Photo Credit: Stephen M. Flatow
Stephen M. Flatow

From John Kerry’s speech and similar remarks made by other Obama administration officials in recent years, you would think Israel has been building new settlements day and night.

Yet the fact is that no Israeli government has established a single new settlement in more than twenty years.

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When Labor opposition leader Yitzhak Rabin was campaigning for prime minister in 1992, he strongly criticized the Likud government for establishing new Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. Rabin argued that if Israel would stop creating settlements, the Palestinians would make peace and the world would stop being so hostile toward the Jewish state.

Rabin’s thesis was based on hope and speculation, not historical experience. But he won that election, so he had the opportunity to test his thesis. And he did. Reviewing Rabin’s first several years in power, The New York Times noted on January 20, 1995 that Rabin entered office “promising to rein in the aggressive settlement-building of his predecessor” and he proceeded to implement a policy in which “no new settlements are authorized.”

When Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister for the first time, in 1996, he continued that policy: no new settlements were established. Of course, construction within existing settlements continued. As Yitzhak Rabin had said in his famous last speech to the Knesset, on October 5, 1995: “We committed ourselves…not to hinder building for natural growth.”

How could Rabin have done otherwise? People had children, children needed schools, and when they grew up into young adults, they needed apartments. That’s called life. Nobody could expect the Israeli government – whether Likud or Labor – to choke off people’s lives.

Both Likud and Labor did, of course, continue to develop new neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The notion that parts of Israel’s capital are “settlements” is an absurdity that is rejected among Israelis from right to left.

There are some scattered little “outposts” in Judea-Samaria, but the government has not sanctioned them. Some of those outposts, in fact, have been torn down by the government. A few that were built on the land of existing settlements have been permitted to remain. Others are in legal limbo. But only a tiny number of Israelis reside in the outposts; the idea that they constitute obstacles to peace is laughable.

Not only has the government not authorized any new settlements since 1992, but Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom Kerry smeared as an “extremist,” even froze all construction in existing settlements for 10 months, because the Obama administration insisted that would bring the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. The Obama theory was quickly exposed as a fantasy.

That’s not all. Israel has already torn down existing authorized settlements. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismantled 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza region and expelled their thousands of residents. Israel was hit by tens of thousands of rockets in return.

So there you have it. No new settlements in 24 years. An unprecedented 10-month freeze on construction in existing settlements. Twenty-one settlements torn down. Only a tiny handful of Israelis living in shacks in some inconsequential hilltop outposts.

According to the anti-settlement crowd, Israel by now should have peace with the Palestinians and should be loved by the world.

Instead, we see exactly the opposite.

The Palestinians are even more violent today. The world hates Israel even more. And the Obama administration is obsessed with picking fights with Israel – over, of all things, the settlements.

How can this paradox be explained?

The answer may have more to do with psychology than anything else. The psychology of bullies, to be precise.

We live in a world full of countries that are bullies. They occupy other people’s land (see: Russia). They sponsor terrorism against people of other faiths (see: Iran). They explode if an American president-elect takes a phone call from a rival (see: China). They swallow each other alive (see: countless warring African countries).

They respect countries that are strong and self-confident. They despise and take advantage of countries that seem timid or hesitant. When they see weakness, they smell blood. Israel’s constant concessions – from halting new settlements to releasing imprisoned terrorists to stopping wars in Lebanon and Gaza short of victory – have been seen as signs of weakness. Israel is seen as stumbling, ineffectual, unworthy of respect, perhaps on the verge of collapse. Israel is seen as a country that everyone naturally gangs up on, because everyone assumes the Israelis will make yet more concessions.

That’s what brings us to today’s peculiar reality, in which Israel makes repeated concessions on settlements, and Obama, Kerry, and the UN become even more obsessed with settlements. Fortunately, there appears to be light at the end of this miserable tunnel, as Israel’s leaders join hands with America’s new leadership to forge a better future for both countries.

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