IN HIS first U.S. visit as Israel's prime minister earlier this month, Yitzhak Rabin was hoping for signs that a change in his government's policies toward the Palestinians would encourage FTC Congress to approve a U.S. guarantee for $10 billion in development loans. Now Israeli-Arab negotiations have resumed in Washington, as has debate over Mr. Rabin's policies on Israeli settlement of the occupied territories.
When he formed his Labor-led coalition government in June, Mr. Rabin announced that it would temporarily halt the construction of new "political" settlements, but would continue building "security" settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians, of course, want a freeze on all settlement activity. U.S. officials, including the president, want to know exactly how Mr. Rabin defines "security" settlements.
Mr. Rabin's commitment to slow the pace of settlements could be a small step in the right direction if it leads to a ban on all settlements. But as it stands now, the new government's policy would continue to put Israelis in harm's way. And, to the extent that the new policy perpetuates the impression that settlements are necessary for security, it could make peace harder to reach.
The experience of the past 43 years shows that settlements, no matter what they are called, do not enhance Israeli security. On the contrary, settlements anywhere undermine the personal security of the Israeli people and the strategic security of the Israeli state.
Between 1949 and June 1967, when Israel was nine miles wide at its narrowest point, some Israeli communities were within range of Jordanian and Syrian guns. During that 18-year period, when there were no Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza or the Golan Heights -- areas then under Arab control -- relatively few Israelis were victims of terrorism or guerrilla warfare.
But after 1967, when Israel -- under a Labor government -- captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Gaza and began establishing "security" settlements, the number Israelis killed by Arabs increased. Nevertheless, despite evidence to the contrary, all Israeli governments have asserted that Israel's need for "strategic depth" would require some settlements and retention of significant portions of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In a very limited sense, Israeli control of the West Bank might have enhanced Israelis' personal security if Israel had allowed the West Bank, roughly 31 miles wide, to become a demilitarized zone between itself and its eastern Arab neighbors -- as suggested in U.N. Resolution 242 -- and had kept its population within Israel's pre-1967 borders. But instead of using the West Bank as a buffer, Israel began moving settlers eastward -- including into the agricultural Jordan Valley. Israelis were again within range of attack from Jordan.
The very process of establishing settlements increases both motivation and opportunity for Palestinians and Israelis to kill each other. In order to create settlements, it is necessary for the Israeli government to confiscate agricultural land and water and to place armed, land-hungry ideologues in the midst of 1.7 million land-poor Palestinians. (Since 1967, Israel has confiscated at least 50 percent -- perhaps as much as 75 percent -- of property in the West Bank.)
Clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli army -- the occupied territories are under military administration, not civilian -- were inevitable. Not surprisingly, the number of Israelis -- as well as Palestinians -- killed in the occupied territories and Jerusalem exceeds the number killed within the boundaries of prewar Israel.
Thus, the experience of "living together and creating the conditions for peace" (the axiomatic Israeli rationale for settlements) has instead caused Israelis and Palestinians to fear and hate each other more than ever, hardly a prescription for enhancing anyone's security.
Nor have settlements promoted Israel's strategic security. An Israeli presence on the West Bank did not prevent the "war of attrition," which cost 200 Israeli lives, the Yom Kippur war, which cost 2,600 lives, or the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which cost 750 Israeli lives. Neither settlements nor control of the West Bank protect Israeli population centers from missiles and other modern weapons of mass destruction -- as proved by Iraqi Scud attacks on Tel Aviv during the gulf war.
Most important, by obliging Israel to retain significant parts of the captured territories, including a greatly expanded East Jerusalem, permanent settlements make it harder to attain a just and lasting peace, a prerequisite for security for Israelis and Arabs.
Israel's performance in the occupied territories, not its stated policy in Washington, is the key to peace. Regardless of government policy, the settlers will defy Mr. Rabin at every opportunity and seek to change the demographics of the occupied areas.
Mr. Rabin's American interlocutors should monitor his government's treatment of the Palestinians and urge him to end all settlement activity. The prime minister must realize that if Israelis continue to settle the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the very best they can hope for in the future is another Northern Ireland. America should encourage Israel to avoid that outcome.
Kenneth Longmyer is director of international affairs at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington.