“Natural Growth”

“Natural Growth”

One Congressman seems to be confused about what freezing “natural growth” in West Bank settlements would mean:

“Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House foreign affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, said focusing on settlement activity “detracts” from top U.S. goals in the region. However, he added: “I do not support a settlement freeze that calls on Israeli families not to grow, get married, or forces them to throw away their grandparents. Telling people not to have children is unthinkable and inhumane.””

Asking Israelis not to have kids, or to throw away their grandparents, would be inhumane. That’s probably one reason why no one has proposed any such thing. A settlement freeze would just prevent Israel from building any new houses in West Bank settlements. If anyone could explain to me why a ban on construction would require not getting married, or not having children, or putting your grandparents on whatever the Israeli analog of ice floes is, I’d be fascinated to hear about it. (I’d be even more fascinated to learn how such a ban could be, as one Israeli cabinet member put it, “akin to Pharaoh’s demand that all firstborn sons be thrown into the Nile River.” Who knew?)

A construction ban might, of course, mean that a settler’s house could get crowded as his or her family grew. In that case, that settler might have to, well, buy another house. And if no new houses were going up in settlements, houses there might get more expensive. Settlers could then choose between paying the extra money and moving back to Israel. Horrors!

Gershom Gorenberg has an article in the Prospect about shopping for houses in the West Bank. You might wonder: if Israelis need to build new houses on the West Bank so as not to throw away their grandparents or toss their firstborns into the Nile, how is it that Gorenberg, who does not live on the West Bank, can find them for sale? It’s a good question. Gorenberg’s answer:

“Settlements were established as part of a deliberate and controversial gambit, an attempt to lock Israel into keeping the occupied territories. A settlement freeze or evacuation has always been a possibility. “What will we say to a family living with one child, which now has four or five children? That the children will move to Petah Tikva?” asked Hershkovitz, referring to one of Tel Aviv’s large satellite cities. Well, yes. The whole family, or any grown children, could move inside Israel.

But focusing the argument for settlements around expanding families is itself a very deliberate distraction. Construction in settlements is not aimed only at accommodating children of settlers. It’s aimed at drawing more Israelis across the Green Line boundary between Israel and the West Bank. When I spoke to the Amana office, the sales rep didn’t ask me whether I’d grown up in a settlement or where I currently live. She offered me real-estate deals. Were I a right-winger, were I someone who preferred not to think about the disastrous implications of permanent Israeli rule of the West Bank, were I not me, her offers would have been very tempting. Instead of the apartment in which I’ve raised three kids in Jerusalem, I could get a house, a yard, and considerable change.

Settlement homes aren’t quite the giveaways they were a few years ago. But they are still cheap, subsidized housing that continues to draw Israelis to move to the West Bank. In 2007, the last year for which there are official figures, the settlement population (not including annexed East Jerusalem) grew by 14,500 people. Of that growth, 37 percent was due to veteran Israelis or new immigrants moving to occupied territory. The “natural growth” argument is intended to cover up the continued, state-backed effort to encourage this migration. (…)

Netanyahu and his partners don’t want any of this to stop. They want settlements to keep growing, in order to block an Israeli withdrawal and a two-state solution. Obama wants a freeze as the first step toward a solution. The natural-growth argument is worse than a distraction; it’s a scam. Let the buyer beware.”

The settlements need to be dismantled, not expanded. And letting buyers from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv find houses in settlements that are cheaper than those they could buy in Israel proper is not “natural growth”.