The issue of settlements is back in the news this month, as President Obama has asked Israel to freeze all settlement activity and has been exerting pressure on Netanyahu to comply. Since then different groups have been coming up with a host of arguments in defense of settlement growth in the West Bank. Ironically, many of the same groups have also admitted that these settlements create a demographic threat to a Jewish State, while still defending settlements as a security measure or for their religious significance.
The newest argument against evacuating settlements in the West Bank is that these evacuations are “ethnic cleansing.” In response, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad surprised many this week by inviting settlers who want to stay in the West Bank to be equal citizens in a Palestinian state and remain in the West Bank (click here to read more on this invitation). As part of this offer, settlers who choose to live in a Palestinian state under Palestine law would be welcomed as citizens in a democratic Palestinian state. Although the details of this arrangement would be negotiated in the final agreement between Israel and Palestine, the idea is generating a lot of opinions and feedback.
The buzz is coming from the erosion of an idea that we have grown accustomed to over the years—that the solution between Israel and the Palestinians will result in a “total divorce” between the two communities. However, as peace looms nearer, it is becoming clear that after years of conflict a total separation is impossible. The reality on the ground will not allow such a separation to exist, since in the future both states will have to cooperate on issues ranging from environmental projects to business cooperation and even security details. There is no way to escape the interconnection between our communities.
Prime Minister Fayyad’s positive response to the question of settlers within the West Bank is a good step toward recognizing the demographic challenges that both Israel and a future Palestinian state will face. Both states will have Arab and Jewish citizens within their borders, and both states will be judged on how well they will treat the minorities amongst their citizens.
When faced with the reality that our fates as Israelis and Palestinians are closely bound together, we can have one of two responses. First, we can turn to hatred and violence, and drag both communities further into destruction. Or, like Prime Minster Fayyad this week, we can recognize the difficulties of peace and work together toward prosperity for both sides.