The Israeli lobby in the United States has set off many a storm of protest over many an action, proposed action, or absence of action by the government of the United States. But I cannot remember any such previous storm quite approaching in intensity the one which was launched over the vote which US Ambassador Donald F. McHenry cast in the Security Council of the United Nations on March 1.
The storm was so intense that it forced President Carter to repudiate the vote on March 3. On March 4 Secretary of State Cyrus Vance tried to quiet the matter by saying it had all been a misunderstanding and the blame was his. But in subsequent days Mr. Vance has drawn a distinction between the vote and the policy behind the vote.
The vote was a mistake, Mr. Vance says, because it could upset current negotiations between Egypt and Israel over autonomy for Palestinians in the occupied territories. But he has stood by the State Department position that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal and an obstacle to a peace settlement.
The storm continues. Israel has expropriated more Arab property for building more settlements in East Jerusalem and near Bethlehem. The Israeli cabinet has voted for putting Jews back into the Arab city of Hebron. The State Department has criticized each of these subsequent Israeli moves. Zionists have launched public campaigns urging Jews to vote against President Carter and for Senator Kennedy in primary elections.
Why so much intensity of feeling and political action over the settlements?
Israel does not need even all existing Jewish settlements in Arab territory in order to house its own Jewish citizens. Existing settlements are not full. There has been difficulty in finding tenants. An estimated half or more of all tenants in the existing settlements work in Israel proper and commute daily between jobs and apartments in the settlements. They have been induced to come to the settlements by lower rents.
Why then does the Begin government go ahead with its settlements policy in defiance of Washington and even in defiance of much of public opinion in Israel itself? Some polls have indicated that a majority of Israelis now oppose the settlements program.
The official answer of the government of Israel is that God gave "Judea and Samaria" to the Jews. Hence Israel should have Judea and Samaria back now regardless of the fact that the West Bank of the Jordan is full of Arabs who have lived there for many generations and see no reason why they should get out of the way of jews who don't really need the land anyway. The Arab position is supported by every government in the world outside of Israel itself, including the government of the United States.
Why then proceed with the settlements?
Partly, of course, because Mr. Begin's government would fall if it lost the support of the more militant Zionists who believe deeply and passionately that they should have all of the biblical "land of Israel." But partly also because every settlement is bargaining power in the negotiations with Egypt now, in future negotiations with the other Arab neighbors, and ultimately in negotiations with the United States over future US subsidies to Israel.
Israel put its settlements and its military installations in the Sinai peninsula to good use in the Camp David agreements. In effect, Israel sold them to the US. The US has paid the cost of moving the military installations back into the Negev Desert, and subsidized the resettling of the Jews from the Sinai settlements.
Still ahead are peace treaties someday (if there is ever to be a comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors) between Israel and Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Every Jewish settlement in occupied territories becomes a bargaining pawn in such negotiations. The more settlements, the more pawns and presumably the more return to Israel's treasury.
If Prime Minister Begin were to dismantle all the Jewish settlements in occupied territory, as called for by the UN resolution, there would not be much left to bargain about.
Israel has been the biggest single beneficiary of American aid since World War II (except for South Vietnam which is no longer on the US subsidy list). Total US aid to Israel is estimated at about $15 billion and continues at the rate of about $3 billion yearly.What happens after a comprehensive peace is concluded between Israel and its neighbors? What arguments would there be for a continuing American subsidy? The only argument I can think of would be compensation for giving up the settlements.