Israel should be building more settlements – just not in the Occupied Territories.
That was the view of Oxford University Israel studies academic Sara Hirschhorn who opened a panel debate before a large audience at the Limmud conference on Sunday on the pros and cons of settlement construction.
Dr Hirschhorn argued that building settlements within the Green Line would send out two messages. Firstly, if West Bank settlers were evacuated from their current homes, there would be a place for them to go.
Secondly, it would show that the pioneering spirit within Zionism was alive and well. “For too long, [West Bank] settlers have been the most dynamic camp I the Zionist movement,” she said,
Hannah Weisfeld, the director of peace campaign group Yachad, said that if people believed in a two-state solution then “continuing to build settlement in land destined for that future state of Palestine makes it much harder to achieve.”
She reserved particular criticism for around 100 hilltop settlements which even Israel considered illegal.
But if they were supplied with running water and electricity, then the message being given to them, she said, was “continue doing what you are doing.”
Writer and activist Annika Hernroth-Rothstein defended settlements in Judea and Samaria, arguing that they were not illegal and that the main obstacle to peace was Palestinian rejectionism.
She regarded settlers in such places as “protecting” her and acting as safekeepers of ancestral Jewish territory.
“We have a right to self-defence and there is such a thing as strategic defence when it comes to a country that has a very very narrow waist,” she said. “We need that strategic depth especially with the way that things are developing in the Middle East today – we have a right to survive.”
A fourth speaker, Aryeh Tepper, who lives in Ofakim, was unable to take part in the debate due to transport difficulties reaching the conference venue in Birmingham.