By Daniel Chejfec
Much has been said about Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza – in favor and against. But beyond personal preferences...are the settlements good for Israel?
Just for a minute let's try to sort the issue. First question is of course whether Jews should be allowed to live in the West Bank and Gaza. My answer to this is a resounding YES. Jews should be allowed to live wherever they want; New York, Tel-Aviv or Hebron. Second question is whether Jews living in those areas should be allowed to expand their villages and communities. My answer to that is again a resounding YES. Jews, like everybody else, should be allowed to build houses to have their children live in their villages. The third question is should the Jewish State become involved by financing this construction and encouraging people to live in these villages. My answer to this question would have to be NO. Let me explain...
Zionism as a political movement was organized to ensure the self-determination of the Jewish people in our ancestral land, and it was modeled after the liberal democratic principles prevalent among Jews in those days – and today. That means that the fulfillment of Zionism requires a Jewish Democratic State. Do you think you know where I'm going?; don't be so sure, keep reading. Most people in Israel are aware – painfully or enthusiastically- that any peace deal with the Palestinians will involve withdrawal from most of the West Bank to make room for a Palestinian State; that is not to say that all American Jews would subscribe to such a withdrawal. The difference of opinions probably stems from the fact that for many American Jews Israel is at best a cause they support “for yenem” (Yiddish expression meaning for somebody else). Israel is seen by them as a refuge for Jews in distress (not for them). For Israelis, Israel is simply the place where they live and they have this crazy ideas that they want to live normal lives instead of going through metal detectors every time they go to a mall or wondering what that guy next to them in the bus is hiding under the shirt.
If Israel is eventually going to withdraw from most of the West Bank as every Prime Minister of Israel this side of 1993 has said, investing on Real Estate you will have to abandon doesn't make much sense. Most Arab leaders understand that some of the settlement blocks will be annexed to Israel in a final deal – the Gush Etzion, the Gush Modi'in, etc. So a sound move would be to move those who live on settlements that will have to be abandoned and do not wish to live under Palestinian control to places that will remain part of Israel. So why doesn't Israel do it?
This gets sticky. What would happen if Israel leaves the West Bank today? Based on the current situation, there will be a power struggle between Hamas and Fatah for control in the best case scenario or takeover by Hamas in the worst case scenario; and Hamas is sworn to destroy Israel – not to recover the West Bank and Gaza to establish a Palestinian State living side by side with Israel, but to establish a State of Palestine replacing Israel. And Hamas is ready to do that with Iranian patronage. Israeli leaders are unwilling to gamble the lives of Israeli citizens by clearing the way for Hamas. Yet remaining in control of the West Bank is eroding the morale of the Israeli public and in particular of Tzahal (Israel Defense Forces). So what is the way out?
I believe that a consolidation of the Jewish population of the West Bank in those settlements that will eventually be incorporated into Israel and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank are possible only if the international community is willing to offer guarantees, and only if it is possible to trust such a warranty, which means quite a few elements in the international equation would have to change.
I understand and support what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his speech at Bar Ilan – he is the elected leader of Democratic Jewish Israel and it is his job to keep it that way, by defending the Democratic institutions of the State as well as preserving a Jewish majority, and that means that Israel needs to relinquish control over the Palestinians in the West Bank as it did in Gaza (well, hopefully better than they did there). Sometimes choices are between what you want and what you don't want, but sometimes the choices are between what you don't want and what you are reluctantly willing to accept as the lesser evil.
The Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people and that will never change. But Zionism has come a long way since the days of Ben Gurion. Israel is today a modern state that has proven it cannot be defeated by force; a state that has proven willing to defend Jewish rights anywhere in the planet. Israel can afford today to accept that it is not necessary to exercise political sovereignty over all the land of Israel to fulfill the Zionist dream; but Israel cannot take the risks while the other side is openly calling for its destruction.
I heard a while ago (don't ask me where or when – I don't remember) an interesting commentary: “If the Palestinians put down their weapons they can have a State within a couple of years; if Israel puts down its weapons, Jews will be without a State within a couple of years”
I don't think any of us has the answer to the situation, but each and every one of us should be thinking about it...what is the best for Israel?