The conflict will only truly end, says Daniel Pipes, “when the Jews living in Hebron need as little security as the Arabs living in Nazareth.”
By Daniel Pipes
A brouhaha erupted recently in Israel over a completely theoretical question: Could Israelis now living in the West Bank be allowed to live under Palestinian rule? This debate usefully focused attention on one of the trickiest and deepest issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and so it bears pondering.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started things off on Jan. 24: “I do not intend to remove a single [Jewish] settlement [on the West Bank]. I do not intend to displace a single Israeli.” Glossing this statement, an unnamed official in the Prime Minister’s Office explained that “just as Israel has an Arab minority, the prime minister doesn’t see why Palestine can’t have a Jewish minority. The Jews living on their side should have a choice whether they want to stay or not.” That aide characterized this as Netanyahu’s “long-standing” position.
Some in the nationalist camp became enraged. Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett, a minister in the current government, blasted the prime minister for reflecting “an irrationality of values” and “ethical insanity.” In his view, Zionists “did not return to the land of Israel after 2,000 years of longing to live under the government of Mahmoud Abbas. Whoever advocates for the idea of Jewish life in Israel under Palestinian rule is undermining our ability to sit in Tel Aviv.”
Others agreed. “We will not abandon settlers behind enemy lines,” said Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon. Such ideas “contravene the Zionist ethos,” observed Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin. “Ludicrous” was the choice adjective of Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Ofir Akunis.
When another unidentified PMO official suggested that members of the government could leave the government if they disagreed with the prime minister, Bennett ratcheted things up, recalling murders of Jews by Palestinians and concluding that “the essence of Zionism is sovereignty. If there is no sovereignty, there is no Zionism.”
The Prime Minister’s Office then retorted with a demand that Bennett apologize or resign, to which he replied that “if the prime minister was offended, this was not my intention” while claiming the right to “criticize him when the situation calls for it. This is my duty.” The incident ended with the surfacing of old interviews showing that Netanyahu and Bennett had each previously articulated the other’s view, leaving things a complete muddle.
What to make of this week-long debate? Who’s right, who’s wrong? Although I usually support Bennett’s approach, Netanyahu is right this time, for many reasons.
The disgrace, trauma and futility of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s removal of 8,000 Israelis from Gaza in 2005 — a move unprecedented for any democracy — points to the imperative for Israel’s government to establish the inviolable principle that it never again will remove its nationals from territory. The Gaza experience also established how much exponentially disastrous it would be to repeat this process with the West Bank’s 40 times’ larger population of Israelis. That Netanyahu strongly objected to Sharon’s decision and left his government in protest against it highlights his honorable consistency here.
Second, why should the government of Israel fulfill the Palestinians’ wish for a Judenrein West Bank?
Third, permitting Jews to live under a Palestinian government is eminently practical. The Israeli flag cannot follow each Jew and make him an island of Zionist sovereignty. Plenty of Jews around the world and even some in the Middle East live outside of Israel’s borders. Why not in the West Bank?
Fourth, the Prime Minister’s Office statement cleverly shreds the campaign of delegitimization against Jews residing in the West Bank. If Jews can live on the West Bank under Palestinian rule, they no longer can be portrayed as obstructing a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, thereby defanging the whole “settlement” issue.
Finally, Netanyahu’s position changes the terms of debate. It permits Jerusalem to argue that true resolution of the conflict requires Israelis being able to reside peaceably in a Palestinian state. The conflict will only truly end, I have contended for over a decade: “when the Jews living in Hebron need as little security as the Arabs living in Nazareth.”
Such a prospect, of course, is very remote; but accepting the principle of Jews living in “Palestine” allows Zionists to accept the two-state solution in the abstract while justifiably delaying its implementation for generations, maybe forever.
Bennett and his supporters should calm down and appreciate Netanyahu’s diplomatic masterstroke.
View original Israel Hayom publication at: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=7269
About the Author:
Daniel Pipes is an American historian, writer, and political commentator. He is the founding director & president of the Middle East Forum and its Campus Watch project (www.DanielPipes.org).