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Posted by on Sep 8, 2014 in Jerusalem Post | 5 comments

Settlement Expansion is Madness

Israel’s recent decision to appropriate 1000 acres of land in Gush Etzion in the West Bank for settlement expansion has set off a storm of protest.

Settlement Expansion Madness

(Photo by Marc, Marc Israel Sellem)

The decision has reignited yet again the 45-year debate on whether such expansion is morally proper, Jewishly right, and politically wise. But after 45 years we know the answer: It is none of these things and does nothing to advance the security interests of the Jewish State. Following are some of the reasons why:

1. Not a single friend or ally in the West – or in the world – came forward to support Israel’s decision. Yet again, the State of Israel stands utterly alone on its settlement policy. America, its key strategic partner, was furious, and the European Union, its major trading partner, was livid. In the long term, and probably in the short term, there is always a price to be paid for disregarding the wishes of those upon whom you depend for your economic and security needs—and your very existence.

2. In America, conservative and rightwing political leaders did not voice support for the settlement decision. Some Israelis harbor the illusion that it is only the Obama administration that is hostile to settlement but that a Republican administration would take a different view. As we saw from the silence of Republican leaders, and as we know from the statements of the last three Republican presidents, it would not.

3. Despite a hostile press and often angry public opinion, Israel’s government and Prime Minister did a good job of maintaining Western support for Israel’s recent war against Hamas. In the Arab world as well, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and some of the Gulf states offered quiet support to the Israeli campaign against Hamas. This good will would have been a valuable asset in the upcoming political struggles that will take place in the UN and elsewhere over Gaza’s fate. Much of that good will and sympathy for Israel have now been squandered by Israel’s actions in Gush Etzion.

4. Israel has pressing security needs that should be given priority at this time and that will suffer as a result of settlement building. The growing strength of HIzbullah on Israel’s northern border is a far greater military threat than the one posed by Hamas. (See the detailed analysis in Yediot Ahronot by Yossi Yehoshua on September 5.) And, of course, the threat that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons poses an immediate danger to Israel’s well-being. These dangers – profound, existential, and long-term—cannot be confronted by Israel alone but require broad coalitions of supportive allies. But as a result of her fixation on settlements, Israel’s ability to assemble such coalitions is significantly diminished.

5. Apologists for the government’s actions continue to make the absurd claim that settlement building need not be a problem because settlements can always be evacuated. In its statement, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs noted that Israel has withdrawn settlements from Sinai and Gaza, thereby suggesting that it could evacuate settlements in Gush Etzion as well. This is theoretically true but impossible on practical grounds. To implement a two-state solution along the lines of what Israel has previously discussed with American governments would require a withdrawal ten times larger than all of the withdrawals carried out in the past, each of which was profoundly traumatic for the people of Israel. Furthermore, the previous withdrawals did not involve pulling out of “ideological settlements”—that is, settlements in the West Bank that, in the eyes of some, cannot be removed without violating Jewish law. (Those who believe this misread Jewish tradition.) In light of all of these factors, and given the exceedingly high political cost of what Israel is currently doing, not to mention the economic cost, does it really make sense to build settlements now with the explanation that, well, Israel can always pull them down at a later time?

6. Israel’s own leaders cannot offer a coherent explanation for why a major settlement initiative has been launched at this time. Among members of the security cabinet, some support the decision and some oppose it; the Prime Minister has been mostly silent. Surely risks of this magnitude to the State of Israel and the Jewish people should not be taken absent a compelling rationale.

The State of Israel is the most precious possession of the Jewish people. During the recent war, Jews everywhere rallied to Israel’s side. And while the war was won, quiet times do not lie ahead. Israel faces instability and extremism on all sides. We are reminded, at this moment in our history, that the State of Israel and the Jewish people need strong leadership, clear direction, and a substantial measure of unity.

The way to get these things is to focus on the real dangers that we face as Jews and to set aside the mad obsession with settlement building that turns the world against us, alienates the friends that we do have, divides Jew from Jew, and distracts us from the major tasks of building a secure homeland for the Jewish people. Settlement expansion needs to stop.

What is your opinion?
Is there a value to Israel expanding settlements at this time?
Please leave your comments at:




  1. Irrespective of the perceived or actual demerits of annexing this piece of real estate in Judea, I think that it’s presumptuous to call it “madness”, as though this choice of word was invoked in a medical affidavit. Moreover using this word implies that total sanity is to be found with the writer’s thinking on the subject, and by contrast a need for Bibi to check into the nearest psychiatric ward is urgently due. We who might agree with your essential thinking, Rabbi Yoffie, are not that sane as we think we are, and Bibi (et al) is not that “mad” as you think that his action demonstrates.

  2. The suggestion that Israel could “…could evacuate settlements in Gush Etzion” by JCPA and others, evades logic. Why, given the past experience with building and dismantling settlements, would any government expend precious public resources and energy on building substantial infrastructure, housing, public buildings and roads only to possibly have to dismantle them at some point in the future? The withdrawal of settlements from Sinai, Gaza and the very northern part of the West Bank made sense. Those settlements, as with many others, should not have been built.

    It seems that there is some implicit understanding as to where approximately the ultimate border between Israel and the Palestinian state will be drawn and that the settlement bloc comprising the Gush Etzion will remain in Israel. But that doesn’t mean that the government had to, at this critical point in time (as accurately explained by Rabbi Yoffie), announce land appropriation even if it is in areas that may ultimately become part of Israel. The timing of this announcement is questionable, at best, and creates further challenges for Israel that it did not need at this time. When, hopefully, a two state solution is implemented and Israel wishes to expand settlement development in areas that have been incorporated into Israel, no country or group will have a basis to criticize Israel. But given the complexity and public relations and political challenges, why can’t the government wait until the time is right?

  3. Rabbi Yoffie – Great editorial, as always. I think you’re spot-on. However, my recent visits to Israel have left me with unsettling questions that perhaps you or others might take up:

    We hear regularly – except from the extreme right and the extreme left – that a two-state solution is the only viable, reasonable future for Israelis and Palestinians alike. My question is: When we say this, are we being disingenuous? With hundreds of thousands of Jewish residents in the West Bank, the situation is light-years from the challenge of removing Yamit from the Sinai or even the withdrawal from Gaza. Is withdrawing the settlements from the West Bank really still a practicable option? And if so, at what point is it no longer an option?

    Shana Tova and Shalom al Yisrael. Neal

    • Neal,

      I worry about this a lot, but I continue to feel that a two-state solution is possible, as well as the only conceivable way out of the current mess. While there are about 300,000 settlers in the territories (not including Jerusalem), about 100,000 would have to be moved in a peace settlement involving the kind of land swaps that the Americans have been discussing with both sides. This is still a very high number, but as part of a real peace package approved by the Knesset with American guarantees, it should be doable. I was recently at a meeting with MK Herzog, head of the Labor Party and leader of the opposition in the Knesset, and he was asked about this. He expressed his confidence that with the right deal, it could still happen.


  4. I have read a number of statements of late either defending the latest Israeli land appropriation, or offering opinions as to why it is misunderstood by the press. For me, there is simply no excuse for this stupid, badly timed action. I don’t care whether this is land that would not be given back in a future peace agreement I do care, however, about the reputation of Israel. If the government of Israel wants the world to believe that post-Gaza war Israel has moved further to the right, this move is the best possible proof. For those who say Israel has no friends anyway, this latest move will only serve to make sure that is true.

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