Word on the Street: Settlers emboldened

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on January 25, 2017

Though the early days of the Trump administration are instilling fear in many — from those supporting immigrants and the environment to those getting health insurance through the Affordable Care Act — the new era feels like a dream come true for one group: The Israeli settlement movement.

They no longer fear the sting of American rebuke for settlement expansion they have felt for fifty years.

They can build without limits in East Jerusalem, as Prime Minister Netanyahu announced on Sunday.

They can move ahead with thousands of units of new settlement construction on the West Bank.

Prime Minister Netanyahu can come clean that he has no intention of ever granting Palestinians full statehood.

In this new era of “alternative facts,” he can even create an alternative national construct, the “state minus” — which is what the Prime Minister says he’s willing to give the Palestinians instead of full sovereignty.

They can openly declare, as the settlers’ political leader Naftali Bennett repeated on Monday, that it’s time to annex large portions of the West Bank.

The settlers and their allies are emboldened by a handful of hard-line ideologues around the new President — most notably his Israel ambassador nominee David Friedman, a major funder and supporter of the settlements.

And they must draw strength from seeing the far-right Zionist Organization of America given the new White House’s first official Jewish outreach meeting.

But the settlers and their supporters in America shouldn’t have any illusions.

There may be a new regime in the White House, but certain fundamental realities have not changed.

For one, the path of annexation, limitless settlement expansion and permanent denial of full political rights to millions of Palestinians leads straight to a single state for Arabs and Jews that must choose between being democratic or Jewish in character.

The majority of Israelis have no interest in such a future. Just take a look at our recent polling.

The majority of Jews in the United States won’t support such a future for Israel either. As the Union for Reform Judaism said yesterday, “While forces inside the Israeli government see this as a ‘green light’ for settlement growth, we fear that this type of activity is a ‘red light’ for the future of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.”

The world will not accept permanent occupation or annexation. The Security Council just voted that Israeli settlement activity on the West Bank has no legal validity, and the foreign ministers of over 70 nations reaffirmed that conclusion just one week ago.

The longstanding, bipartisan opposition of the United States to settlements was affirmed just this past week by no less than the new Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, at her confirmation hearing.

The new Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, once publicly warned that the US and Israel must advance a two-state deal, saying, “Either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid. That didn’t work out too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country.”

Sunni Arab states, which want to reach understandings with Israel around countering Iran, extremism and their economic challenges have made clear they can’t pursue those shared interests without a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

And now that the Trump team is in the White House, they’re slow-walking the process of looking at moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and they’re not offering any public words of support for the recent settlement announcement.

With majorities of Israelis supporting separation, majorities of Americans opposing settlements and the world united in solid opposition to the settler agenda — the celebrations of the hardline right wing will hopefully be short-lived.

Our role in this period? To keep the voice of the moderate majority of Jewish and other American supporters of Israel loud and clear, front and center.

Our elected officials need to hear our opposition to the nomination of a far-right one-state supporter like David Friedman. (Tell your Senators to reject his nomination to be the next US Ambassador to Israel.)

Our community leaders need to be pushed to lead, to lay out the stakes for Israel’s future of the choices it is making.

We cannot be demoralized. An extreme minority of our community is trying to hijack the future of the country we care so deeply about. But the facts, the majority and centuries of Jewish values are on our side.

Let us take strength in that — and stand up for policies that can put Israel back on a path toward peace, security, democracy and freedom.

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