1973 after Sadat’s insane and disastrous attempt to “restore Egyptian honor” by invading Israel again, this time with only the support of Syria, who Sadat double crossed. This third war of Arab aggression is not mentioned at all.)

    All of these oddities present Arabs as passive victims with no option but to behave reactively to “Israeli aggression”. As if the (in large part inexcusable) Israeli settlements are the thing that stopped Palestinian Arabs from developing a functioning state since the 1920s.

    • Yes. The video I only linked to but didn’t include is slightly better, but still glosses over Arab aggression and anti-Jewish sentiment.

      Although I oppose the settlements, it annoys me how little (i.e. none) attention is paid to the anti-Jewishness of so much of the Muslim world. The Hamas Charter, for example, is vile, and the Qur’an includes a lot of anti-Jewish sentiment.

      Basically, many Muslims believe hating Jews (and atheists and apostates), and in extremis sometimes even killing them, is a requirement of being a good Muslim. This ideological side of the conflict is often ignored.

      Unlike the Palestinians, the Jews do not broadcast TV shows teaching young children to hate Jews using puppets!

      • Yakaru says:

        Yes… I was a bit reluctant to mention it at all, given the fact that you have covered these aspects in other posts here, and I assume most if not all your readers are aware of everything I mentioned. (And of course there’s a reason why I didn’t end by suggesting another video to link to which no one would complain about!)

        …And part 2 of the video could probably have been a bit harsher on some settlers.

    • rickflick says:

      Maajid Nawaz has described this dichotomy as the morality of low expectations. Since the Arabs are the less developed civilization, we have to tolerate a great deal more from them than the Israelis. As adults are expected to behave more civilly than children. Well, of coarse, they bloody well must grow up.

  8. Malgorzata Koraszewska says:

    Could somebody explain to me how is it possible to be so angry about Israel not being an ideal democratic state and at the same time promote a creation of a state which in the best case (and not really realistic) scenario would be a typical Islamic state (see proposed Constitution of the State of Palestine), with a dictator (Abbas rules now for the 12th year of his 4 year term), rampant corruption (millions of dollars stolen from international aid landed on private bank accounts of Arafat, Abbas and his sons, and a few other chosen leaders), Judenrein, with “honor killing” of girls and young women, with journalists imprisoned for criticising the authorities, with tortures of prisoners, etc. And this is the best case scenario. Much more probable is an Islamist state (according to the latest opinion poll, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas leader, would win the presidential election). Not to mention that Hamas and Fatah are each other mortal enemies and that the only Palestinian state comprising both Gaza Strip and West Bank could be under the rule of Hamas.

    • I agree. Under the current Palestinian leadership, it’s very difficult to see how progress could be made.

      Otoh, that doesn’t, imo, mean more settlement activity is okay. This is not the first resolution condemning settlements, and in the past peace treaties have been signed close to such resolutions, so they’re not a barrier to peace. Israel often calls the settlements a bargaining point, and says the resolution takes that away. It doesn’t. The settlements still exist and there are more than enough to use as bargaining points without creating more.

      It’s difficult for Israel because of the high level of anti-Semitism at the UN. The large bloc of Muslim nations ensures this. However, that doesn’t mean ALL the criticisms of Israel are unfair either.

    • Yakaru says:

      Maybe in a way Kerry was right when he said that this conflict is the key to peace in the Middle East. If Palestine ever accepted statehood, it would spark a civil war between Fatah and Hamas, which would turn into a war between Egypt, Syria and Jordan, which would then have Iran, Russia and Yemen get involved. Everyone would be waiting to see what the new US president will do.

      Maybe it’s better this just stays as what it is — a minor squabble over some property in the middle of a desert.

  9. Malgorzata Koraszewska says:

    !. The mantra about expansion of settlements is false. There is no expansion, settlements took under 2% of the West Bank area when Netanyahu came to power and they do not take much more now. The building of new flats, schools, kindergartens etc. is happening mostly in the existing settlements. Yes, there are many more people (mostly children born there – the influx from the territory behind the Green Line or from abroad is not big) but it is difficult in a democratic country to forbid people to have children.
    2. According to the Resolution 242 not all territories Israel took 1967 were to be given to Arabs. Israel was to retain the safe and secure borders and there were to be negotiation about peace and about the territories. According to international law and praxis people have the right to move voluntarily to territories taken by a state in a defensive war when the solution to the conflict is long coming. (Did anybody ever heard about illegal American settlers in Germany during a very long American occupation of this country? Or any other prolonged occupation in the world, for that matter. No, it’s only reserved for Israel). And now, this new resolution by UNSC states that Jews are illegal even in Jerusalem (from which they were ethnically cleansed 1948 by Jordanians) that they have no rights to their most holy places (Temple Mount and Western Wall – the equivalent of this would be to state that Muslims have no rights to Kaaba). With enmity towards Jews and Israel in international institutions, media, universities, NGOs etc this is very dangerous for Israel.
    3. To criticise Israel as one criticise any other country is not unfair (of course, nobody criticizes France, Holland, of New Zealand as such. People criticize a given decision or policy of a contry, not the country itself. The question “Is criticizing New Zealand fair?” sounds more than strange) To demonise, single out and apply double standards to Israel is not fair.

  10. Malgorzata Koraszewska says:

    Dear Heather, I have real trouble with understanding this obsession with “settlements”.
    1929 – no settlements. Arab massacre of Jews in Hebron (the Jewish community there was ancient! Definitely not a “settlement”)
    1936-39 – no settlements. Arab massacre of Jews in many places in Mandate of Palestine.
    1948 – no settlements. 5 Arab armies attack Israel. Jews in Judea and Samaria (later named West Bank) and in Gaza are murdered and the survivor are ethnically cleaned.
    1949-1967 – no settlements. Constant attacks on Israel by Arab terrorists
    1967 – no settlements. Arab states promise total annihilation of Jews. Israel’s preventive attack against Egypt and Syria, while Jordan attacks Israel.
    1967, September – no settlements. Khartum three “NOs”: no peace, no recognition, no negotiations
    Later there were settlements AND negotiations, Oslo Accord, Olmert and Barak’s proposals etc. Settlements took approx. the same area as today. There is also the little matter of Gaza: since 2005 there are no settlements in Gaza but thousands of rockets on Israel. So how, in what sense are the settlements the GREATEST obstacle to peace?

    • Hi Malgorzata. It’s not me who called them the “greatest” obstacle to peace. Also, when I say Israel as you criticized in another comment, I actually do refer to other countries the same way. It’s a fair criticism of the way I write, and I’ll try to be aware of it in the future.

      I’ve always acknowledged the aggression and religious prejudice that Israel is the victim of, and don’t condemn them for defending themselves like so many do. I’ve said in comments on other posts that the way supporters of the Palestinians describe the issue is unfair to Israel. I think many of those supporters either ignore or don’t understand the level of hatred many Muslims feel for Jews that has nothing to do with Israel or Zionism. That won’t go away if/when peace is negotiated, and Israel would still be vulnerable. (I think I even wrote a post about that a while ago.) I think that at the moment a lot of the attacks use the political situation as an excuse and many don’t condemn the Palestinian terrorists because of that.

      However, there are issues on the Israeli side too, many of which are outlined in the article by Maajid Nawaz that Yakaru linked to. I try to be fair to both sides in my view of the situation.

      Of course, I have never suffered because of my religious or political opinions and I live in a peaceful country. The current worldwide trends of Islamist terrorism, extreme nationalism, xenophobia, and populism have barely touched us. Even our levels of racism, sexism, homophobia etc are very low. I can do my best to empathize, but I just don’t know what it’s like to go through the sort of thing you’ve had to deal with in your own life.

      While there are things we don’t agree on, I of course welcome your comments and point of view and I have a great deal of respect for you. This is such a complicated situation. I’m learning new stuff every day, including from you, and my opinion is constantly evolving because of that.

  11. Malgorzata Koraszewska says:

    I’m sorry, Heather. My post was not meant to be any sort of attack on you. I expressed my genuine bafflement at the support the idea about settlements as an obstacle to peace got in the world (Obama, Kerry, UN, EU, Ai, HRW, you name it). On the other hand I know the staggering amount of blatant lies circulating about Israel, lies which would never be believed about any other than Jewish country. And it is easy to coin a lie – much more difficult to descibe and prove the truth. How do you convince a Swedish journalist that Israelis went to help Haitians, not to harvest their organs? Now the story about bloodthirsty Israelis harvesting organs of innocent people lives on the Internet. Some lies are easier to debunk – the massacre of Jening for which UN (and the whole world) first condemned Israel and later apologised when it turned out that there was no massacre. But the lie about the poor child Muhammad Al-Dura lives on despite a thorough debunking. For some reason people suspend their thinking faculties and do not ask: “but is it really possible?” when they hear slander spread about Israel.

    • If I’ve ever heard any of those myths, I’ve forgotten them. As a student of medieval British and European history I came across a lot of anti-Semitism though. Stories of Jews eating babies etc. They were often blamed for spreading the plague. Riots that ended with a Jews being murdered were common. The stories were ridiculous and said far more about the people who spread them. It always surprises me what people will believe. But then billions believe the various myths of their religion.

  12. Malgorzata Koraszewska says:

    But have you heard about Israel which refuses water to Palestinians? About flooding Gaza by opening the dam last autumn and the autumn before? About Israeli soldiers shooting deliberately to Palestinian children? About Jewish settlers upprooting whole plantations of Palestinian olive trees? All these are modern myths about Jews and there are many, many more.

  13. A reader sent me this interesting post about the settlements in Israel, giving another perspective:

    • Ken says:

      No question journos should get their terminology right and report events accurately. That they don’t only adds to the difficulties of understanding this situation. But the implication that therefore there is no issue with growing numbers of Israeli’s in occupied land is what is the most deliberately misleading. I’ve never really given much thought to the distinction and would have said the issue was mainly about the increasing number of people rather than settlements anyway. Interestingly, the same PeaceNow link referred to here includes a chart at the end showing the growth in settlers in nearly a straight line from the late 1970’s until now.

      • I agree. Terminology should be accurate. But I feel like the term “Settlement” has a meaning in Israel that would surprise many.

        I think the term “Settlement” is one that from an outsider’s pov is misleading. Just based on the name, I would expect a Settlement to be geographically contiguous, including in the way it’s built. I feel like the Israeli government can’t really expect people to think other than that there are a lot more Settlements than there are legally because of how they’re built. It’s a bit disingenuous imo.

        Also, I’ve never heard it said there are “thousands” of Settlements. However, I’ve also always tried to get my information from sources I think will at least try to be fair. A lot of the anti-Israeli sentiment Malgorzata recounts, for example, I’ve simply never come across and wouldn’t believe if I did (without confirmation from a reliable source).

        However I know there are protests against Hamas in both the West Bank and Gaza for their poor governance and we never see them on our screens. And if we do, the blame is placed solely with Israel. It’s all but impossible to work out what’s really going on from a distance.

  14. Ken says:

    As expected: Israel Approves Construction and Planning of 2,500 Settler Homes in West Bank

    • I saw that. Either CNN or Fox was saying they deliberately waited until Trump was president before announcing it as well.

      • Ken says:

        Yes, decisions planned for Dec were help back. Interesting too that the pro settlement article you posted above uses these same delays as part of its attempt to cast the settlements in a better light, when it’s far more likely that the authorities simply knew that they could be much less restrained if they waited. Love it when people obfuscate to complain about obfuscation.

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