Two recent, and related, stories got a surprisingly small amount of press here, and even among the shmoozerati there hasn't been much notice about them. A short while ago, Haaretz publicized the Israeli data base of settlement activity in the West Bank. The punchline, presented nicely in the Times online, along with some neat other stuff, is not good: in some seventy-five percent of the settlements, construction took place without, or contrary to, official permits. In 30 settlements, construction took place on land owned by Palestinians (there's a word for this). Keep in mind, please, that these figures are not just about those settlements labled by the Israeli government as "illegal", but those claimed to be "in accordance with international law."
In thinking about the settlements, it's important to keep in mind the lessons of Gaza. Not the recent war, but the withdrawal. If it wasn't common sense before hand, it was proven by demonstration: settlers assume their homes are permanent.
"Well, duhhh" do I hear you say? Hardly. For years - for decades - there has been the official claim that the settlements are "bargaining chips," with their future status "pending negotiation." But if they're bargaining chips, if the status of the land they're on is uncertain, why establish permanent homes, with schools, synagouges, infrastructure, the whole nine yards, and fill those homes with people who don't plan to move? What the Speigel report demonstrates is that the Israeli government has been engaged in a project - illegal under it's own laws - to informally annex increasingly large chunks of the West Bank.
Now, it's true that lots of countries do and have done lots of illegal things, and many of them - including the USA - are enjoying the fruits of their own land grabs with impunity. The real problem, though, is one of Israel's own safety. Isreal's single greatest security need is a stable, Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, at least moderately prosperous and at least moderately democratic. That being the case, anything that hinders or delays the establishment of such a state endangers Israel and its citizens; threats to the creation of the State of Palestine are threats to continued existance of the State of Israel.
The argument is not whether the settlement project has hurt the prospects for peace, it is only whether it has killed it completely. And yet (and this is the second story) Israel continues to build, unable to face the true costs for what it needs as much as it needs an army.
The existential danger to Israel created by the continued occupation has got to become part of mainstream American Jewish discourse, whether in "insider" conversations synagogues and the meeting rooms of the major Jewish philanthropies, or in public addresses to the Administration. To do less would be disloyal.