Now that Hamas has demonstrated, in case there was still any doubt, that its goal of destroying Israel is not just rhetoric, it becomes even more important to minimize the probability of its taking over the West Bank. The last thing Israel needs is rocket fire from three directions. There is acknowledgment, even within the moderate right, that the settlements are an obstacle to the continued support of the Palestinian Authority by West Bank Palestinians, let alone to a peace agreement.
Unfortunately, even such peace advocates as Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres have endorsed a serious obstacle to peace: the notion of “natural growth.” President Peres told U.S. President Barak Obama in their meeting that “It is unacceptable that children born in Judea and Samaria will not have a place to live. We can’t put them on the roofs.” Similar sentiments were expressed by Prime Minister Barak during his tenure. Putting aside the fact that much of this growth is not “natural,” but is due to migration of Israelis into the West Bank, the whole principle of natural growth is itself arbitrary. Why is it acceptable that the number of inhabitants of a settlement can increase, apparently without limit, as long as they are the progeny of the original settlers? And surely not to be ignored is the Israel Defense Ministry report attesting that the outgrowth of natural growth has been the extension of settlement boundaries onto privately-owned Palestinian land.
The argument that Israel must allow every young couple raised in a settlement to live in that or in other settlements has been rightly rejected by the U.S. government. Certainly, to paraphrase President Peres, children born in Judea and Samaria must have a place to live. But this does not mean that they are entitled to live anywhere they wish. Nowhere in the developed world is such a principle accepted. Married couples from a neighborhood (town, city) are not automatically entitled to be housed there. Zoning ordinances limiting the density of dwellings and the number of inhabitants in a dwelling are the rule. The appropriation of adjoining land is everywhere impermissible. These strictures hold in Israel proper. Why should they be suspended for the Jewish inhabitants of Judea and Samaria?
The Yesha council of West Bank settlements claims that many young couples born in settlements are forced to find accommodations outside of the communities in which they grew up. Perhaps some may even be forced to find housing within the Green Line. Let us hope so.
This is not to say, of course, that natural growth is a primary obstacle to peace. Those obstacles are provided by Hamas. But this means that anything that can be done, should be done to minimize the chance that the West Bank will wind up under Hamas control. Invoking normal zoning standards and revoking the supposedly inalienable right of settlements to increase their population, and the area into which they inevitably expand, would be a good first step.