MK Eitan Cabel made headlines over the weekend when he admonished Israel’s center-left for not supporting annexation of West Bank settlement blocs – the largest Jewish settlements that ring the Green Line. Cabel’s comments were particularly newsworthy because he is a member of the Labor Party, traditionally a central proponent of territorial compromise and a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Still, on its surface, Cabel’s logic is sound, as most Israelis, outside observers, and even many Palestinians tacitly accept that under a two state agreement the blocs will remain under Israeli control. Yet none of this justifies MK Cabel’s remarks, which represent a seriously flawed reading of the settlement project.

It’s important to address why Cabel’s statements are attractive to many, even those who support a two-state solution. Evicting tens of thousands of people from the settlements would place a serious strain on the Israeli government and potentially even precipitate conflict between settlers and security forces. Moreover, even Mahmoud Abbas has embraced, in principle, the idea of land swaps under a deal and most Israelis accept that the blocs are de facto part of the state, as opposed to more distant and contentious settlement outposts east of the security barrier. With the official peace process in stasis for the foreseeable future, integrating the blocs provides Labor and like minded parties a proactive agenda that is not inherently incompatible with the broader vision of a two-state solution.

The problem is that the right shares Cabel’s concept of annexation, only their vision does not stop at the blocs. Some members of the current Knesset coalition are circulating proposals for annexing all of Area C (60 percent of the West Bank, including the blocs). A Trump administration plan – if it is ever released – might see Israel annex as much as half of the West Bank. In the face of such expansionist programs, bloc annexation (especially if carried out by this government) could open the gate to taking on other territories. If support for absorbing the blocs now comes from Labor or other center-left parties, it can be interpreted as a white flag of surrender.

Then there is the issue of the settlers themselves and the ideology they represent. Not all settlements are the same, with different municipalities evincing distinct political bents, some Ultra-Orthodox, and a few (mainly in the Jordan Valley) even liberal and secular. But the vast majority tilt toward the national-religious right, and this is particularly true in the blocs. In the 2015 election, overwhelming majorities in the Gush Etzion settlements voted for Bayit Yehudi, a one-state national-religious party. Ma’ale Adumim, another bloc, saw 48 percent vote for Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and 15 percent go for Bayit Yehudi. Ariel, a more contentious bloc (both for its size and relative distance from the Green Line) gave about 47 percent to Likud and 13 percent to Bayit Yehudi. Such settlements are not static entities, but seek to push deeper into the occupied territories (for this reason some in the blocs, like Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, oppose the routing of the security barrier around their communities).

That the settlement blocs are viewed as compatible with a two-state solution does not mean their residents believe in such an outcome. Annexing the blocs does nothing to engender support for mutual accommodation with the Palestinians among settlers. It rewards the settlers by legitimizing their presence in the absence of a deal while asking nothing in return.

But any consensus on annexing the blocs is illusory. As with the status of West Jerusalem (indisputably Israeli territory) as Israel’s capital, officially absorbing the blocs was intended to come after an agreement. For now, most centrist and left-wing Israelis still appear to recognize this. Eitan Cabel’s statements were roundly condemned by leading figures on the Israeli center-left, including Labor chief Avi Gabbay (who found himself in hot water for similar comments after becoming party chairman last year). However, as prospects for a treaty grow ever more distant, the appeal of jumping straight to annexing the blocs will grow, both among the settlers themselves and impatient two staters.

Matzav-R copy
We respect your privacy.