Paul Pillar

Settlements versus the Interests of Israelis

Thursday's op ed page in the New York Times provides multiple reminders of how much Israeli policies toward the occupied territories, while damaging many things, are not least of all damaging to the interests of Israelis. Nicholas Kristof's column, in the course of calling the U.S. Congress to account for its “tomfoolery” in cheering on some of the most destructive Israeli actions in the territories, also notes the basic contradiction between Israel's program of colonization of the territories and the fundamental Israeli objective of a free and democratic Jewish state. In the apt words of Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, “If things don’t change pretty soon, chances are that the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will slip through our fingers. As that happens, the dream of the Jewish people to be a free people in their own land also slowly disappears.”

Elsewhere on the same page, a piece by the Israeli journalist Dimi Reider and Palestinian columnist Aziz Abu Sarah describes the less obvious connection between the colonization program and the grievances of Israelis who currently are demonstrating over the high cost of living and the high cost of housing in particular. Much of the lack of affordable housing in Israel is due to policies that have essentially taken resources away from remedying that shortage and used them instead to subsidize settlements in the occupied territories. As the writers put it, “Israel today is facing the consequences of a policy that favors sustaining the occupation and expanding settlements over protecting the interests of the broader population.”

The allocation of housing budgets is not even the largest part of how colonization of the occupied territories has significantly hurt the economic interests of Israelis. A host of other expenses, most of them outlays related to security that would not have been incurred if it were not for the settlements, as well as secondary economic effects of the occupation may have cost Israel more than $50 billion since the 1967 war in which the territories were seized. The direct annual cost of maintaining control over the occupied territories is an estimated $700 million.

The big misdirection of resources shows no sign of ending. Also in the news is word that the Israeli government has given final approval for the construction of more than 900 additional homes for Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem. Israel's interior minister cynically linked the decision to the concerns of the demonstrators by saying that the project was important in providing affordable housing units. He said nothing about how, under different policies, equivalent housing could have been built for less expense within Israel itself.

Anyone with a concern for the interests of Israelis, including the demonstrators having a tough time finding affordable housing, ought to feel sympathy for how they have been shamelessly manipulated by those, including within their own national leadership, who are more concerned about hanging on to captured land than about either peace or their own citizens' cost of living.