John Lennon the Zionist
Speaking at a national security conference in Tel Aviv last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Palestinian Authority President MahmoudAbbas: “All we are saying is ‘give peace a chance.'”
Clearly bolstered by his invulnerable 94-member Knesset majority, and perhaps psychologically liberated by the recent death of his tenaciously right-wing father, Netanyahu seems prepared, yet again, to jettison his own long-proclaimed political principles and those of his Likud party. Astonishingly, precisely when his political power has reached its apogee, Netanyahu has fully embraced the misguided warnings of his marginalized left-wing opponents, whose calls for “peace now” have long been silenced by reality.
“A peace agreement with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said, “is necessary first and foremost to prevent a bi-national state.” But there is no such danger. Jews are a two-thirds majority west of the Jordan River, comprising pre-1967 Israel and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). The Jewish birth rate has been rising while there has been a decline in West Bank Arab fertility.
Demographic expert Yoram Ettinger, formerly a Consul General of Israel in the United States, has written: “Anyone claiming that Jews are doomed to become a minority west of the Jordan River and that, therefore, the Jewish state must concede Jewish geography in order to secure Jewish demography, is either dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading.”
That is precisely what Netanyahu claims, and seems prepared to concede. He indicated his willingness to relinquish most of Judea and Samaria, the biblical homeland of the Jewish people, where more than 300,000 Israelis now live. Although Israel would retain major settlement blocs, tens of thousands of settlers living outside those blocs would confront the loss of their homes. Forced military evacuation would inevitably provoke violent and tragic confrontations between settlers and the Israel Defense Forces.
The Israeli prime minister envisions “a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state, and Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people.” There is only one problem, and it is as old as the Jewish state itself. Palestinians have never, since 1948, been willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. PA President Abbas still demands, as a pre-condition for peace talks, that Israel retreat to its precarious and porous pre-1967 lines (memorably described by Abba Eban as “Auschwitz borders”) and refrain from further settlement construction. Article 9 of the Palestinian Charter still asserts: “Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine.” By “Palestine,” of course, it means all the land west of the Jordan River, including Israel.
Netanyahu was not alone in his eagerness to divest Israel of its biblical homeland. Ehud Barak, a fierce critic of settlements whose position as defense minister was saved by Netanyahu’s recent majority-enhancing partnership with Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, proposed that Israel consider unilateral disengagement from Judea and Samaria. Mofaz, too, has recommended a massive Israeli withdrawal, with settlers forced from their homes if they do not accept financial incentives.
But evacuating 300,000 Jews from Judea and Samaria is hardly the same as evacuating 9000 Gaza settlers (who still live in temporary housing seven years later). Israel already launched one invasion (“Cast Lead”) to halt the of rockets from Gaza into southern Israel and other Negev communities – all this after Israel handed over the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. With the disengagement that Barak proposes, the entire country will be vulnerable to attack and the West Bank would instantly become a magnet for Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists.
Even an Israeli government with an unprecedented political majority needs to restrain its potential for folly. Unilateral political action, after decades of Palestinian inaction, is understandably tempting. But “when we retreat or withdraw,” observed Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon wisely, “we show weakness.” That is precisely what Netanyahu, citing John Lennon as his authority, seems determined to demonstrate.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author, most recently, of Against the Grain: A Historian’s Journey, published by Quid Pro Books.