End the settlements


JERUSALEM (JTA) – I was born in Jerusalem eight years after the 1967 war. My relationship with my city and my country is like a child’s to his family. I feel strong bonds to this place that I love, though our relationship is not without its disappointments and disagreements. At such moments I feel pain in my heart, yet I cannot bear to stay away. I do not want to live anywhere else.

The Israel into which I was born was a state trying to figure out what to do with the territories it occupied after the Six-Day War. All the election campaigns I witnessed were about the question of the territories: Should we withdraw? Expand the settlements? Negotiate peace with the Palestinians? Annex the West Bank?

The last of these was never a serious consideration because more than 2 million Palestinians live in the West Bank; annexing the territory would lead to a binational state rather than a Jewish one, ending the Zionist dream.

In these election campaigns, other important questions were shunted aside. We didn’t talk about the Jewish identity of the Jews in Israel, how to be Jewish in a Jewish state, social justice issues and tikkun olam. Though these issues are part of the public debate in Israel, in the end our votes are always cast on the basis of one question: the territories.

The only reality I know is of an Israel struggling to defend itself against potential terrorism from the occupied territories.

It is not too late to change that, and today we have an opportunity to do it, and peacefully.

Under American hospitality last November in Annapolis, Md., Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas launched an effort to reach a permanent-status agreement by the end of 2008. With the Palestinian Authority currently led by the moderate Abbas, we have an opportunity now to reach this goal. But every moment that passes without an agreement weakens the moderates and gives more power to the extremists.

Meanwhile, Israel continues to make the mistakes of the past by building in the Jewish settlements. It plays into the hands of Hamas and other Palestinian extremist groups who claim that the Israelis are using the negotiations as an opportunity to expand the settlements and strengthen the occupation.

These groups point to Israel’s settlement building as evidence that armed struggle, not negotiations, will achieve the goal of Palestinian statehood.

We must act before it’s too late. We can still stop the expansion of the settlements, move forward seriously with the negotiations and save Israel from the ongoing disaster of the occupation.

Our occupation not only makes the face of Israel and its people look ugly, but prevents us from building on our homeland, Israel proper. It prevents us from addressing those other issues that are so crucial to Israel’s future, and securing the future of the Jewish state for our children and Israel’s next generations.

(Hagit Ofran is the Settlement Watch project director of Peace Now in Israel.)

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