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Yes, Ms. Gordon, Settlements are still an obstacle to peace (response to article in Commentary)

Last week Commentary published a piece by Evelyn Gordon entitled "If Settlements Are Only 1.1 Percent of West Bank, How Are They an Obstacle to Peace?"  Does the author have a point?  Only in the through-the-looking-glass world of those who will cynically seize on any argument -- even one they almost certainly know has no merit -- to defend, excuse, or justify continued settlement expansion.

 The facts speak for themselves.   

•    It is true that the built-up area of settlements comprises less than 2% of the West Bank.  However, it is misleading in the extreme to suggest that this isolated factoid in any way captures the extent of settlements' presence or impact in the West Bank.

•    Since 1967, Israel -- using various means -- has taken control of around 50% of the West Bank.   Almost all of that land has been turned over to the settlers.

•    In addition to the less than 2% of the West Bank that is the built-up area of settlements, almost 10% of the West Bank is included in the "municipal area" of settlements (page 11).  That is, the jurisdictional borders of settlements, as drawn by Israel, are so large as to allow the built-up area of settlements to expand many times over, with this land totally off-limits to Palestinians.

•    In additional, almost 34% of the West Bank has been placed under the jurisdiction of the Settlement "Regional Councils" (page 11).  That is, an additional more than one-third of the West Bank is totally off-limits to Palestinian development and under the control of the settlers.

•    Thus (and these are 2009 numbers - they may be a little worse today), almost 43% of the West Bank is under the direct control of settlers/settlements.

•    In addition, Peace Now has documented that more than 32% of the built-up area of settlements and outposts is on privately-owned Palestinian land.  That is, these settlements/outposts are built on land that Israel has not, through all the various means it uses, been able to "legally" take control of since 1967.  Meaning that under Israeli law settler use of this land constitutes out-and-out theft -- theft that the Netanyahu government is currently working to LEGALIZE post-facto.  If this legalization effort is successful, it will further increase the total percentage of the West Bank that has been expropriated by Israel and handed over to the settlers.

•    In addition, while the built-up area of settlements is less than 2% of the West Bank, the "separation barrier" de facto annexes 9.5% of the West Bank to Israel - following a route that was openly guided not by security needs but was gerrymandered to accommodate settlements and settlement expansion plans.  This is an area many times the size of the built-up area of settlements, and, it should be emphasized, the barrier leaves the majority of settlements on the "wrong" side.

•    In addition, while the built-up area of settlements is less than 2% of the West Bank, Israel has taken hundreds of kilometers of the West Bank to build roads that serve the settlements, connecting them to each other and to Israel.  The negative impact of these roads, which crisscross the entire West Bank, dividing Palestinian cities and town from each other and on which there are various barriers to Palestinian movement and access - all for the benefit of the settlements - is arguably more profound in terms of impeding normal life for the Palestinians than the settlements or the land seizures themselves.

•    In addition, the "1.1% argument" doesn't even touch on the issue of East Jerusalem.   Since 1967, Israel has expropriated fully 35% of the land in East Jerusalem as "state land" and used it almost entirely for settlements. Such settlements (and new settlement construction going on today) has the explicit goal of preventing the establishment of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem - which, in effect, means preventing the two-state solution. 
 
One final thought:  in most prisons, the actual "built-up" area of the prison security services - the guard posts and related facilities - constitutes only a tiny percentage of the total area of the prison.  The rest of the area is dedicated to the prisoners - cells, showers, kitchens, laundries, exercise areas, etc.  But of course, the comparative sizes of the "built-up" areas have nothing to do with who controls the prison.  What is important is the prison security services' ability to use their presence in strategic locations and their overwhelming power to project control into the entirety of the area.  

And that, of course, is the essence of the settlements - they comprise less than 2% of the West Bank but aren't neatly packed into a single area.  They are spread across the entire length and breadth of the West Bank, connected by dedicated infrastructure and bolstered throughout by the Israeli army.  Together, all of this forms a network of control that makes normal Palestinian life and development virtually impossible throughout the approximately 98% of the West Bank on which settlements have not (yet) been physically built.
 
So yes, the author of the Commentary piece is correct: the built-up area of settlements takes up less than 2% of the West Bank.  This fact demonstrates not that settlements aren't an obstacle to peace -- they unquestionably are and are intended to be exactly that --  but that despite years of massive government support and subsidies, the settlement enterprise has been a failure.  And looking at the numbers, one has to wonder how much different a position Israel would be in today - both in terms of its economy (including things like housing prices) and its political situation (including things like Israel's growing political isolation) - if successive Israeli governments hadn't poured millions of shekels into this self-defeating enterprise.  An enterprise that today poses an existential threat to Israel's viability as a Jewish state and a democracy.