American Jews and the U.S. government must push for the dismantling
True friends of Israel need to practice tough love
By 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
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
treasury, dispersing security forces and providing remote targets for
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
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
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
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
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
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.