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On the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, two newly released studies have provided us with a close look at the military and economic costs of maintaining the settlements and Israel’s occupation in the West Bank.
According to one of the studies, by the left-leaning Israeli think-tank Molad, many former commanders of Israeli forces in the West Bank believe that settlements imperil Israel’s security interests because they expose a large number of Israeli civilians (settlers) to an occupied population largely hostile to their presence.
Since 1977, the number of Israeli settlers living over the Green Line has grown from roughly 5000 concentrated primarily in the Jordan Valley to over 600,000 (including the 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem) throughout the occupied territory today. The dispersal of settlements across the West Bank requires the Israeli military to expend much of its military manpower defending these vulnerable outlets from attack.
In fact, the Haaretz analysis of this study concludes that “80 percent of the forces located in the West Bank are involved in direct protection of the settlements.” Thus, Israeli settlements not only endanger the lives of the settlers themselves but those of the Israeli troops tasked with guarding communities that, under international and also, in some cases, Israeli law too, have no legal right to be there.
It is precisely this situation that has moved many veterans of the ‘67-War to question the efficacy of remaining in the occupied territory that they themselves captured. As articles in Haaretz, the Times of Israel and BBC have all reported, a number of individuals who fought for Israel fifty years ago have come to the conclusion that the continued occupation and the settlements constitute what one veteran terms “an erosion of the moral compass and character, both of our [Israel’s] society and army.”
The second recent study, which comes from the Adva Center for Information on Equality and Social Justice in Israel, concludes that the “political one-percent” (the settlers’ lobby led by groups like the Yesha Council) has cost Israeli society at least NIS 55.6 billion (about 15.7 billion in U.S. dollars) on additional military spending to maintain the occupation between 1988 and 2010. By acting to prevent Israel from taking the steps necessary to achieve peace with the Palestinians, the settlement movement has forced the country to expend a great deal of its resources on maintenance of the occupation and defense of the settlements – resources that could otherwise go to pressing issues like social services, lower cost housing and economic development for struggling communities on Israel’s periphery.
In addition to the direct cost of the added military expenditures, the prolonged occupation has also caused Israel to lose out on economic growth as a whole. According to the Adva study, Israel’s tourism industry suffers when fighting flares up, and the nation’s banks also get charged higher interest rates by creditors who prize stability above all else. These higher interest rates and the loss of tourism dollars limit both the success of private businesses and lower government revenue totals. As a result, according to the Adva report, the poverty rate in Israel rose to over 20 percent during the second intifada (from 14 percent previously) and has stayed at that level since, giving the country one of the greatest poverty rates in the Western world.
The occupation and the settlements are not merely a threat to Israel’s future as a democratic, Jewish state, they are a threat to Israel right now. The continuation of the conflict and the continued expropriation and settlement of land which must form part of any viable Palestinian state have taken their toll: harming Israel’s international reputation, preventing the country from reaching its full economic potential and ensuring that young Israeli soldiers continue to die defending the settlements that endanger the very peace those soldiers are supposed to be fighting for.
For all of these reasons, a number of Israel’s leading military officers, including many of the courageous men and women who helped bring the nation its great triumph in 1967, believe the settlements and occupation to be a grave danger to the very foundation of Israeli society. Now it is time for Israel’s leading politicians to start listening to them.