WorldNetDaily, December 24, 2002

THE 'SETTLEMENTS' ISSUE

By Joseph Farah

Once again, we're hearing that awful word again in the context of the Middle East debate. "Settlements."

That's what the conflict is all about, we're being told. That's why the Arabs are mad at the Israelis. That's the root of the violence, the terrorism, the hatred.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer raised the ugly specter of "settlement" recently in a speech last week. Kurtzer, the former ambassador to Egypt and one of the architects of the failed peace process, once again blamed Israel as an obstacle to peace.

"Israeli settlement activity cripples chances for real peace," he said. Heal so underlined with emphasis and a pregnant pause this conclusion: "Settlement activity must stop."

What about these "settlements"? What are they? Why are they bad? Why should they be stopped?

I think most Americans and most non-Israelis draw certain mental pictures when they hear this term. I know I did before I began visiting "settlements" in Israel. I discovered they were not armed camps. They were not frontier outposts in alien territory. They were not fortresses built to grab more land for Jews. No. Much to my surprise, I found these "settlements" to be nothing more than communities - peaceful Jewish communities that don't interfere with nor abrogate anyone else's rights. They reminded me of suburban developments in Southern California more than threats to peace.

The word "settlement" itself is loaded. Who is a "settler" in the Mideast? According to the Arabs, only Jews are "settlers." But that simply is not the case.

Arafat himself was born in Egypt. He later moved to Jerusalem. If, at the moment, he is living in the West Bank, he is a "settler" there, not a native. Indeed, most of the Arabs living within the borders of Israel today have come from some other Arab country at some time in their life. They are all "settlers."

For instance, just since the beginning of the Oslo Accords, hundreds of thousands of Arabs have entered the West Bank or Gaza - and never left. They have come from Jordan, Egypt and, indirectly, from every other Arab country you can name - and many non-Arab countries as well. These surely aren't "Palestinians."

Since 1967, the Arabs have built 261 settlements in the West Bank. We don't hear much about those settlements. We hear instead about the number of Jewish settlements that have been created. We hear how destabilizing they are - how provocative they are. Yet, by comparison, only 144 Jewish settlements have been built since 1967 - including those surrounding Jerusalem, in the West Bank and in Gaza. Why is it that only Jewish construction is destabilizing?

The Arab "settlement" activity is not new. This has always been the case. Arabs have been flocking to Israel ever since it was created - and even before, coinciding with the wave of Jewish immigration into Palestine prior to 1948.

And that raises a question I never hear anyone ask: If Israel's policies make life so intolerable for Arabs, why do they continue to flock to the Jewish state? Why aren't they leaving in droves if conditions are as bad as they say?

The truth? There is more freedom under Israeli rule than there is in any Arab country. If you're a headstrong Arab, bent on protest, this is the place to be. Don't try throwing stones at Syrian police. You won't live long. Don't try publishing anti-kingdom newspapers in Saudi Arabia. You won't live long.

Don't try fomenting revolutionary jihadism in Egypt. You won't live long. So, sooner or later, those who are determined to protest, the professional agitators, the future Arafats of the Arab world all come to Israel. The Arab world is happy to be rid of them. This exodus serves two purposes - limiting the threat to Arab regimes and fanning the uniting flames of anti-Israel hatred. It's a population safety valve the totalitarian Arab world just loves.

Prior to 1900, the entire region was a barren wasteland with low populations of Jews, Muslims and Christians. No one had much interest in the Holy Land, as Mark Twain pointed out in his own travels to the area - until the Jews began to return.

Then the economic activity began. The jobs were created. The opportunities appeared. And then the Arabs came.

The "settlement" issue is a canard. It's a propaganda ploy to suggest that only Jews are newcomers to the region. The truth is there are lots of "settlers" and would-be "settlers" in the area - including Arafat and his friends.

By the way, under the Oslo Accords, there are no restrictions whatsoever on Israeli construction in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. None. Zip. Nada. Zilch. These "settlements" are perfectly legal. And I, for one, can see no legitimate reason for them to stop.



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