A response to Double Talk … from Benjy Rutland

June 26, 2014 by Benjamin Rutland
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In his recent post Dr Ron Weiser argues that a group of ‘double speakers’ (those who claim to love Israel but don’t really) are manipulating the settlement issue and it is this group that presents a real danger to the Jewish community.

Benjy Rutland

Benjy Rutland

It is not clear to me if Ron, who I have known for years, would consider me to be a ‘double speaker’, but just so you can make up your own mind, I will give you my background: I have served as Chairperson of the World Union of Jewish students. I made Aliyah, have lived in Israel for eleven years and I proudly served for six years in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as an officer in the spokespersons and foreign relations units.

Today I work for the Geneva Initiative, an organization which Ron calls ‘radical left wing’. This is an organization that counts amongst its founders a former Chief of Staff of the IDF (Amnon Lipkin Shahak z”l), a former head of the Shin Bet (Avraham Shalom z”l), numerous reserve generals and two former Deputy Heads of the National Security Council. It is unofficially supported by many other senior security figures and by current and former MK’s from across the political spectrum including members of the Labor, Shas, Hatnua, Kadima and even the Likud parties. Hardly on the radical end of the spectrum.

Ron’s main argument is that given that the left wing Peace Now organization states that the settlements have not destroyed the two State solution and given that much settlement building is within uncontentious ‘blocks’, the settlements are not the obstacle to peace (as if there can only be one). In his words:

They are not the obstacle to peace because as Peace Now says, they have not destroyed the two state solution.

Ron’s argument is based on a simple logical fallacy: The incorrect presumption that since the settlements are not [yet] a fatal obstacle to the two state solution, then they are not an obstacle at all.

The settlements are indeed a huge obstacle to the two state solution for the following reasons:

  1. As the number of settlements and settlers outside the urban areas of the existing blocs grows, the number of settlers who would have to be removed from their homes grows or the area that Israel would need to swap grows. Many settlers would be prepared to leave their homes for peace. However, many are likely to refuse and a very small minority is likely to use violence. Ron estimates that only 10% of settlers would need to be moved: 65,000 on his count. This is a big but not impossible number to remove. But that is the number today and if the current growth rate continues it will be much bigger in another decade.
  2. Ron argues that settlement building within the blocs is benign. These areas will be annexed to Israel in any case goes the argument. However, building in the ‘blocs’ often takes place at the edges of the blocs expanding their size and complicating future border arrangements. There is also no agreement, even within Israel, as to where each of the blocs begins and ends, which settlements should be included or even which blocs are included. The consensus is very fuzzy.
  3. The West Bank is now dotted by numerous small illegal outposts that were not approved by Israel and do not feature in the official numbers. They may have ‘only’ ten thousand residents, and living in Tel Aviv or Sydney we are not aware of them, but believe me every Palestinian is aware of them. The Israeli government has been trying to remove these for the last decade, and despite the fact that these mobile homes are easily moved, the mighty IDF has failed to even reduce their number.
  4. As a result of the above, our Palestinian neighbors see more and more building taking place within the West Bank, leading them to the quite reasonable presumption that Israel has no intention of seriously negotiating for two states, and that the negotiations are merely a stalling tactic to allow more building until the two state solution really becomes impossible.
  5. Significant numbers of settlements are built, at least partly, on private land. The settlement movement has used every trick in the book, both legal and illegal to build more and more settlements. Recently, the Israeli Justice and Finance Ministers waged an unsuccessful campaign to have the WZO Settlement Division come under Israel’s freedom of information department. The Settlement Division is funded by and implements the government’s decisions on settlements yet is not an official government agency. To date, supporters of the settlements within the government have done everything in their power to make sure settlement activity is done with as little transparency and oversight as possible.
  6. A small but very visible minority of settlers frequently use violence against Palestinians and even the IDF – the price tag attacks. While settler leaders pay lip service to the rule of law, in practice they have not taken serious action against the violent offenders or the rabbis who encourage them. It is these attacks that do serious damage to Israel’s image. A young generation of settlers which was brought up to ignore the rule of law has no problem using violence using their parents justification of ‘the ends justify the means.’

Ron also argues that actual housing starts are far less than one would believe from all the public announcements and this is certainly true. But who is making these repeated announcements? Right Wing Housing Minister Uri Ariel announces every stage of the planning approval precisely because he wants to derail the peace process. For him settlements are a tool to block momentum in the peace process.

Ron correctly notes that settlement building was extremely high under Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Sadly, while negotiating with the Palestinians, Barak felt he needed to pacify the right wing and he therefore allowed greater settlement construction. Benjamin Netanyahu did the same thing last year: while conducting negotiations new settlement starts more than doubled to 2534. The fact that Barak was a Labor leader does not mean his every action contributed to peace. Increased settlement building under Barak (to give him the freedom to work on a peace treaty) was a short term tactical move that turned out to be a major strategic blunder.

Finally, Ron also argues that:

It is these ‘double speak friends’ who misrepresent the picture of the settlers and the settlements, who harm Israel in terms of hasbara and ultimately damage her physical security. (my emphasis)

As IDF reserve Colonel Shaul Arieli and a senior member of the Geneva Initiative, noted yesterday in an article in Ynet (24.7), the security fence in the Gush Etzion area was never completed due to tremendous settler pressure. The settler leadership was concerned that some smaller settlements would be excluded from the ‘Gush bloc’ if the fence was built and successfully pressured the army not to do so. Had the fence been completed, there is a good chance that Eyal, Gilad and Naftali would never have been kidnapped.

Even the non-ideological right wing in Israel is waking up to the dangers of the settlements. The Mayor of Safed (an upcoming leader in Yisrael Beitenu) said recently in a radio interview: “Many people do not understand that anything that is built over the green line and is not territorially contiguous [to Israel] will be returned in an agreement. As a mayor I am disappointed by the energy, the billions that are invested there. If even 10% of what was invested there was brought instead to the Galil or other areas in the periphery of Israel, life in Israel would look different.”

Simply put, the attempt to argue that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace is farcical. And the veiled attempt to silence valid criticism of Israeli policy is not good for Israel or the Australian Jewish community.

p.s. I don’t have the space to deal with the allegation that the Palestinians have repeated;y turned down generous offers by the State of Israel. I suggest that you read Raviv Drucker’s excellent piece: http://www.geneva-accord.org/mainmenu/the-breakdown-in-the-peace-talks


Benjamin Rutland is the Director of Foreign Relations at the Geneva Initiative









4 Responses to “A response to Double Talk … from Benjy Rutland”
  1. Peter Zeman says:

    My comments refer to the topic in general, and do not refer to any of the individual authors both of whom I respect and admire.

    For the last 30 years, I have been advised to keep my mouth closed about any concerns I have about Israeli politics. This continues even when the same Government and the same Prime Minister change tact. The late Prime Minister Sharon went from ultra right to at least moderately left, and is the most obvious example.

    The suppression of the concerns is of course voluntary, and is hardly surprising given the volume and passion of criticisms directed towards Israel from the world at large. But to counter the tide of Israeli critique, some of us have closed our minds, closed off critical analysis in our conversations even with one another because we have accepted the argument that we are too far away, too remote to understand what Israelis are going through.

    This is at least an argument – if not a very good one.

    However if we are to refrain from criticising some views coming from Israel, we should refrain from criticising all views coming from Israel. If we choose to take care before we criticise Israeli politicians because we are too far away, let us also take care before we criticise Israeli members of the public because we are too far away.

    Particularly if those members love Israel enough to make it their permanent home, work tirelessly for its benefit, and still more than that, champion change despite opposition.

    There is no argument to support suppression of views at the expense of others. Even if the suppression is voluntary.

    Israeli politicians may benefit, but Israel will not.

  2. Eleonora says:

    So Benj Rutland, you realy think that it’s Israels fault that the Muslims are kidnapping Israeli youth??? Afterall if the security fence was finished Muslims wouldn’t kidnap??? Or if Israel didn’t build houses (even on their own land)Muslims wouldn’t fight? Do you know who’s side you are on??? What happened to truth, facts and honesty or are they just empty words in your vocab? You part of NATO UN etc? God help us all.

  3. Ron says:

    Dear Benjy,

    One of the reasons I put the quotation marks around ‘radical left wing’ is precisely because I do not consider the Geneva Initiative as radical as both its proponents and some of its detractors consider it.

    As you yourself know, the bulk of the settlers find themselves inside the Geneva Initiative proposal and we seem to agree that the basic proposition put by the double speakers that the settlements have killed the 2 State for 2 People solution is not correct, or in your view, not yet correct.

    We also seem to agree that the debate about the settlements centres around a minority of settlers – you even seem to agree on the figure of 10%.

    And whether in Sydney or in Tel Aviv, Peace Now have put the figure of people within the unauthorised outposts at around 10,000, out of some 650,000 people living over the Green Line.

    We also agree on the fact that under Prime Minister Netanyahu actual building in the settlements is lower.

    The whole point of my article being that the debate on settlements needs balance and context and that the consensus is that the debate is about a relatively small number of people and not as the double speakers like to imply.

    A final word on Price Tag – this is something I and many others including settlement leaders and serious Rabbis continually condem. It is not a failing of the settler movement, but rather of some individuals. Nor has Israel produced a young generation of settlers brought up to ignore the law as you write. That is a generalisation unworthy of your article in my view.

    Price Tag is a matter for the government of Israel and for the State authorities and their failure to deal with these people is both a moral failing and as you rightly say, also cause great damage to Israel’s image.

    As does those who state or imply that the vast majority of settlers are the obstacle to peace or that the vast majority of settlers somehow produce or condone the price taggers.

  4. Adrian says:

    I vote Ron.

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