Ah, the two-state solution, so uncomplicated, so elegant, so eminently fair. If only the Palestinians were not determined to destroy Israel.
For J Street, the pro-Palestinian lobby that advocates two states, the group’s simplistic worldview is encapsulated in a page on their website called By the Numbers. There are no sources cited for any of the numbers, but let’s analyze them.
One is that 42 percent of the West Bank is zoned for settlements. Assuming the figure is correct, so what?
Following the Oslo Accords signed by the Palestinians, Israel withdrew from more than 40 percent of the West Bank. As for the other 60 percent, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated, “I wish to remind you, we made a commitment … to the Knesset not to uproot any settlement in the framework of the Interim Agreement, nor to freeze construction and natural growth.” The agreements do not prohibit or restrict the establishment or expansion of Jewish communities in the West Bank.
A second statistic is the number of illegal outposts in the West Bank. J Street says it’s 100. This is an issue that has been repeatedly raised within Israel; in fact, one of those outposts, Evyatar, was evacuated last week—at least temporarily. In May, legislation was introduced to legalize 70 outposts. It did not pass. The outposts are set up in defiance of Israeli law, not Oslo.
J Street does not have a statistic for the number of Palestinian buildings illegally constructed in the West Bank nor does it care about these violations of the peace agreement. The Oslo Accords give Israel full control of “Area C” and any construction by Palestinians in the area without Israel’s permission is illegal. In 2016, the European Union funded at least 91 illegal structures and, in 2017, another 57. In July 2020, the E.U., Denmark and the Palestinian Authority signed a nearly $7 million agreement to build 16 infrastructure projects in “Area C,” which brought the total E.U. contribution to more than $18 million for 58 projects.
J Street says there are 125 settlements in the West Bank and 600,000 settlers in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. According to West Bank Population Stats, 128 settlements had a population of 475,481 as of the beginning of 2021. Another 23 communities with 325,000 Jewish residents live in the Old City and eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem internationally considered part of the West Bank.
The J Street data is problematic because it is wrong and, by including eastern Jerusalem, the organization tacitly accepts the Palestinian position that Israel’s capital is occupied territory that should be divided.
It is surprising the group so badly underestimates the number of settlers given that it speciously argues they are the obstacle to peace. The explanation may lie in another number the group uses, which is probably most reflective of its simplistic approach to the issues. According to J Street, 50 percent of Israelis living in areas likely to become part of a Palestinian state under a peace agreement would voluntarily relocate to Israel proper if compensated.
I’m not sure if this figure is from a J Street poll, which I wouldn’t trust, but the only surveys I found have very different results.
A 2007 poll of settlers in 60 of the most remote (and most radical) settlements suggests found that 37 percent would accept compensation in return voluntary evacuation; 25 percent said they would “actively oppose” evacuation of their settlements. Keep in mind the number of settlers was less than 300,000 (excluding Jerusalem).
Among those unwilling to move, 65 percent said their positions were influenced by the disengagement from Gaza. This was when Hamas first took control of Gaza, and before the escalation of rocket attacks that led to “Operation Cast Lead” in December 2008 and the thousands of rockets that were later fired at Israel. At the time, settlers were more concerned about the way the Gaza evacuation was conducted and the treatment of the settlers by the government after the withdrawal than they were about the West Bank becoming Hamastan.
In April 2008, when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was considering unilateral withdrawal, legislation was introduced to compensate settlers who voluntarily left their homes. Like J Street, sponsors of the proposal claimed as many as 50 percent of the settlers would agree to leave. In September 2008, however, Vice Premier Haim Ramon presented a survey to the cabinet that indicated that only about 18 percent, or 11,000, of the 61,000 settlers then living east of the security fence would agree to relocate in return for financial compensation.
Two years later, a survey found that of the 80,000 settlers residing in isolated settlements only 16 percent would be willing to relocate, and a 2014 survey reported that of the 95,000 Jews living outside of Israel’s security fence, 40 percent said they would refuse to leave even if Israelis voted in a referendum for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
Consider also a 2015 poll sponsored by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, which showed that half of Jewish Israelis thought Israeli civilians should return to Gaza.
The pro-Palestinian lobby advocates the ethnic cleansing of Jews from their historic homeland. How many Jews are to be removed?
Most peace plans assume that Israel will annex the major settlement blocs to incorporate 75 to 80 percent of the settlers. The problem is that only about 71 percent of the Jews live in those blocs today. That means Israel would have to remove roughly 140,000 Jews from their homes. Even if the percentage in the blocs reached 80 percent, more than 90,000 Jews would still need to be evacuated. This excludes the 325,000 Jews the Palestinians want removed from eastern Jerusalem.
Zvika Krieger wrote in The Atlantic in 2012 that “getting the 100,000-plus Israelis out of the West Bank would likely be the most practically and politically challenging element of an agreement to implement.”
Let’s go along with the fantasy for a moment. The last number J Street provides is $300 million for the amount the Israeli government spends annually to fund settlements. That is about $630 per settler each year. Presumably, this is presented to suggest the ethnic cleansing of Jews is desirable because it would save Israel money.
Setting aside the emotional cost of forcing thousands of Jews from their homes and the schism that it would cause in Israeli society, let’s just look at the economic cost.
The cost of the Gaza disengagement was at least $1.3 billion. These expenses were to compensate for the evacuation, the value of homes, land and businesses, unemployment benefits, replacement of synagogues and the length of time living in their homes. If these figures are accurate, the cost per settler was about $165,000. In addition, the Israel Defense Forces was expected to spend about $500 million to remove bases and equipment from Gaza.
Jews in the West Bank would likely demand more money than the Jews in Gaza received. For argument’s sake, let’s say, on average, the cost per settler was $200,000. The cost to compensate 90,000 to 140,000 Jews would be between $15 and $23 billion or about 11 percent to 18 percent of the Israeli budget. Add the Jews of Jerusalem and the range is $83 billion to $93 billion, a staggering 65 percent to 72 percent of the budget. Neither estimate includes the cost of relocating IDF resources.
In the end, the numbers are irrelevant because the Palestinians have no interest in peace at any price.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”
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