In the December 1995 issue of Nekuda, the influential monthly publication of the Council of Jewish Settlements on the West Bank, Editor in Chief Uri Elitzur wrote an editorial calling for the council to engage in direct dialogue with the Palestinian Authority. We print it here1 because his statement gives a sense of the cutting-edge issues the Jewish settlers now face; and because the piece (according to the Tel Aviv daily, Ha'aretz)2 "triggered a storm" of controversy.
It is a different reality altogether. The withdrawal has already taken place, the Palestinian army is on our doorsteps, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a fact. Thanks to Yigal Amir's good deeds it all happened in a flash and in absolute quiet, leaving us no time to protest, cry, or grieve. The question now is not whether this is good or bad, but how to live with it. We will live with it far worse the more time we take digesting it; and we will lose the next battles the more we insist on going on fighting the old wars.
We resemble a family which very vehemently cautioned their daughter not to marry her unsuccessful choice of a husband. We explained to her how miserable her life with him would be, we warned her that she would yet be a battered wife.
Now that the wedding is over, do we wish upon our daughter that our prophecies prove wrong and that somehow everything will turn out just fine; do we wish upon ourselves that her life really will be miserable, so that we can smugly tell her: We told you so?
And how do we treat the bridegroom now? Do we continue to boycott him and refuse to acknowledge his existence, or do we find some human way of respecting and suspecting him at the same time? We have brand-new neighbors, and I propose that we speak to them directly rather than through the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. Given the new reality the opposite would be more apt, that the IDF speak to them through us. We are their neighbors, and it is clear at this point that we -- not the IDF -- are the stable and local Israeli factor. We have thousands of issues to settle with our new neighbors, and I propose that we start discussing them at once: Heads of settlements with heads of neighboring villages, a council head with his counterpart on the other side of the nonexistent border, and the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judaea, Samaria, and Gaza with the PA.
I propose that we travel frequently between the villages and in the cities, without the IDF's protection (what can one do) and under the responsibility of the Palestinian army (that's the situation). We have not left the country.
The previous battle is over. It did not end the way we wanted it to, but we now have to face the next test. After all, we continue to build, settle, and make progress. In order for this enterprise to succeed we must adapt to the new conditions soon rather than try to proceed in an imaginary reality that no longer exists.
In response to Elitzur's proposal, the Council of Jewish Settlements officially took issue with its editor, stating that he "ignores the Oslo accords, whose meaning is that . . . parts of the [Jewish] homeland will be handed over to strangers. The Council . . . will continue to fight the Oslo accords." Individual Council members responded with even stronger statements. Elyaqim Ha'etzni, for example, called Elitzur's suggestion "abysmally naïve" and accused him of "lack of thought, insensitivity, and caving in under pressure."
Other settlers, however, showed more interest. Shilo Gal, head of the Gush Etzyon Regional Council, stated: "In principle I do not rule out a dialogue, but it will take some time . . . there are daily issues that can be promoted only through cooperation . . . the daily reality will prove whether what we have is peace or not." Moshe Leibovitz, head of the Betar local council, goes further, saying that a PA-Council dialogue should have begun already in 1993. And the head of at least one local council of settlers acted on Elitzur's advice: Shlomo Katan of Allet Menasheh wrote to the new Palestinian mayor of Qalqilya to offer warm relations.3
Elitzur responded with satisfaction that although many disagreed with his suggestion, he had opened a debate on the issue. "My main purpose," he explained, "was to rid my colleagues of their fear of the PA and the Palestinian Police, an understandable fear which we must overcome."
1 Translation from FBIS, Dec. 20, 1995.
2 Dec. 15, 1995. All the quotes below also come from this same issue of Ha'aretz.
3 The Jerusalem Report, Jan. 11, 1996.