On the 30th of March 2017, the Israeli government’s security cabinet approved the building of a new settlement deep into the West Bank area for the first time in 20 years. This happened exactly a week after the United Nations released a resolution outlining the organisation’s concerns about the lack of Israeli actions regarding the number of illegal settlements in Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. “The resolution calls on Israel to take steps ‘to cease all settlements activities in the occupied Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem’. No such steps have been taken during the reporting period”, said Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East (Reuters, 2017 and UNSCO, 2105). According to Riyad Mansour, representative of Palestine to the United Nations, Palestinian authorities see Israeli settlements as “the main obstacle in the path of the two-state solution.” (Aljazeera, 2017).
The Israel-Palestine conflict has been an ongoing struggle between the two states for more than 60 years. In these years, there have been several peacekeeping attempts that mostly ended as a failure due to several reasons, however, the mere existence of the settlements has always been a problem from the start. With the rise of the Israeli far-right and settler violence, the understanding of the driving forces behind these settlements had become one of the key issues to find a solution that both governments would be likely to accept.
Therefore, the impact of the Israeli settlements is evident on the Israeli foreign policy towards Palestine, nevertheless, there has been little research done on this exact topic. However, for this exact reason, I am relying on only a couple of relevant sources in order to explore this new aspect of the situation. I will critically analyse the group’s impact by using Holsti’s national conception role, which I will introduce in the ‘theoretical framework’ section. Besides that, I will also provide background information on the relevant actors. First I will outline the key elements of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the importance of Israeli settlements and the role they play in the conflict. Second, I will focus on the impact of the right-wing socio-political movement that encouraged the building of settlements, Gush Emunim through two relevant case studies. To highlight the impact of these two factors more easily, I decided to analyse their impact’s on two different time frames due to the fact the Gush Emunim was most active during the 1980s and the 2000s as well as demonstrate how the new generation took them one step further and became violent and aggressive. After that, I will subsequently explore the political presence established by the ex-members of the group in today’s political sphere. I believe that by understanding the Gush Emunim’s direct and indirect impact on today’s society and government, the lack of peace process in the Israel-Palestine conflict will be seen differently. The amount of pressure and influence the movement’s supporters have on the government and other institutions show that the settlements and supporters play a key role in any withdrawal attempt, therefore deep understanding of them and their motifs is essential.
Case studies are one of the possible experiments that are used in social science research. Other options include surveys and data analysis, but all of them are helpful in to answer completely different types of research questions, therefore each of them can be used for descriptive, exploratory or explanatory purposes. However, in order to analyse a situation in the most efficient way, one must need to be careful choosing the type of methodology used in research. Case studies are most helpful answering the ‘how or why questions’ and when the researcher has no or little control over the events, however it is important to choose the relevant case study carefully in order to avoid possible sideways that would result in an inconclusive report (Yin;2013). Even tough case studies are an effective way to represent theories in real life situations, some scholars find them less desirable than surveys or experiments due to the fact that they are easily manipulated in order to “influence the direction of the findings and conclusion” (Yin, 2013:9). Explanatory case studies attempt to explain certain events and give an explanation that might prove useful and could be applied to other situations.
In this research project, I will examine the influence of Gush Emunim through two different explanatory case studies. First, I will outline the way the right-wing socio-political movement indirectly influenced the Israeli foreign policy through the Israeli settlements. Second, I will demonstrate the way Gush Emunim had a direct impact on the country’s foreign policy towards Palestine through members of parliament and local administrators.
III. Theoretical Framework
1. Holsti’s National Role Conception
K.J. Holsti’s model of National Role Conception attempts to explain foreign policy behaviour “by terms which suggest patterned or recurring decisions and actions by governments” (Holsti; 1970:233). Together these patterns form the nation’s role conception that is an “important aspect of the total intellectual setting in which day-t-day decision on foreign policy are made” (Holsti; 1970:246). In order to explain different national role conceptions in various countries, one must consider a broad variety of influencing factors, such as traditional policies, economic and technical resources, mass movements, interest groups and socio-economic demands, otherwise the conclusion drawn from only a number of factors would compromise the likeliness of the correct description of state behaviour regarding foreign policy. Holsti also argues that in order to outline a specific pattern in a state’s policy behaviour, it is essentional to take as many of these factors as it is possible into account. That way, the pattern of state behaviour will be more accurate, and easily explained than analysing a single individual’s diplomatic decisions. Only considering a single leader’s decision would only lead to a compromised analysis.
According to Holsti, there are 9 types of classic national roles in literature: revolutionary leader, bloc leader, balancer, bloc member, mediator, non-aligned, buffer, isolate and proctectee. However, these roles tend to ignore the importance of regional relationships, issues and roles, thus a countries behaviour cannot be precisely characterised and would only lead to incorrect conclusions regarding the country’s foreign policy.
Holsti’s research, which was based on eight to ten statements in a two-year period from the highest-level policymakers, came to the conclusion that there are seventeen role conceptions, including the a few that are unique and only helpful to describe a single state’s behaviour. He also finds that the majority of state behaviour cannot be characterised under only one role conception, since “the more active or involved a state is in international or regional affairs, the more national role conceptions its leader will perceive” (Holsti; 1970:284). His study states that according to the conducted research, the average national roles held by country are 4.6
He also argues that decisions considering a state’s foreign policy derive from three sources: the policymakers’ role conception, internal pressures and external pressures or threats. Although he mostly focuses on the first factor, in this essay, I will examine how the domestic pressure generated by Gush Emunim forced the Israeli government to consider the settler’s demands concerning any possible withdrawal from the West Bank.
2. Israel’s National Role Conception
Israelis see Israel as a defensive power. According to Holsti’s definition, a ‘defender of the faith’ are “governments [that] view their foreign policy objectives and commitments in terms of defending value system (rather than specified territories) from attack” and they are likely to “undertake special responsibilities to guarantee ideological purity…” (Hoslsti;1970:246). Israel needs to be some kind of “warrior because its prestate experiences that form its dominant narratives are those of oppression (slavery in Egypt), military defeat (e.g. at Masada 73 CE), or, most prominently, genocide (the Holocaust)” (Sucharov in Haynes; 2009:8). After the country was founded in 1948, neighbouring Arab countries tried to destroy the country several time. There have been five major wars against the neighbouring countries and two internal Arab uprisings, Intifadas. Due to these circumstances, the feeling of uncertainty remains a powerful force that is present in every aspect of the country’s life.
Christopher Haynes argues that defensive, in the case of Israel, means that the country only engaging in wars or armed forces when there is no alternative solution. The Holocaust and other tragic experiences made the country afraid of becoming aggressive, for example, the Israeli Defense Forces can only participate in wars of self-defense (Haynes; 2009), and the Israeli army cannot attack innocent people or answer to any type of aggression. Furthermore, when the state was acting as an aggressor in the 1982 Lebanon War and the First Intifada, governments “who ran on a platform of peace” (Haynes; 2009:9) were elected. As these examples demonstrate, the public opinion had the power to influence the country’s foreign policy by opposing any attacks other than self-defense. Therefore, one must conclude that Israel’s national role conception can be identified as a defensive power.
IV. Background Information
1. The Israel-Palestine Conflict
As Emile Sahliyeh described in her book, In Search of Leadership: West Bank Politics since 1967, the Arab-Israeli conflict “is potentially the most lethal and volatile… and the most difficult to resolve” (1992: 381). Even tough the conflict started as a territorial disagreement between the two states, now it escalated to a much wider problem that symbolises the battle between Islam and Judaism, East and West, Arab and Jew and competition for the leadership of the region (Milton-Edwards, 2011). Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, there have been five major wars, in 1948,1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, that ended with both Israeli and Arab victories. These wars were supported by all the Arab states, and in the meantime only Egypt and Jordan made peace with Israel. All the Arab states of the peninsula still questioning and denying the existence of the State of Israel (Fawcett; 2013). Between 1948-1967, the possibility of peace treaties was limited, and the “[c]onflict characterized relations as Israel embarked on a period of successful state-building, creating an ethnically Jewish state in which Arab citizens were not treated equally” (Milton-Edwards, 2015:118). As a result, Palestinian citizens started to form different sorts of resistance movements and groups that organised the actions of the huge amount of people who felt oppressed by the Israelis. After the Israeli army defeated the joint army of Jordan, Syria and Egypt in the Six Day war in 1967 and they occupied Palestinian-populated areas such as the West Bank and Gaza, the conflict changed. Both parties changed their rhetoric and tactics that led to the Palestinian uprising (First Intifada) in 1987 (Fawcett; 2013). As a reaction to the Intifada, a number of Israeli settlements were created; they moved further into the disputed territories and the Israeli civil communities settled down in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip as well. Today, the conflict is still unsolved. With the 2014 uprising in East Jerusalem, often referred to as the Third Intifada, supporters on both side became emotionally more involved, thus the conflict transformed into a more violent one.
According to B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, in 2017 there are 125 settlements in the West Bank recognised by the government as ‘communities’ and a probably a couple of more illegal ones. In addition, there are 100 outposts, settlements built without government support, Jewish locals in Hebron who receive financial support from the government and several ‘settler enclaves’ in East Jerusalem, West Bank and the Gaza Strip (B’Tselem; 2017). Even tough, officially, Israel has not created new settlements up until now, the Yesh Din’s report, one of the biggest Isreali non-profit organisation fighting for human rights, suggest that “Israel has been advancing a covert parallel track for construction and expansion of areas under its control in the West Bank” (Yesh Din; 2015). While the government might not authorize the establishment of any new settlement, between 2011 and 2015, four outposts were authorised by the Knesset and four of them became independent settlements a couple of years later (Yesh Din; 2015).
The estimated population of these settlements is almost 590,000 and another 250,000 people living in East Jerusalem. The majority of these communities are part of the country’s infrastructure and have full representation in the planning process (B’Tselem;2017). The settlements have been declared as closed military zones, therefore Palestinians are prohibited from entering. Nevertheless, Israeli citizens and tourists can easily access them anytime. Settlers in the occupied territories are subject to law and ensured to all rights as any other citizens living within the Green Line enjoy as well, while Palestinian settlers are constantly living under martial law and their representatives are not included in the decision-making process (B’Tselem; 2017). These outposts are the roots of “multi-dimensional violations of the human rights of Palestinians living in the West Bank, particularly those living in nearby villages” (Yesh Din; 2015). By tolerating them, the Israeli government gives them the feeling of approval which leads to both physical injuries and infrastructural damages on both sides (Yesh Din; 2015).
Habitant of the settlements have become more violent in the recent years. While, Israeli law enforcement usually tries to prevent violent and agressive crimes against the Jewish settlers, or prosecute and severely punish them; atrocities against Palestinians are far more likely to happen and the majority of the attackers have never been prosecuted and authorities are even unable to solve the crimes or find the suspects. According to Yesh Din’s annual report, in 2015 there were 135 reported incidents, including 58 violent offences and 39 property offences. All of them were ideologically motivated against Palestinians, and 27 of them took place inside close Palestinian villages. Six of these attacks were attempted arson of homes while the families were inside (Yesh Din,2016). For example, in July 2015, Israeli Jews burnt olive trees down in a Palestinian village. The Israeli police failed to prosecute and the media did not report the case at all. Four days later, they set fire on a field and destroyed more than 200 kilograms of wheat (Yesh Din;2015).
3. Gush Emunim
Gush Emunim (translated as “Bloc of the Faithful”) is an Israeli right-wing socio-political movement established in 4th of February 1974. The group’ belief based on the teachings of the Ashkenazi Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, and was created by couple hundreds activists who attended the founding convention at Gush Etzion (Newman; 1982). The movement “gave birth to a large number of settlement…which continue to implement the basic ideology laid out by the movements founders, focusing, above all else, on the Greater Land of Israel ideology and spearheaded through its West Bank and Gaza settlement policy” (Newman; 2005:1). The national-religious movement is active in the Gaza Strip, Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, and supported by a mass of civilians, especially the ones living in Israeli settlements. The movement meant to “fulfill what it viewed as a divine obligation to settle the complete Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel), the territory Jews regard as having been promised to them by God, which includes the West Bank” (Byman and Nachs; 2012:79). They felt the establishment of Jewish presence at these territories is their obligation derived from the Torah since both the Jewish land and nation were chosen by God thus the existence and presence of them are unquestionable. Since its founding convention, they resisted any idea or form of withdrawal from the occupied territories since they view it as “ a betrayal of Zionism” (Newman; 2015:196).
Even today, the ideology created and represented by the Gush Emunim strongly influences the settler population. Since they are the most affected by any territorial agreements between Israel and Palestine, they are likely to act violently. These actions are viewed reprehensible by all political parties. Settlers justify these atrocities by the creation and existence of the movement, saying that they are ensuring that “none of the land controlled by Israel would relinquish” (Newman; 2005:194). Since the Israeli settlements still exist and the number of outpost is increasing, it is clear that Gush Emunim successfully turned its message into action.
The movement has never become a formal and official political movement with organised leadership and roles, usually activist with who supported the Land of Israel ideology were associated with them (Neidle; 2013). It evolved from a protest movement to a settlement movement, while at the same time it resembled some characteristics of a political movement. Gradually Gush Emunim adopted a certain political behaviour in order to achieve its goals. Over time, they became an independent political entity that would not participate in the daily political affairs but show their displeasure with the recent decision by organising demonstrations. They have also “built up the necessary organizational framework capable of dealing with budgetary allocations at a wide level” (Newman; 1982:76). Today, the group is not as active as it was before, but its political beliefs are primarily represented by Amana, the official settlement group created by Gush Emunim in 1978 (Amana; 2017), and its ex-members and supporters who work at government institutions. Therefore, the political power might have shifted away from Gush Emunim, but its views and values are still present and forcing the government to consider these groups reactions before any major withdrawal from the questioned territories.
1. Gush Emunim’s indirect influence through the Settlements
“Gush Emunim has always focused on the practical and tangible dimensions of achieving political objectives” (Newman; 2005:207). Their practical actions, the establishment of settlements in the disputed territories, transformed them into a major political pressure group and the leader of the Greater Israel movement. In their eyes, by inhabiting these areas, they are fulfilling their obligations. They argue that every single withdrawal attempt is a setback in the process of redemption thus it is their responsibility, as the true continuers of Zionism, to ensure that Israeli presence is established in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Their untiring attempts to establish settlements in these territories, even after the government’s continuous request not to do so, turned them into a heroic and restless movement supported by citizens across the political map of the country. After the establishment of Amana, they managed to settle more than 250,000 citizens in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Newman; 2005). This movement was officially recognised by the government, received state funding and was part of the country’s infrastructural development. The recognition of Amanah was a big step for Gush Emunim. After that, they could work more closely with the memberd of Knesset and influence policies (Neidle; 2013).
However, the aggressiveness associated with the early stage of the movement left its fingerprints behind. Settlers portrayed themselves as an “essential element in the security and defense policy of the State” (Newman 2005:208), and did everything they could to stop any attempt of withdrawal or step in the direction of peace that they thought was wrong and did not help their case. They opposed any sign of peace process in which their living situation would have been affected. Newman in his 2005 study argues that these are the situations when their arguments are reasonable and justified since every change in the occupied territories would directly affects the settlers. Even though they represent less than one percent of the society (Newman; 2005), demonstrations organised by settlement the organisation or their actions have gained the support of a major part of the society. In 2005, they started a campaign opposing the Gaza Disengagement plan. People who opposed the government’s planned actions were encouraged to tie orange ribbons to their cars, clothes or homes; and the orange colour was represented on billboards throughout the country in order to spread their disappointment with the plan (Newman, 2005). This way citizens in big cities had the chance to show their support towards the settlers and their disagreement with the new policy. Soon counter protesters were wearing blue-white ribbons, however, it made the assumption that opponents of the Gaza Disengagement plan were in the way of the interest of the state and should not be considered ‘real’ Israeli citizens. As an answer the passive protest carried on, and mostly settlers but some supporters of the settlements were wearing orange and blue ribbon, and emphasise the fact that they are the ‘only true’ supporters in Israel since they are the only ones who truly represent the Israeli presence in the territories (Newman; 2005). The volume of the protest forced the Israeli government to reconsider its plan. Nevertheless, the Gaza Disengagement plan was executed on the 15th of August and settlers were “forcibly removed “on the 17th (Washington Post; Israeli Withdrawal from Gaza Explained). Prime Minister Ariel Sharon describe the day as the “most difficult and painful step of all” (Neidle; 2013:502) in hope of peaceful ending the decades-long conflict.
According to James Neidle, the root of the settler terrorism lies in the 2005 disengagement plan and the failure of settlement groups to protect the ones living in Eretz Yisrael. After 2005, there was a major shift in the “ideological composition” (Byman and Nachs; 2012:78) of the settlements and a younger generation of settlers became extremely violent. Members Hilltop Youth, as they call themselves, are second generation settlers, who were born, spent their entire life in those settlements and grew up surrounded by Arab neighbours (Neidle;2013). As a consequence of these factors, they have become violent and dangerous in the past couple of years, as they took the ideas represented by Gush Emunim a step further. Young members of the community are ready to sacrifice everything in order to establish the Israeli presence at the West Bank, while Gush Emunim strongly opposed any kind of violent action. The attacks carried out by them are known as the ‘price–tag attacks’ which the B’Tselem defines as the “act of violence aimed at the Palestinian population and/ or Israeli security forces” ( B’Tselem; 2012). The attacks come in two forms; one form of the attack is when the targets are Palestinians or members of the Israeli peace movement, and the other when IDF soldiers are targeted during attempts to destroy illegal settlements or outpost. The execution of the attacks varies’ but mostly includes stone throwing, graffiti and damaging of property (Neidle;2009 and Byman and Nachs; 2012 and B’Tselem; 2012). The attack that gained the most media coverage was the 2015 olive tree burning. Over the years, the Tophill Youth became so extremist and violent that now nor the IDF or leaders of the settlements are able to neutralise them; thus forces the government to consider the possible wave of attacks before every single decision considering the West Bank.
2. Gush Emunim’s direct influence through political organisations
Although Gush Emunim never became on official political organisation with structured leadership or political agenda, members of the movement gradually started to fill in an important position in institutions within the public sector. They were on the executive boards of settlement organisations, as well as members of right-wing political parties and educational institutions (Newman, 2005). According to Newman, supporters of Gush Emunim and the settlement movement became active in two main areas. Some of them became elected member of the Knesset, and the most of them were elected as “paid officials in the local government and municipal administrations which have been created to manage the settlement network” (Newman, 2005: 203). Most of them were associated with the National Religious Party, but some of them were members of Likud. Even tough the settlers represent less than one percent of the Israeli society, their representation in the Knesset is huge (Newman, 2005). In 2013, twelve members of the parliament resided in one of the settlements (Knesset; 2013).
An other political organization founded by member of Gush Emunim is the Yesha Council, which is often referred to as the successor of the movement (Jewish Virtual Library;). The Yesha Council is an “umbrella organization representing all cities regional, and local councils within the West Bank” (Neidle; 2013:493) and its acronym stands for Judeas, Samaria Gaza, event tough Isrealis are not present in Gaza anymore. The council decided to stay with its original names since it symbolizes the hope and efforts made to establish the Jewish presence within the whole Eretz Yisrael (Yesha; 2014). The council has three aspirations: to ensure the security of the Yesha, improve the infrastructure and to spread their political beliefs and ideology. In some cases, it even works together with the government, to provide water and electricity, and lobbies for the settlement’s interest in the Knesset (Jewish Virtual Library and Yesha; 2014).
Despite the fact the Yesha Council was supposed to carry the legacy of Gush Emunim, they did distinguish themselves in terms of the ideology they represent. James Neidle calls this ideological transition the attempt to “move away from Gush Emunim’s ‘Messianism’ to an era of “pragmatism’” (Neidle;2013 :494). They realized that the majority of the public could not identify with the Messianic rhetoric created by Gush Emunim, but they needed to focus more on the lobbying process with the Knesset and other government institutions, while at the same time engaging with the public in a more efficient way. They chose to shift away from religious rhetoric and started to focus more on activists who are “ideologically more dedicated to the construction of settlements” (Neidle; 2013 :495).
While some of members of Gush Emunim worked in the Knesset, the majority of them worked local government authorities and associated with the Yesha Council. In these smaller local governments, they are able to more efficiently represent and stand for the interest of the settlers. Local authorities are responsible for many different things, such as education and the finance’s of the municipal (Newman; 2005). Since many of the Gush Emunim supporters and members worked at these municipals, they had the chance to directly ensure that local policies would not interfere with the demands and goals of the settlement movement. They were able to use public finding in order to promote their ideological beliefs and to be part of the planning of the new settlements, thus the movement had a direct impact on the Israeli policy. They are in direct connection with the Ministry of Construction and Housing and the Ministry of Defense (Neidle; 2013). In addition, the Sasson Report published in 2005 showed that settlements in the West Bank received huge amount of unathorised government support. The report also states that this illegal way of supporting the communities are “clear violation of the law” (Sasson; 2005). Members of the Yesha Council and local governments have strong ties with members of the Knesset, especially with the ones residing in one of the settlements. These contacts provide the Yesha Council “with a foothold which no other protest movement in Israel’s history had previously succeeded in attaining” (Newman; 2005: 205).
The Israeli-Palestine has been an ongoing struggle for more than sixty years. Since then, there were several peacekeeping attempts, however all of them failed. I the recent years, academic discussion about the role of the Israeli settlements in the conflict has been more frequent. Many politicians and scholars believe that settlements stand in the way of the peace process, however only a handful of them concentrates on their impact on the country’s foreign policy. In this essay, I desired to fill in this gap and highlight their impact on the Israeli society and the government decision making process. In order to do so, I decided to focus on the role of Gush Emunim and how it started the whole settlement movement from nothing and they way it became involved in the daily political life of Israel. In order, I used Holsti’s national role conception theory to outline the way internal pressure can chance government policies.
Gush Emunim, as a pressure group, has been the driving force between the settlement movement since its establishment in 1974. Although, the group is not active anymore, its political beliefs are still represented through its members and settlement organisations founded by them. During the movement’s most active period, between the 1908s and early 2000s, their support from every segment of the society pressured the government to reconsider the Gaza Disengagement plan and other withdrawal attempts. Today, their legacy is carried by the the settler organisations founded by Gush Emunim, such as the Yesha Council and the Amana, as well as their ex-members who work as government officials. Even today, Gush Emunim’s legacy is controversial, since they radical views in terms of establishing the Jewish presence in the Eretz Yisrael fuels the young generation of settlers. They use the group’s legacy to justify their aggressive and violent atrocities against Palestinian citizens and the Israeli law enforcement. Their actions force the government to reevaluate every step in the peace process, since their actions endanger innocent citizens lives. However, as the case studies meant to represent, the socio-political movements impact on today’s Israeli society and policy-making process cannot be questioned.
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