Middle East Roundtable /
An Israeli View:
Regrettably, destroy the houses
by Yossi Alpher
The prospect of a coordinated, "bilateral"
Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip has rekindled interest in the fate
of the real estate left behind once the settlers have departed or are
physically removed. A number of schemes have been broached for leaving the
settlements intact and turning them over to the Palestinian Authority for
The PA refuses to pay for the houses, infrastructure, institutional
buildings and greenhouses. It also refuses to recognize Israel's right to
seek "credit" for these assets against the day when a final status agreement
obliges it to pay compensation to the 1948 Palestinian refugees. The PA
argues that it cannot recognize the financial value of settlements built
illegally on its land. But it has no reason to reject the offers of third
parties, possibly including wealthy Arab businessmen, to buy the buildings
from Israel and integrate them into a development project or turn them over
to the PA for its use.
Yet there remain good reasons why the preservation and purchase of private
settler homes--as opposed to greenhouses, roads, electric and water
infrastructure, industrial facilities and institutional buildings, which
should be left intact--still makes no sense. First and foremost, Palestinian
city planners don't want these one or two storey single family dwellings;
the buildings take up valuable space housing relatively few people, whereas
the urgent housing needs of Palestinians in Gaza dictate that the
settlements be largely razed and replaced by high rise apartment houses.
Where previously some 8,000 settlers dwelled, Palestinian planners will
house hundreds of thousands of needy Palestinians. After having imposed the
settlements on the Palestinians for some three decades, the least we can do
is heed their wishes.
Secondly, the departing settlers' emotional plight is going to be traumatic
enough without exacerbating it by leaving their homes in place. Some of the
Palestinians who would eventually live in the settlers' homes might have
personally attacked Israelis. If Israel wants to continue with further
redeployments after Gaza, it must do everything possible to help the
uprooted settlers resume their lives inside Israel with a minimum of
Further, the ongoing existence of their former homes just across the border
in Gaza, in some cases visible through binoculars from Israel, would
inevitably serve as the objective of irredentist claims and longing by the
former settlers. For years after the withdrawal from Sinai and the
destruction of Yamit in 1982, settlers continued to write poems of longing
for "their" Sinai.
Why feed this extremism by leaving actual dwellings in place, so that aging
ex-settlers can point and tell their grandchildren, "there, there is our
home". Palestinian refugees, for that matter all refugees, well know the
power of symbols like abandoned homes. In this sense, whether by design or
not, the demolition of Yamit--by, of all people, Ariel Sharon--helped
guarantee that the removal of its settlers, in some cases by force, was not
a very traumatic experience for Israel.
I doubt a third party will really be interested in buying these homes merely
in order to destroy them in accordance with Palestinian wishes.
So the question that remains is, who will do the demolishing? It could make
sense for Israel to leave the settlements in their entirety to the PA or to
a third party like the World Bank, so that planners can evaluate the
buildings and decide objectively what to destroy and what to leave standing,
how to adapt the roads and electrical and water infrastructure for
Palestinian needs, and how best to dispose of the building waste, e.g., as
landfill for the construction of the Gaza port.
But only if Israel can be absolutely certain that the vast majority of the
actual dwellings, along with synagogues and other sensitive buildings, will
indeed be quickly destroyed and not grabbed by squatters.
Otherwise, the IDF will have no choice but, for the good of all concerned,
to destroy the dwellings and truck away the wreckage.- Published
28/2/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and
bitterlemons-international.org. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center
for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to
PM Ehud Barak.
Bitterlemons-international.org is an internet
forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its
specific concerns. It aspires to engender greater understanding about
the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers
and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the
region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at