It is immensely frustrating to watch the liberal Jewish establishment in the US cling to the leftist dogmas of the 1980s and 1990s, while a tsunami of change in the Middle East makes these ideas obsolete.
For example, the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, published an article entitled “Stop the rockets, stop the settlements” which was read aloud by rabbis in more than one Reform congregation this past Friday night. Because much of it was numbingly familiar, listeners might be excused for failing to notice how disconnected with reality it was:
First, rockets. With missiles flying, no Israeli government of the right or the left will agree to a two-state solution or to any other kind of peace. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Netanyahu are speaking the same language on Gaza, and American Jews, whether doves or hardliners, should support them. …
Second, settlements. Israel’s settlement policy is an utter disaster. It has no supporters of consequence anywhere in the world. It has caused tension with the American government and infuriated Israel’s European allies. It has played into the hands of Israel’s most dangerous enemies, Hamas included, by allowing them to divert attention from their own radical intentions to settler extremism and Israeli occupation. And it has angered those moderate elements of the Palestinian Authority with which political arrangements leading to peace might still be possible. …
[Justice Minister Tzipi] Livni called for construction in the settlements to be frozen. Understandably reluctant to criticize Israel, American Jews are nonetheless firmly in Livni’s camp. They know that a freeze is right and also politically wise. The conflict with Hamas over Gaza could be long and ugly, and with a settlement freeze in place, it will be far easier to build the coalitions of support, in America and abroad, that Israel will require.
As you may guess, I don’t disagree with him about the need for American Jews to support Israel’s military action against Hamas. But I think he is wrong about ‘settlements’, and wrong to suggest that there is a connection between the two issues.
Yoffie and I both know that Hamas’ problem is not ‘The Occupation’, if this means Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria established since 1967. Hamas opposes Jewish sovereignty anywhere between the river and the sea, and advocates killing and expelling Jews to return the land to its ‘true’ Muslim owners. Even a complete evacuation of Jews from lands liberated from Jordanian control in 1967 would not end its hostility, just as the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza enabled rather than ameliorated it.
But Yoffie is mistaken in thinking that expanding the Jewish presence anywhere in the land of Israel ‘plays into the hands’ of radicals. The opposite is true: Israeli concessions in Judea and Samaria, including a ‘settlement freeze’ are interpreted by radicals and ‘moderate’ Arabs alike as weakness, and invite more ‘resistance’ (terrorism) from them. And if the withdrawal from Gaza was an indicator of what to expect, it would not result in increased support from the US, which reneged on promises made before the withdrawal, or Europe, which simply pushed for more concessions.
An ultimate withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, to which a freeze is a precursor, would enable radicals to attack Israel in more concrete ways as well. A hostile presence in the high ground above Israel’s coastal plain would make Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport as vulnerable to rocket fire as Sderot is today. The Jewish state would not survive under such conditions. Further, unless the IDF can dominate the Jordan Valley, it can’t be defended from invasion from the east. As we are beginning to notice, there are some very bad actors in the east these days.
This is not speculation. There are clear precedents: Israel abandoned Gaza, the radicals took over, and it became one big rocket launcher. Israel, thankfully, did not abandon the Golan — although you may remember, it came dangerously close to doing so — and today has an advantageous strategic situation with respect to the Islamist rebels there.
Yoffie seems to hold out hope for “political arrangements leading to peace.” This is the clearest possible case of events outstripping ideology! The Potemkin-village Palestinian Authority is incapable of making or keeping a peace agreement, and even if it could, Israel can’t afford the security consequences of giving up control of most, if not all, of Judea and Samaria in today’s Middle East. The “two-state solution” is a non-starter, but the liberal Jewish establishment can’t seem to deal with that.
David P. Goldman has a brilliant analysis — brilliant because it is so obvious and yet nobody else seems to have noticed — which states that the political deterioration of Israel’s neighbors and their declining birthrates combined with Israel’s high (and increasing) birthrate and powerful economy, imply that the only stable solution for the region is Israeli control of the land between the river and the sea:
The historical homeland of the Jewish people will pass into Israeli sovereignty not because the national-religious will it to be so, or because an Israeli government seeks territorial aggrandizement, but because Israel will be the last man standing in the region, the only state able to govern Judea and Samaria, and the only military force capable of securing its borders. It will happen without fanfare, de facto rather than de jure, at some moment in the not-too-distant future when the foreign ministries of the West are locked in crisis session over Iraq or Syria. And it will happen with the tacit support of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
It’s remarkable that even as some Arabs are beginning to understand that there is already a “new Middle East” (not the one predicted by Shimon Peres, but certainly different from the old one), the American Jewish establishment is stuck in the past.