In any possible Israeli/Palestinian future, what to do with the settlements is one of the most difficult of issues. Several weeks ago, when Ariel Sharon hinted that he might, at some undetermined point in the future, consider dismantling even a few of the settlements, 100,000 Israelis took to the streets to protest. But to Dan Schueftan, the highly regarded Israeli analyst and academic whose concept of unilateral disengagement now dominates debate in Israel, the answer is simple.
“Someone asked me how it will be possible to remove the settlements,” he says. “So I told him the story of a man who went to the doctor with a very serious venereal disease. And the doctor told him the whole instrument would have to be removed.”
Unwilling to accept this fate, Schueftan says, the man was determined to look in every corner of the world until he found a doctor who would give him a different opinion. Finally, he found a doctor in Asia who told him he didn’t need to cut off his penis. “Just leave it alone,” the doctor said. “It will fall off by itself.”
“This is what will happen to the settlements,” says Schueftan. “They will fall off by themselves. Once the fence is built, everything on the other side is doomed.”
Schueftan is a senior fellow at the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa. He also teaches at both the Israel Defense Forces National Security College and the IDF’s Command and Staff College. “My views,” he says at the beginning of our conversation, “are extremely unpleasant and politically incorrect. But I am right.”
Anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot, a liar, or a demagogue. And when pointing out that prime ministers from the left and the right have sought his counsel, he cheerfully says it has given him the opportunity to insult everyone, regardless of ideology.
“Even by Israeli standards, I’m arrogant,” Schueftan says. “But I have such good reason to be that any kind of modesty on my part would simply be false modesty.”
Schueftan is only half kidding. As he watches the Israeli public and its leaders move, however slowly, toward adopting his political vision, he is not above a little gloating. Though the idea of disengagement has been around practically since Israel captured the territories in 1967, Schueftan is largely responsible for its current shape and scope and prominence.
His book Disengagement—Israel and the Palestinian Entity, published in 1999, put the idea of unilateral separation into play. And several critical factors have, over the past 24 months or so, come together to clear a path for Schueftan’s strategy.
There is a growing recognition that the clock is ticking, that a continuation of the status quo is no longer an option. In a poll by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, more than two thirds of the Israelis questioned said they fear that if Israel holds onto the West Bank and Gaza, it will become a bi-national state with a Palestinian majority.
“This demographic threat is getting worse every day,” says Yossi Alpher, co-editor of Bitterlemons.org and the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. “We are approaching a slippery slope at the bottom of which a two-state solution will no longer be possible.”
At the same time, after more than three years of relentless violence, Israelis are exhausted by the pain and suffering. They are also angry over the economic and psychic damage that’s been done to their society. Remarkably, more than 70 percent of Israelis still favor negotiations, but they no longer believe there is a Palestinian partner to negotiate with.
As a result, what they want is disengagement. If a negotiated peace is not possible—and there is currently no reason to believe that it is—Israelis want to unilaterally separate from the Palestinians. It is a searing irony that what the Israelis want is their independence from the Palestinians.
Though Israelis tend to disagree about almost everything, 83 percent support the construction of the security fence, the 452-mile, $1 billion barrier. This despite the fact that the U.S. is opposed to it and the international community may impose sanctions and try to isolate Israel as punishment.
The fence is being built ostensibly to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers. But it is no secret that it will serve as a political barrier as well. When it is completed (there are five phases, the first two already finished), it will create a de facto border, a line in the sand that will essentially be a two-state solution imposed by the Israelis without having to get the Palestinians to the negotiating table.
“Because of the failure of Oslo and the violence of the last three years,” says Schueftan, “Israelis have learned a lesson in the only way Israelis learn lessons. You need to kill a few hundred Jews. Unfortunately, unless you do this, Jews are slow to learn.”
Though it is rarely noted, it was Prime Minister Ehud Barak who was among the first Israeli politicians to adopt pieces of Schueftan’s vision. When Barak made his startling offer to Yasser Arafat at Camp David, his motives were not altruism, fairness, generosity, or a belief—like the one still held by Shimon Peres—that the Israelis and Palestinians could achieve a glorious peace of cooperation. His goal was very clear: separation from the Palestinians.