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Mira Sucharov and Rhonda Spivak
photo by Jerome Ritt

Prof. Brent Sasley

An example of one of the many murals of villages in pre-67 Israel to which Palestinians in UNWRA camps want to return.
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Entrance to Aida UNWRA Refugee Camp near Bethlehem where there is a large key to symbolize the right of return to homes in pre-67 Israel. On the key it says "NOT FOR SALE" creating the illusion that millions of Palestinians will be able to return to their 1948 homes.
photo by Rhonda Spivak


By Rhonda Spivak, February 9, 2011

Former Winnipeggers Mira Sucharov, Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University and Brent Sasley, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington, wrote an article in November 2010 published in the Huffington Post entitled “West Bank Settler’s buy in”

The article discusses various strategies the Israeli government might employ to get  settlers to  buy-into any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. The article is an interesting and recommended read and can be accessed by clicking here.

The article begins by setting out “pragmatic estimates of the actual number of settlers likely to be relocated hovers around 70,000. (The remaining settlements would most likely be annexed to Israel.)”
It notes, correctly, that when Israel withdrew form the Gaza Strip in 2005  most  Israelis believe that the 8,000 settlers who were evacuated from  Gaza “were  neglected, with lack of meaningful employment and proper housing opportunities afforded them,” such that ‘West Bank settlers are necessarily wary of feeling similarly abandoned.’

Sucharov and Sasley go on to say that it’s time for the Israeli government to begin thinking how they are going to maintain the settler’s sense of purpose and   identity after they are uprooted:

‘We can assume that the Israeli government, having learned its lessons, will lay out strong financial incentives for West Bank settlers. But equally important is whether the settlers can envision a meaningful life in pre-1967 Israel. This is especially germane to the many settlers who conceive of their identity as directly connected to the land comprising what they call Judea and Samaria. The government would be well served to start thinking creatively about how to connect with the frontier settler identity on the other side of the Green Line.”

One option they suggest  is having  the settlers tame the Negev:

“ The West Bank settler ethos echoes that of the Wild West in important ways. Settlers view themselves as carrying out a frontier version of Jewish nationalism, particularly in the outlying settlements. Settlers will need to be shown that there are pioneering-like opportunities on the other side of the Green Line. A likely target area is the Negev Desert: an open, wild space where Judah and Simeon, two of the twelve ancient tribes of Israel, are thought to have resided. The Negev can be viewed as a parallel region to be ‘tamed.’ ”

Another possibility is communal living within the green line:

‘‘Settlers can be made to experience similar communal identities in intimate residential communities within the Green Line, including Israel's many kibbutzim and moshavim, as well as the relatively recent gated ‘communal neighborhoods.’

After discussing these, and other options, Sucharov and Sasley conclude:

‘Deeply-rooted identities and passionately-held narratives can be stubborn roadblocks on the path to peace. But they can also be wisely harnessed by governments. The settlers' sense of place in the national project needs to be honored in a deliberate strategy of recasting existing symbols. Such a process promises to be more enduring in helping settlers adapt to new roles in pre-1967 Israel’

While I do recommend reading the entire article, by Sucharov and Sasley I think as of now it is an academic exercise that is not likely to become  reality.

Firstly, if  and when the time should come that some settlers in the West Bank  have to leave their homes due to a peace agreement with the Palestinians, my hunch is that some of them will gravitate to the blocks of settlements that are over the green line but will  be annexed to  Israel in a negotiated agreement—such as Gilo, French Hill and other areas of Jerusalem or the  Gush Etzion or Efrat blocks. Many settlers have work and deep ties to the Jerusalem area so I am not at all certain that the Negev, or other places will become their ‘new frontier.’

In fact, the Palestine Papers, the 1600 documents leaked by Al-Jazeera  show that the Palestinian Authority negotiators who negotiated with Prime Minister Ehud  Olmert in 2008 had agreed to let Israel keep Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem ( Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev, Ramat Shlomo,  Neve Yaacov etc), such that it is possible these areas would be places that settlers who had to be uprooted under a peace plan would move to[As an aside its worth remembering how the US made a  big deal  over the1600 unit housing project in Ramat Shlomo, even though it  an east Jerusalem neighborhood that the Palestine papers show the   PA leadership had already accepted as part of Israel] .

In any event, as a result of the Palestine Papers most observers believe that the PA has been weakened. In fact, the PA has denied the concessions it had actually made  in the Palestine  Papers because it is clearly unable or unwilling politically to tell the Palestinian people the truth about the concessions that would need to be made to have a peace plan go forward.

In order for a  peace agreement to take root in the region, there will  have to be open discussion among Palestinians  regarding where all the  millions of  Palestinian refugees  and their descendants who  are under the illusion that they are returning to pre-67 Israel to their homes in Jaffa, Haifa, are going to live.  Sucharov and Sasley’s article is an example of the fact that there is of open discussion amongst Israelis and Jews as to where the uprooted settlers would move in order to make way for  a peace agreement.  The real question is  whether on the Palestinian side there are similar  articles in the Huffington Post or elsewhere discussing where all these Palestinian refugees now living in UNWRA refugee camps would have to live, because  clearly they wouldn’t be going back to  pre-67 Israel.

On the contrary, it seems that Palestinian refugees living in camps run by the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency [UNWRA] are living in a time warp and are being told by Palestinian leadership that they will be returning to their former homes in pre-67 Israel.

I was recently in Aida refugee camp where there are several blocks of huge murals of all the Palestinian villages that they believe they are returning to. I was struck by the fact that one of the villages in these murals was Ber-Sheva, and it was depicted in the mural as a small pastoral village with several houses. Today of course Be’er Sheva is a developed city of 200,000 people, and it is certainly not going to be part of a Palestinian state or be over run by Palestinian refugees returning to it.

The question then is who in Palestinian society is coming forward to level with Palestinian refugees to say that they aren’t going back to their villages but will have to be re-settled in the Palestinian West Bank, and it is now time to start openly discussing that.  Who in the PA leadership is telling the refugees in camps near Bethlehem, for example, that it’s time to start planning on the Bethlehem area as being their permanent abode?  And what is PA television doing when it teaches children that Haifa and Jaffa are in Palestine?
Moreover, it’s important to note that when someone tries to tell the Palestinian refugees the truth, they get pressured not to and are forced to retract the truth. For example,  Andrew Whitley, outgoing director of the UNWRA’s  New York office, made headlines recently when told the  told the National Council for US-Arab Relations’ annual conference on October  22 2010:

“If one doesn’t start a discussion soon with the refugees for them to consider what their own future might be – for them to start debating their own role in the societies where they are rather than being left in a state of limbo where they are helpless but preserve rather the cruel illusions that perhaps they will return one day to their homes – then we are storing up trouble for ourselves....We recognize, as I think most do, although it’s not a position that we publicly articulate, that the right of return is unlikely to be exercised to the territory of Israel to any significant or meaningful extent...It’s not a politically palatable issue, it’s not one that UNRWA publicly advocates, but nevertheless it’s a known contour to the issue.”

When Whitley said this—suggesting that its about time that UNWRA start telling refugees the truth- he was roasted over the coals by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and others in  the PA and several days later had to retract the statement  and apologize for it,  clarifying that his remarks were “  inappropriate and wrong. Those remarks did not represent UNRWA’s views.”

You can read the full Whitley retraction by clicking here.

Suffice it to say that this incident shows that the Palestinian side isn’t reckoning with their people and preparing them for this non-return to pre-67 Israel.

Moreover, with the upheaval in Egypt, the PA is now saying it will hold municipal elections in July and even hold national elections in September.

The PA was no democratically elected—in fact in the 2006 elections Hamas won both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It is not at all very likely that Israel would even contemplate making any deal before seeing if Abbas actually gets elected

Suffice it to say, that in light of all of this-- I don’t foresee Jewish settlers starting to pack just yet.

In this regard, I urge you to have a read of Ma’an News Agency’s article on Feb 4, 2011 which reports that the PA .  has banned “unlicensed’ gatherings to preserve order in the West Bank. The ruling is in response to the demonstrations n Egypt. In the statement the PA official said that the demonstrations would create chaos and “The priority for Palestinians was to empower popular resistance against the occupation and to work for independence, he added.”

If you read between the lines, it seems that the PA has to remind its people to focus their rage on the Israeli occupation, rather than demonstrations which could end up having Palestinians focus their rage against the PA, its corruption and what they see as  its unacceptable concessions to Israel as revealed by the Palestine Papers. Surely if the PA thought that the demonstrations were going to target the Israeli occupation, and not the PA itself, they’d be allowed, wouldn’t they? Ma’an goes on to say that two days earlier the PA had “violently shut down a rally in support of the Egyptian people and detained 2 demonstrators. Protestors said the event had been peaceful until police broke out batons…PA forces also shut down a rally outside the Egyptian embassy in Ramallah.”  

Suffice it to say, that in light of all of this-- I don’t foresee Jewish settlers starting to pack just yet.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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