This is not about some abstract concept, but a genuine concern. The Iranians are, after all, a nation whose leaders have set themselves a strategic goal of wiping Israel off the map.
Look, we have some very smart people on this. Don’t think that we don’t understand the nuances of the settlement issues. We do. Rahm understands the politics there, and he explains them to me.
For more than 15 years now, two Tel Aviv University political scientists, working with pollsters, have been asking Israelis roughly the same the two questions every month: Do you support negotiations with the Palestinians? And do you believe talks will bring about peace between the two sides in the near term? Their project, which started as the Peace Index and was rechristened in 2008 as the War and Peace Index, aimed to track Israeli opinion about a process that began with the 1993 Oslo accord. Optimism has waxed and waned over the years, peaking just after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by a right-wing fanatic, when more than 60 percent of respondents felt good about the peace process, and plunging during the suicide attacks of the second Palestinian intifada.
But rarely since the start of the project have the numbers been as low—consistently low—as in recent years. Only about 40 percent of Israelis now long for a rejuvenated peace process with the Palestinians. An even smaller number, about 20 percent, believe such talks would amount to anything. That doesn’t mean Israelis are warmongers, although right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often complains his government is portrayed that way. Palestinian negotiators were outraged last week when the Israelis approved construction of another roughly 700 housing units in East Jerusalem despite a freeze on new building in West Bank settlements; they claim Netanyahu’s professed desire to sit down and talk is disingenuous. Yet in the long years since the Oslo process began, each side has had its turn—several turns—as the spoiler. And in fact, more Israelis than ever (including Netanyahu, though with major provisions) now say they’re willing to live alongside an independent Palestinian state.
The “caravillas”—a local portmanteau word for mobile villas—were built in a crash program to serve as temporary housing for the Gaza evacuees, following their forced removal from their former homes. Although the government promised to put their resettlement high on its agenda, move them as quickly as possible to permanent housing, and conclude the “disengagement” process, they’re still there. And today, they’re as good a barometer as Israel has for what would happen in an evacuation of the West Bank’s most intransigent settlers. If the debate today is about where to freeze settlement construction, the debate tomorrow could be about how to clear them, how traumatic it would be, and how quickly they could resettle and reintegrate into Israeli society. The former Gaza settlers at Nitzan show that settlers, albeit with difficulty, can be resettled.