Why the Israeli 'consensus' on settlements is not so simple
Israelis often refer to a 'consensus' that several major settlement blocs should be incorporated into Israel as part of a two-state solution. But some Israelis can't even find them on a map.
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The major settlement blocs most often referred to being in the Israeli "consensus'' are: Gush Etzion, a region to the southeast of Jerusalem; Maale Adumim, due east of Jerusalem; Modiin Ilit, located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; and Ariel, northwest of Jerusalem.Skip to next paragraph
The contours of those blocs came into focus early in the first half of the last decade when, in response to the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, Israel built a separation barrier to prevent bombing attacks that traced out a line annexing the settlement blocs. But, highlighting the sensitivity surrounding the settlement blocs, some of that fence hasn't been built.
Why the blocs are valuable to Israel
The development of settlement blocs was driven by a mix of factors: Gush Etzion was settled by Jews before being captured and destroyed by Jordan in the 1948 war; Maale Adumim gives Jerusalem "strategic depth'' against an army coming from the east; Modiin Illit was founded as a housing solution for crowded ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods inside Israel; and Ariel is considered a strategic bulwark protecting Israel's narrow middle.
But ultimately, they are all valuable to Israel because they allow it to keep the maximum number of settlers in place while annexing the smallest amount of territory over the 1949 armistice line between the West Bank and Israel.
"It minimizes the prospects of social unrest," says David Makovsky, co-author of a book on the peace process, "Myths, Illusions, and Peace." A small minority of settler evacuations, including those in Gaza five years ago, have turned violent.
It could also remove a bone of contention between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government.
"This has been a flash point in US-Israel relations,'' says Mr. Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank that supports a strong US-Israel alliance. "Once there's a border, there's no more ambiguity."
Average Israelis can't find them on the map
But there is no consensus on the exact contours of the settlement blocs. When some moderate cabinet ministers in Netanyahu's Likud Party suggested that Israel continue building in the settlement blocs while freezing development east of the barrier, the proposal kicked up opposition from hard-line ministers who said that it is too early to decide exactly where the blocs are.
"Ask any citizen what the settlement blocs are and they'll immediately respond: Ariel and Maale Adumim... But is Ariel really a bloc or just a city??'' wrote Haggi Huberman in the Sept. 2 edition of the settler magazine Bsheva. "The answers to these questions are foggy to this day."
What's more, the average Israeli – both on the left and the right – rarely travels to the West Bank to visit the settlements and is largely unfamiliar with their geography or their size.
"People don't know where Ariel is like they know where Beersheva, the Golan heights, or Eilat is," says Carmelit Gotlieb, a resident of Tel Aviv. "If you look at the weather map, where are they on they on the map?"