Sunday, March 8, 2009

The "Settlers" Aren't So Excited

From this post in Slate Magazine, you'd get the impression that the residents of Yehudah and Shomron (Judea and Samaria) are jumping for joy at the election of Bibi Netanyahu. ("Why Jewish settlers in the West Bank are looking forward to Benjamin Netanyahu's premiership")
In reality, "settlers" (can there be a more sinister moniker?) harbor no such illusions.
As an aside, while there are some who choose to live in Yehuda and Shomron for purely ideological reasons, the vast majority of "settlers" settle where they do for one simple reason: economics. Simply put, you can afford a nicer house with more land in a quieter place in the "territories."
Take my brother and his family for example. He's no settler - at least not by Slate's definition. And yet, a "settler" he is, living in Kiryat Sefer (er, Modiin Illit) together with 35,000 like-minded Hareidim. Why do they (and the residents of the even larger Beitar Illit) live "over the Green Line"? For two reasons:
1. Because they can afford to.
2. Because they like the quality of life.
Prices of apartments in Jerusalem and Benei Brak long ago climbed out of the range of most chareidi families starting out. Moreover, these cities are crowded, cramped, dirty places which boast wonderful communities but challenging lifestyles. In contrast, Kiryat Sefer boasts more open space, fresh air, room for children to play - all while maintaining the spiritual protection of a closed chareidi community.
The Western Media tries to portray all settlers as replicas of Baruch Goldstein, ready at a moment's notice to kill the closest Arab. In reality most "settlers" are much more docile, apathetic about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and to be honest, chareidi. But I digress.
Since receiving a mandate from Shimon Peres to try and form a government, Bibi has made it painfully obvious that he'd like nothing more than to create a "unity" government with the left: Kadimah, Labor - it doesn't really matter that much. Heck, it wouldn't shock me if he tried to create a coalition with Arab parties before turning to the "far right," including, of course, the religious parties. The media here speaks with open disdain about the viability or legitimacy of a government based in large part upon religious parties, be they chareidi parties or religious-zionist parties. So Bibi holds us in his back pocket as a failsafe, all the while hoping that he won't "need" us. That's doesn't make for a great shidduch. Nobody wants to be the "second choice." And it's certainly not a great start for the "right-wing" coalition so emphatically approved by the Israeli electorate.
But hey, it's politics. Israeli politics. When the wooing of the left ultimately fails and Bibi turns rightward, everyone will jump at the chance to sit in the government in power. But the dowry in this marriage will be high - higher than it would have been two weeks ago, and we harbor no illusions about "friendship" and political identity. That went out the window with Ariel Sharon, Gaza, disengagement and the rise of political expediency long, long ago.
The religious Zionist population (so many of whom live in Yehuda and Shomron) does expect Bibi to have to "pay" for their loyalty in relaxed building rules, allowing new apartment blocks and even neighborhoods to develop. But no one expects an ideological shift on the part of the government, even a "far-right" government. He'd drop us like a hot shnitzel at the first sign of a Nobel Peace prize; or a ride on Air Force One. Or a game of Putt-Putt with the American Undersecretary of State for Environmental Affairs.
In the words of one Yesha resident to me, "We're gearing up now for the next hafganah (protest)."