Tag Archives: Settlements

A Golden Opportunity for Livni

By Niv Elis

It’s not clear why the Israeli left has shied away from putting economic arguments for peace front and center.  But the recent explosion of economically driven populist angst may change all that.

For nearly two weeks, Israeli citizens have protested en masse in the streets of Tel Aviv, building tent cities along its main drag, Rothschild Boulevard, and across the country.   Though popular disaffection with consumer prices, particularly housing, are at the heart of the the protests, growing economic inequality (persistent through strong general growth) and the neighboring protests of the Arab spring have fueled them.  Because the protests represent a significant challenge for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his economic policies, they also provides an opportunity for the opposition leader, Tzipi Livni.

Sitting atop the largest party in the Knesset, which was thrust into the opposition after failing to cobble a coalition, Livni has watched in frustration as Netanyahu presided over the most stable Israeli government in decades, alongside political advocates for West Bank settlement expansion.  By linking the settlements with popular economic woes, Livni could establish her Kadima party with a strong platform, which it has lacked since the Gaza disengagment, its original raison d’etre.  And what a willing audience she would have!

To students demanding cheaper or free education, doctors demanding higher wages and young couples living at home and demanding steps to reduce housing prices, Livni can point out the incredible resources that have been consumed by settlements.  As Bernard Avishai pointed out in a TPM article, settlements cost Israel $20 billion, excluding security. The government has long provided incentives to reduce cost of living in the settlements—lower tax rates, subsidized mortgages, loan guarantees and extra community development funds.  Monies could easily be redirected toward increasing the supply of housing units within the Green Line, which would lower apartment prices dramatically.  (Pro-settlement councils are, of course, propose increased settlement construction to pull Israelis from the cities to their cheaper West Bank counterparts instead).

She could also make the case that such moves would help bolster peace talks, which themselves have economic consequences.  A peace agreement could increase tourism and decrease the defense spending that consumes a sixth of Israel’s budget.  With enough of an electoral boost from the left, Livni could reduce the unsustainable subsidies that keep ultra-Orthodox students in yeshivas instead of the workforce, much to the chagrin of university students who are not offered the same cushy perks.

The economics of the settlements have long been an underutilized rallying call for Israelis in the silent majority.  If Livni hopes to once again take the premiership, she would be wise to channel the public’s newfound economic ire toward a solution.

The Narrow Line Between Expression and Insult

By Merav Levkowitz

A number of Israeli artists have signed a letter proposing to boycott a cultural center set to open shortly in Ariel, a Jewish settlement beyond the Green Line. The boycott has sparked much controversy among the artist community and in Knesset. Some Knesset members have expressed disappointment with these Israeli artists who have received government funding and have used their public platform to criticize and, in some cases, de-legitimize Israel. Members like Yariv Levin and Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat have recommended that restrictions be extended to government-funded artists and cultural institutions.

This tense situation brings forth a variety of important issues. On one hand, the outrage of some Knesset members towards these government-funded artists makes perfect sense. A venture capitalist who supports a fledging start-up would not be pleased to find the start-up defaming him publicly. Likewise, Israeli taxpayers have a right to express concern about where their funding goes and to disapprove supporting bodies that criticize or even threaten them. Ironically, the residents of Ariel themselves pay the taxes that support many of the artists boycotting their cultural center and the settlement itself. As Knesset member Otniel Schneller stated, “The artists’ apartheid letter, which boycotts Israeli citizens, not only does not promote national willingness to achieve peace, but also pushes it away.  Ariel, as a settlement bloc, will be included in any peace agreement within the borders of the state. Every big party leader must stress to artists who receive the Israel Prize [a government-awarded prize for excellence in four different fields] where the peaceful borders of the State of Israel are to pass.”

On the other hand, the fact that government-funded artists are free to do as they please with their sponsorship is a sign that Israel remains a vibrant democracy. Diverse opinions among citizens and the freedom to express them distinguish Israel from many of her neighbors. Tighter restrictions on artists and cultural institutions could challenge some of this openness. Furthermore, such constraints risk narrowing Israel’s vibrant public art scene. While denying artists funding does not stop them from creating art in protest of the country—and may even encourage them to further do so—it can impede them.  In so doing, it limits the creative face Israel shows to the world, exposing only a small part of its diverse mosaic, its beliefs and expressions.

This controversy is not limited to the world of art, but rather can be extended to any government-sponsored public figures and images. It seems reasonable for sponsors to demand certain criteria of those they support, but it is difficult to know where to draw the line on such criteria.   Politically motivated restrictions risk stifling art and even the democratic freedom Israel prides itself on.

Israel Mulls Settler Freeze

By Doni Kandel

With Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu scrambling to gain approval for a three month construction freeze on settlements, Americans, Palestinians and Israelis have formulated an alternative plan. It is now believed that the Knesset is considering freezing settlers in lieu of freezing settlements as a unilateral symbol of good faith. Both the American and Israeli governments have expressed hope that freezing of those dwelling beyond the green line will be a concession far too impressive for the Palestinians to ignore.

Naturally, the controversial proposal has proven to be far more complicated than first thought.  A debate has broken out among the concerned parties over the details of the actual freezing. The Israelis, ahead of the technology curve as always, have suggested cryogenics as the preferred method. The Palestinians have planted their flag in the “hose them down and toss them in a walk-in freezer” camp. A middle ground between these two positions may be difficult to reach.  Knesset members from multiple parties have expressed concerns about garnering public support for cryogenics, let alone the freezer method. MK Areyeh Eldad explained to reporters, “Sure Austin Powers made cryogenics look like fun and games, but there is no forgetting the utter look of anguish embalmed on Han Solo’s face when Darth Vader has him cryogenically frozen in Cloud City.  The Israeli public is far too intelligent to be led to believe their experience will be otherwise.”

The “hose and freezer” method has not only caused strife between Israel and the Palestinians, but between Israel and America. Israel has demanded that America provide the water, a sparse commodity in the region, if this method is ultimately selected. America has agreed but will only commit to providing the Israelis with Poland Springs brand water. Israel is reportedly seeking Evian or Dasani. “It’s not like we’re asking for Fiji Water here!” exclaimed Defense Minister Ehud Barak in frustration.

Shas MK Eli Yishai, notorious for offering his vote to the highest bidder, has offered to vote in favor of freezing only if Bibi will guarantee that once the freezing passes and the settlers have been thawed, the left over ice chips go to the ultra-orthodox community for chilling soda at their traditional Friday night Tish.  Conversely, Yishai has told settlers he will vote against the proposal in exchange for them supplying every ultra-orthodox child with a (non-human) popsicle.  Yishai cautioned the settlers however that, “those weird Israeli popsicles with gummies inside will not suffice.”

Several Left Wing and Arab factions have opposed this new plan because it does not include freezing Jewish residents of East Jerusalem. However, it does not appear that the Knesset will seek to impose the freezing on the Jerusalemites. President Shimon Peres explained, “With all those wind tunnels and cold Jerusalem stone facades the people of Jerusalem are cold enough.”

Peace Now chairman Yariv Oppenheimer has expressed enthusiastic support for the plan. “I hope we can freeze the settlers as soon as possible,” Oppenheimer told reporters.  “They have been stealing warmth from the Arabs for far too long.”  When asked about the potential violation of the Israeli’s rights if they are forced to be frozen against their will, Oppenheimer responded, “What Israeli rights?”

Ehud Olmert, the disgraced former Prime Minister, will once again be brought up on new corruption charges after using inside sources in the Knesset for financial gain. Upon hearing the freezing plans, Olmert allegedly bought up a large number of stocks in both Israeli and American freezer making companies such as SubZero and Bekko.  A petition to freeze both him and his financial accounts has begun making its round in the Knesset.

US Indirectly Funding Israeli Settlements?

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

David Ignatius

David Ignatius has a column today (also in the Washington Post) about tax-exempt charities that donate to various Israeli settlements in the West Bank, despite US government policy not to fund them. He says,

There’s nothing illegal about the charitable contributions to pro-settlement organizations, which are documented in filings with the Internal Revenue Service. They’re similar to tax-exempt donations made to thousands of foreign organizations around the world through groups that are often described as “American friends of … ” the recipient.

But critics of Israeli settlements question why American taxpayers are supporting indirectly, through the exempt contributions, a process that the government condemns. A search of IRS records identified 28 US charitable groups that made a total of $33.4 million in tax-exempt contributions to settlements and related organizations between 2004 and 2007.

Ignatius lists organizations like American Friends of the College of Judea and Samaria, American Friends of Yeshiva High School of Kiryat Arba, and Hebron Fund.

The glaring hole in the logic is that giving a charity a tax exemption, of course, doesn’t actually fund anything. It’s less an economic offense than a moral and pragmatic one: Considering the delicate arguments for peace in the Middle East and the controversy that settlements inevitably stir up, do these charities still deserve the tax-exemption if they help stymie US efforts towards peace?

And in other news about the peace process, new Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu spoke yesterday to allay some fears of his hawkish tendencies. For the record, his pick for foreign minister is the famous nationalist and right-wing Avigdor Lieberman, who lives in Nokdim–a West Bank settlement.

Moment Columnists Frum and Gorenberg Duke it Out

Gershom Gorenberg and David Frum recently spoke on bloggingheads about Israel’s future and the importance, or lack thereof, of its settlements in the West Bank.

Gorenberg and Frum

Could an Evacuation of the Jewish Settlement in Hebron Spark an Israeli Civil War?

img_1069By Jeremy Gillick

There is an interesting drama developing around one of the West Bank’s most radical and controversial Jewish settlements. Home to the Ma’arat HaMachpelah—the Tomb of the Patriarchs—Hebron is a sacred cow for Israel’s religious right (read Glenn Frankel’s January story about Hebron in Moment here). Unlike most settlements, which stand on hills above Palestinian cities, the Jewish settlement in Hebron exists in the city’s very heart, protected vigilantly by the Israeli army. Although there’s no talk of dismembering the settlement altogether, much less of dismantling all the settlements, which, as both Shimon Peres and Shin Bet security chief Yuval Diskin have recently warned, could precipitate a civil war, Israeli security forces are threatening to evacuate a group of settlers from a building they occupied illegally in Hebron over a year ago. The settlers are fighting back.

On March 19, 2007, hundreds of settlers from both Hebron and Kiryat Arba, the larger but equally radical settlement above Hebron, moved into a 4-story, 3,500 square foot building on the road linking Hebron to Kiryat Arba. According to the settlement’s official Hebron website, “The building was purchased from its previous owner via an office in Jordan for an approximate price of $700,000. The previous owner transferred all his legal rights to the building to the Hebron Jewish community.” As it turned out, the documents “proving” Jewish ownership were forged, and this past Sunday, Israel’s High Court gave the building’s occupants until Wednesday to leave.

By last night, they had not budged. And although the Defense Ministry chose not to use force, yet, presumably not wishing on themselves a repeat of Amona’s 2006 evacuation, it seems unlikely that the settlers will move without some prodding. Continue reading

The Self-Loathing Settlers

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

The New York Times runs a piece today on settlers who don’t believe in the settlements. Yes, that’s right:

While the vast majority of settlers vow never to abandon the heart of the historic Jewish homeland — these ancient and starkly beautiful hills whose biblical names are Judea and Samaria — thousands of other settlers say they want to move back to within the pre-1967 borders of Israel.

Thousands? Really???

There are 280,000 settlers in the West Bank (200,000 more Israeli Jews live in East Jerusalem, also captured in 1967), and the vast majority are firmly committed to staying and oppose a Palestinian state here. But 80,000 of them live beyond the barrier, and surveys indicate that many would leave. If they did, others might follow voluntarily.

“We did a survey three years ago and again last year, and the results were the same,” said Avshalom Vilan, a Parliament member from the left-wing Meretz Party. “Half the settlers beyond the barrier are ideologically motivated and do not want to move. But about 40 percent of them are ready to go for a reasonable price.”


Well, in any case, they should take their place among the non-Jewish Jew, the self-loathing egoist, and other characteristic personality conflicts that make the tribe oh so intriguing.

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