announcement yesterday that it would build 600 new homes in West
Bank settlements is cause for despair. Those, including this page,
who consider such settlements to be one of the biggest obstacles
to ending the Israeli-Arab dispute have often complained about the
hardships they impose on Palestinians — and about their cost to
Israel. The concern has been not only over the prolongation of the
conflict and the violence the settlements trigger but also over
the money misspent on them that would be far better used inside
Israel proper. The true size of that cost, however, has always been
something of a mystery. Until now.
the liberal independent Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a supplement
devoted to the settlements and shed an unusual amount of light on
this hidden issue. The newspaper said it had given a team of reporters
three months to interview officials, pore over ministry budgets
and make calculations. The exercise was filled with frustration,
but the conclusion drawn is that since 1967, Israel has spent roughly
$10 billion on the settlements. Currently, the amount spent on settlements'
civilian needs is more than $500 million.
One of the
reasons the Haaretz study was so difficult to carry out is that
the Israeli government's budgets have purposefully hidden spending
on settlements within other costs, bundling them with subsidies
to border communities and those in the Negev Desert, areas where
people need to be induced to live either because of risk or limited
economic opportunities. This cover-up is part of an unhappy pattern.
Look at any government map of Israel, and you will find no border
demarcating the occupied territories. Although Israel has never
officially annexed the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it has treated
them, in many ways, as if it had.
that those seeking to establish Jewish towns and villages in the
captured lands have benefited from generous government subsidies:
personal income tax breaks, grants and loans for house purchases,
bonuses for teachers. The Jewish settlers, who now number 230,000,
have been granted special bypass highways, water supplies and health
clinics. Even the cheery red-roofed bedroom settlements a few miles
from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are treated as if they were distant
depressed towns. Teachers who settle in them, for example, get four
years' seniority, an 80 percent housing subsidy and 100 percent
reimbursement for travel, and more. The result, according to Haaretz,
is that the average settler family benefits from about $10,000 more
per year of government spending than a family living within Israel
Israel is suffering
a severe economic crisis. At the same time, negotiations to produce
a two-state solution have collapsed. Israel is rushing to complete
a security barrier against suicide bombings, but its path has been
controversial because of all the scattered settlements it wants
There are only
a few steps that Israel could take that would both revive peace
talks and contribute to solving its own economic and security problems.
Starting to freeze and dismantle its settlements is one of them.
The first step toward doing that is to face the reality of the drain
that the settlements represent. Expanding them is the wrong choice.