Because it's the daily manifestation of the Occupation. It's currently the most prominent and active aspect of the Occupation. Of course, if we resume negotiations and reach an agreement, the settlements will be the problem. If there weren't settlements, the Occupation wouldn't exist; for Israel, withdrawing from the Occupied Palestinian Territories wouldn't be such a high stake endeavor if it were merely withdrawing our military control. All of the Occupation-related mechanisms - road blocks, checkpoints, permits, the infrastructure we've set up - are mostly a result of the "need" to protect the settlers, which has become the essence of the Occupation.
On a more symbolic level, in terms of the State of Israel, we already agreed to a Palestinian state - a Palestinian entity - at Oslo and withdrew our soldiers [from Palestinian cities]. From the Israeli perspective, we have already made peace, and yet we've continued building settlements. What does that say to the Palestinians? That we have no intention of budging. If you build, it means you don't intend to withdraw: you plan to stay.
Yesterday, I visited Ali, my friend from Al Khader, near Bethlehem. His story doesn't appear to be at all complicated, but you wait and wait, and nothing happens. In 1999, the UNDP,
a UN agency that provides farmers with assistance, helped operate a soil improvement project in the Bethlehem region of Gush Etzion
in Israel. This kind of project requires a lot of work, so several farmers got together under the UNDP's auspices to work on thirteen different farmlands. The Palestinians obtained permits from the Civil Administration because they are the landowners, but when settlers saw them working on the land they labeled the project "Palestinian outposts" and went to the Head Commander of the [Israeli] army's Central Command and said, "Look! Your Director of the Civil Administration granted Palestinians permits to build outposts!" There is a struggle over land [in the Occupied Palestinian Territories], and what were the settlers claiming? They were claiming the Palestinians were "taking over" lands that settlers could potentially claim for themselves. After that, Ali and the other farmers were only allowed to work on the plots they were already farming, rather than the rest of their properties, which included plots that required the assistance of tractors in order to make them arable plots of land. In other words, the project was worthless because the lands that were already being farmed weren't the ones that needed help.
A year later, the Intifada broke out and there was terrible violence in the Al Khader and Bethlehem area. There were sieges, people weren't permitted to leave the area for entire weeks and Palestinian farmers weren't allowed to work on their farms. One day, the farmers went out and saw that four settler caravans had settled [on their land]. They found a lawyer through a human rights organization and petitioned the High Court of Justice to request that the settlers be ordered to leave. The court said, "If you want them vacated, go get an eviction order demanding they vacate the premises." From the State's perspective, these are illegal caravans: they were not authorized to settle, there was no regional plan authorizing settling there and the government hadn't made any formal decision to erect a new settlement. [The Civil Administration] issued a demolition order [of the settler's outpost], but nothing happened.
Ali's cousin fought, but she lost. She said something interesting, "Every time a settlement had gone up I had thought that it just couldn't have happened [out of nowhere]; there are plenty of suspicions about [Palestinians] selling lands [to settlers]. Until it happened to me I didn't really believe that even when you put up a fight, you fail." We tried to take it to the High Court of Justice using a different approach: we demanded the [Civil Administration's] demolition order be implemented. The settlers haven't received permission to stay, so we requested they be removed and the Civil Administration's commitment be honored. It's a very strong case. We petitioned the court just over a year ago, but the next hearing has been repeatedly postponed.