This is a guest post by David Slusky, a graduate student in Princeton’s economics department.
“We, like every administration for decades, do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We believe their continued expansion is corrosive not only to peace efforts and a two-state solution, which we strongly support, but to Israel’s future itself.”
—White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/17/2011
If the Obama administration wants to reduce settlement building in the West Bank, it should demand coordinated economic incentives, instead of blunt instruments like last year’s settlement building freeze. This would focus on the individuals instead of on the physical buildings of the settlements.
Many Israelis become settlers in the first place for economic, not ideological reasons. For example, they want to live near Jerusalem. With the current subsidies for settlers, living, say, a 30-minute commute, in the West Bank (which surrounds Jerusalem on three sides) costs the same as living a two hour-commute west of Jerusalem (within the Green Line). These Israelis are not fanatical; they simply want to live in houses large enough for their families, near observant synagogues and good public transportation to their work.
Current government subsidies create economic settlers, who then, through living with ideological settlers, become ideological settlers themselves. Reducing the number of economic settlers should therefore be a primary target for current American government policy.
Currently in Israel, settlers benefit from numerous financial subsidies (e.g. housing, transportation), all the result of government policy. I’d like to propose that, to non-coercively reduce settlement activity (as opposed to the forceful pullout from Gaza), the Israeli government should:
1) End all subsidies specific to settlers, including:
a. Financial assistance for purchasing or building
b. Education subsidies for students and teachers
c. Trade and industry grants and tax benefitsb
d. Benefits to social workers
e. Transportation subsidies1
2) Create subsidies for “long term” settlers who move back (to prevent individuals from moving and then moving back immediately)
3) Create subsidies for people who live outside of settlements
This will obviously be politically and logistically difficult for any Israeli government but a strong push from the United States government could have a significant impact on the size of the settler population, which is a necessary step toward a comprehensive peace plan.
1 For example, a single bus ride within Jerusalem is NIS 6.40, whereas from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station to the nearby settlements – including some trips over 30 minutes – is only NIS 4.10.