The following article in last Friday’s NY Times (Nov. 14), features Meretz USA’s most frequent visitor from Israel, Meretz Member of Knesset Avshalom (Abu) Vilan. I dislike the way that this reporter, like most, constantly labels Meretz “left-wing” (as if this were part of its name) – not because being left is bad, but because it denigrates Meretz by placing it in a neat little box. Bronner also missed a New York connection in the fact that Vilan’s partner and co-sponsor in the Knesset, for the “Bayit Ehad” bill described below, is Colette Avital, who headed Israel’s Consulate in New York before becoming a Labor party MK. But it’s still a good article. – R. Seliger
Settlers Who Long to Leave the West Bank by Ethan Bronner
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.”
Mr. Vilan is a leader of a movement called Bayit Ehad, or One Home, which wants a law budgeting $6 billion to buy the homes of 20,000 families so they can start over inside Israel. Much of the leadership of the governing centrist Kadima Party and the left-leaning Labor Party supports the law in principle, and the government has heard several presentations about it. …
The law’s advocates say… a settler withdrawal from the West Bank would strengthen the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas. The authority is trying to convince the Palestinian public that two states are possible. The advocates add that the whole point is to start the movement early in order to encourage others to follow suit and begin an orderly process for a politically and emotionally complex undertaking. …
[Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni has said that as soon as there is a framework for a two-state solution, she is willing to look more seriously at passing the law. …
Some houses that have been abandoned by settlers unwilling to stay have been filled by young religious families that pay minimal rent and are directed there by the settlers’ leadership. Mr. Vilan, the leftist lawmaker, said that under his law, moving into settlement houses bought by the government would be an offense punishable by up to five years in prison.
One Home has held several dozen meetings around West Bank settlements urging those who want to leave to become active in the movement. …
“We came for a house we could afford in a good environment,” she [Monika Yzchaki of Mevo Dotan settlement] said by telephone. “Many don’t understand that there are a lot of us who are not extremists or crazy. Now I have to show a passport at the barrier to get home. I am now living in Palestine. It used to be that I thought it was my country and they thought it was theirs. Today it is very clear it is their country.” She added, “I can name 40 families that want to leave but are afraid to say it aloud.”
Asked for her view of a Palestinian state, she said: “I think there should be a two-state solution. You cannot live with people who don’t have independence. They have to learn their own language, teach their children their own heritage. But that is their problem. My problem is that my government has left me behind.” Again, the entire article is online at the NY Times Web site.
Abu Vilan is tenacious and persuasive in advocating his proposed Knesset bill. I agree with him that it is worthwhile if the bill could pass and some 40% of the settlers beyond the barrier could be persuaded to accept cash compensation for return to behind the green line.
However, an objective view of the whole tragic scenario is that successive Israeli Governments for some 30 years have given tacit approval for creating these settlements in the Occupied Territories (West Bank or Yehuda veShomron). They need to know that “soon”, it will be the State of Palestine. In my opinion this is inevitable and if we accept the two state solution, the logical consequence for Israel and diaspora Jewry is to speed up the progression.
The tragedy referred to above is that Israel invested billions of dollars in the settlements and Abu Vilan’s bill would result in these settlers receiving further public funds to pull out.
Why is it that a further advantage be given to those who actually created “the obstacles to peace”, i.e. the settlements. Are they receiving double subsidy from the long-suffering Israeli public? With the prospect of a deep world-wide recession, is it justified to advance cash which is really badly needed for e.g. homeless rehousing, feeding the hungry, boosting pensions for low-paid workers, etc?