American Jews and the U.S. government must push for the dismantling of settlements.
True friends of Israel need to practice tough love

KEN SCHECHTMAN, 11/02/03

To paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It's the settlements, stupid."

The settlements define Israel's future. They transform the security wall into a cage for Palestinians. They yield Israeli-only roads; divided families; divided fields; three-hour, three-mile drives; and recurrent humiliation. While they are not the only reason for suicide bombers, they guarantee successful
recruitment.

One might justify the settlements if they benefited Israel in some palpable way. But the shibboleth that the outposts are required as forward intelligence bases has few remaining adherents. And while some border settlements have arguable defensive value, the negative impact on Israel includes draining the
treasury, dispersing security forces and providing remote targets for Palestinians.

Now, don't get me wrong. From the suicide bombers to the Camp David debacle, from the Arabic broadcasts about a greater Palestine to the years of terror, the provocations against Israel and its citizens are grotesque and pervasive. They are constant reminders that the destruction of Israel is the raison d'etre of many Palestinians.

But therein lies the rub, because the settlements are not about Palestinian perfidy or moral equivalence. They are about what should be the wisdom and policy of Israel in a complex and dangerous region. They are about intellectual courage and alternatives to knee-jerk nationalism. And mostly, they are about enlightened self-interest, about Israel's survival as a democratic state in which Jews are a majority and apartheid is unthinkable.

Israelis understand that peace is impossible unless most settlements are abandoned. There is broad consensus about the parameters of the solution. But Israel is victimized by Camp David and the years of violence, by depressed resignation and hunker-down paralysis. The country needs tough love from its
friends - Washington and American Jews -who will push it where they know it must go.

But friends don't let friends drive drunk. Friends don't ignore decades of self-defeating occupation. Friends don't let friends encourage life-defining hatred of millions with whom they must forever coexist. Friends don't ignore the history of once-proud nations laid waste by the emotionally satisfying fiction that aggressive nationalism is required of the true patriot.

Yet since that is what American Jewish leaders and U.S. administrations have consistently done, there is but one conclusion: For all its support for Israeli governments, the United States has lacked the courage to be a real friend to Israel. American Jews, likewise, have failed our Israeli brethren.

We have not been friends of Israel. We have been something more akin to the drinking buddy and chief cheerleader of a traumatized nation that has been victimized by a Byzantine electoral system, imprisoned by a disastrous occupation, politically unable to do what it has no alternative but to do and
in desperate need of the firm hand of a committed friend. But that friend has been nowhere to be found.

If Israel cannot act, Americans must find the wisdom to steal the veto power of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Jewish voters must free Washington from its electoral cowardice. We must stop waiting for that moonlit night when the stars are aligned and Israeli and Palestinian politics coincide. We must insist on
withdrawals from remote settlements as unilateral steps towards the only possible peace, toward consolidated and more effective security forces and toward a moral renaissance in Israel. We must achieve this through peacekeeping troops, payments for the relocation of settlers, economic carrots if
Palestinians reciprocate and, if necessary, reduced aid to Israel.

This will not be a panacea. Palestinians will still hate, and rejectionists will reaffirm their nihilism. But it will simplify the security task of an Israel that will have reclaimed its destiny. It will preclude no future
military action or a defensive wall on Israel's border, but the taste of a viable Palestine will prove a powerful disincentive to the next generation of bombers. And at long last, America will be a true friend of Israel.

Ken Schechtman of University City is an associate professor of biostatistics at Washington University.

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