I just came across this 2010 article by Rachel Shabi (Guardian) that provides excellent details on how Israel has subsidized the settlement of the West Bank. Housing prices are much lower and the Israeli government has used grants, better mortgages, tax advantages, and other incentives to entice people to live across the Green Line in the occupied territories. In the article, Danny Rubinstein puts it succinctly: “a bribe on a national scale.”
I regularly make this argument as well, that Israeli settlers are not all driven by nationalist, ideological, and religious motivations. Some move for economic and quality-of-life reasons. So I appreciate the reporting here.
That said, I think Rubinstein’s final point is one to think about:
The problem, as Rubinstein points out, is that what starts off as economics can eventually become ideological. “When you move [to the settlements],” he says, “you can’t say, ‘Well, I went there because I’m greedy.’ You change your political opinion.”
The article also provides food for thought about whether governments can set the parameters of public debate – and thus what is possible in terms of policy change – through how they frame an issue:
Israel has always played up the pain of dismantling the settlements. Yet as Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar writes in Lords Of The Land: The War For Israel’s Settlements In The Occupied Territories, the “elixir of life” for these settlements is their infrastructure: the electricity, water pipes and military forces that guard them. Remove these, “and this project collapses like a house of cards”. Today, Eldar describes Israel’s purported inability to do so as “a myth perpetrated by the government to make us believe that it is impossible”.
If the Israeli government says it cannot pull up stakes in the West Bank, does that make it so? Eldar thinks not, and I think he is correct to a point. The momentum would move in the other direction if Israel ended the incentives, the water, the protection etc. (or at least made the settlers bear the true cost of such items).
But would Israel really do that for the settlements where the bulk of the settlers live, that is 1) East Jerusalem and 2) other settlements close to the Green line? Moreover, probably some of the places where one can imagine a future Israeli government doing so are smaller, isolated settlements deep in the West Bank where ideology motivated the settlers and militancy would drive their response.
So I am sure Eldar is correct about a decent share of the settlements, but I doubt the *entire* project is a house of cards. Of course, as an opponent of the settlements, it is in Eldar’s interest to project an equal and opposite image to that created by the Netanyahu Government, Yesha Council (Hebrew), and others. Here to stay vs. house of cards.