Hazem Saghieh

The Settlers Promise: A Dark Past and a Future Closed Shut

Over 450,000 Jewish settlers scattered across 130 settlements live in the West Bank. This figure does not include the 220,000 settlers in East Jerusalem or the 20,000 in the Syrian Golan Heights. 

These settlers remind us of a dark, depressing bygone past when force had a free hand to apply itself, seizing territory and expelling residents at will, with no laws to constrain it or monitoring to hamper it. 

On top of that, they believe the Palestinians are not worth the effort of conjuring up a ruse like the ones that previous settlers had mastered: settlement activities of the nineteenth century, like those sponsored by Cecil Rhodes in South Africa, were accompanied by the theory of “the white man’s burden,” which was promoted and popularized by a famous Rudyard Kipling poem.  

The French attached their settlement in Algeria to the theory of the “mission civilisatrice.” Christianity was also used as a bribe to embellish the misery of the Kenyan people. This is the background for the quote of Jomo Kenyatta: “When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”  

Here, with the current settlers, there is no need for bribes or ruses. Their rhetoric, accompanied by a show of hard force and threats of applying it, is a religious monologue that addresses only themselves. Thus, calling them hoards would not be slander, as they do indeed manifest a regression to a time before the forms of socialization we see as acceptable today emerged. This is the lowest form of settlement, which is always lowly.  

We thus, have a war crime condemned by international law and the countries of the world being perpetrated in the Palestinian territories. The human rights of the Palestinian people are violated as their land is seized and cut up, while their movement and mobility are hampered. Nothing appears to be on the horizon save an expansion of this civil war whose intensity fluctuates and is relatively low today. 

In the first place, the annexation of territory and expulsion of the residents have made peace impossible and killed any hope for a two-state solution in the future, especially since Israel now considers the land that has been occupied and everything built on it non-negotiable. Meanwhile, the new government of Benjamin Netanyahu, in which religious settler parties are going to be strongly represented, will only grant greater official legitimacy to the settlements, and turn settlers, into key decision-makers.  

Many factors came together to lead us to the position we now find ourselves in.  

The occupation itself, the place of Judaism in the state, the degree to which populism influences the Israeli electoral game, and the rise in the number of Mizrahi Jews as the demographic weight of the Ashkenazis falls and their leftist parties and peace camp wither away, have all been added to the misery of the Palestinian Authority, its loss of power, and the fact that peace talks ended completely in 2014, to say nothing about the decrease in international pressure on the Jewish state. 

For their part, the settlers benefited from religious and identitarian radicalization in the region - the climate created by ISIS and its affiliates and the panic regarding Iranian expansion that has drained everyone’s energy, which, if it weren’t for this panic, could have been exerted supporting Palestinian victims.  

Moreover, among Jewish settlers and Palestinian youths, we have seen a decline in the legitimacy of the Holocaust and the Nakba, which had governed the political activity of both sides of the conflict in the past.  

One thing we know for sure is that, contrary to analyses that draw reality from theory, things were not necessarily bound to end up the way they did. True, settlement began in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war within the framework of the Allon Plan that encouraged contained settlement. It is also true that the arrival of Menachem Begin and the Likud to power in 1977 marked a relative qualitative shift, which subsequent Likud governments vigorously sought to perpetuate, while Labor governments did not push back against it.  

Nonetheless, despite all of that, settlers numbered little more than 100,000 when the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, and many of them were non-ideological settlers who moved there for “practical reasons,” in search of cheaper housing than they could find in Israel. The latter was also obliged to take down the settlements it had erected in the Sinai Peninsula after the Camp David Accords of 1978 and 1979.  

Even in 2003, Tel Aviv acquiesced when President George W. Bush insisted that “illegal” settlements be taken down as part of the “Roadmap to Peace,” and then, in 2005, the settlements in Gaza were forcibly removed as a result of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Strip.  

Now, we see the settlers pursuing total annihilation, which, by definition, does not have a place in politics or allow negotiations the potential to bear fruit. It is purely a question of hurting the Palestinians and, in the long term, Israel as well.  

We are living in a time when identities are surging, making the resolution of problems impossible, which is the most violent aspect of this surge. But will politics and negotiation have their place waiting for them after this surge ends?