If you open a newspaper these days, it might seem like Israel’s neighborhood is falling apart. In the south and west, Israel borders an unstable Sinai and a delicate new Egyptian democracy. In the north it borders an escalating Syrian civil war. And to the east, the specter of a nuclear Iran has led to an unprecedented beating of the drums for war.
Israel has a lot of serious concerns on its plate.
But in the West Bank, the drums are beating for another threat – an existential threat – and many of Israel’s leaders and supporters seem to be in denial.
It’s the same headline every day, buried below the fold: more news that Israeli settlements and Israeli control over the West Bank are expanding.
In the South Hebron Hills, demolition orders loom over eight Palestinian villages and 1,500 Palestinians are being forced to evacuate their homes to make room for an IDF firing range.
In Bruchin, a military order has just legalized the largest settler outpost in the region and the outposts of Rehelim and Sansana are set to follow.
The settlement of Beit El has just seen its boundaries extended by the IDF to accommodate a new housing project.
And the number of settlers in the West Bank is growing rapidly, twice as fast as population growth within the Green Line.
A month ago, Israeli settler leader Dani Dayan called West Bank settlements “part of the solution” in an op-ed in The New York Times. Last weekend, the paper ran a story curiously praising Dayan for his worldliness and pragmatism. Settlement expansion, however, is anything but productive or pragmatic.
The only way for Israel to ensure its future as a Jewish and democratic homeland is to negotiate two states, established on the framework of pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps. Israelis know it, Palestinians know it, the world knows it.
Nevertheless, settlement growth is dangerously reshaping the facts on the ground and cementing an untenable situation.
Without a negotiated two-state solution, the Jews between the River and the Sea will one day become a minority ruling over a non-Jewish majority, betraying Israel’s Jewish character and democratic principles.
As these settlement communities become more and more entrenched in the West Bank, the incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate diminishes. Every new settlement home that is built further undermines the pursuit of a final status agreement.
The cost of this reality to Israel is unacceptable. It is a drain on Israeli resources and morale as well as a threat to Israeli democracy and security.
This is certainly not a status quo that we want. This is not a status quo that can be sustained, at least not if Israel, as we know it, is to survive.
There are other serious threats facing Israel, and they too must be addressed. But, we don’t have the luxury of confronting these challenges one at a time. We can’t tell Israel’s existential threats to get in line and wait their turn.
And so as every other threat makes headlines, all of us who care deeply about Israel must sound the alarm bells that one of the greatest threats of all is on Israel’s doorstep – the loss of Israel as a democratic Jewish homeland.
Steven Krubiner is J Street’s Chief of Staff