Zionism’s Post-1967 Choices
It is no accident that there has been little to no change in the official status quo of Judea and Samaria in the 50 years since the Six-Day War.
Israel has neither annexed nor withdrawn from the West Bank, and holds the occupied territories in a judicial and national limbo. Israel’s policy towards Judea and Samaria are both Zionism’s fulfillment, and its potential unraveling.
Zionism began as a secular national movement, which based its claim to the Land of Israel on the historical fact of its being the ancient homeland of the Jewish people. The Bible’s founding narratives — the tales of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — take place in that land. The kingdom of David, as well as the First and Second Temples, stood there. But here’s the catch: these were all situated on the east side of the 1967 border — in Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem, not in Tel Aviv or Haifa.
Baruch Kurzweil, the esteemed Israeli literary and cultural critic, understood by the end of the 1960s that a withdrawal from the actual historical seats of Jewish origin would undermine Zionism’s inner logic and invalidate it. Once these territories were in its hands, Israel could not give up its raison d’être. Zionism is thus bound to these parts of the Land of Israel.
On the other hand, Zionism was never simply about founding an independent state that would realize the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, and create a safe haven for the world’s Jews. Historically, classical Zionism, both left-wing and right-wing, set out to establish not only a state, but also an exemplary society.
Israel was meant as a modern and secular interpretation of the traditional Jewish ethos of being a “Light onto the Nations.” The Jewish state was meant to be democratic, egalitarian, gracious and just. The ways to reach this ideal were debated, but the vision was clear: the modern Jewish political body would be both a national home for the Jewish people, and the envy and inspiration of the world.
It eventually became clear, however, that a state permanently controlling millions of people without granting them citizenship and equal rights could lose its democratic identity; and it couldn’t be a model society. Officially annexing Judea and Samaria would therefore destroy a central element of Zionism.
A different option — annexing the occupied territories, while granting Palestinians full citizenship — would undermine Zionism from yet another angle, as it would turn the state into a binational entity, nullifying the Jewish people’s (and, of course, the Palestinian people’s) right to self-determination.
As we reach the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, we therefore find Zionism in a struggle not only with international law and opinion, but within itself. Its very rationale is being challenged by any alternative to the present situation. Whichever option is taken, Zionism will forever be transformed.
It is at this point that Israel is witnessing the end of a significant political and ideological evolution. Since 1977, when the Likud Party first took power and replaced the Labor movement at the helm of the country, the voices that have stressed the eternal connection of the People of Israel with the Land of Israel have grown louder.
Stemming from the extreme underground militia movements that Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir headed before Israel’s founding, these voices have joined forces with religious Zionism’s commitment to tradition (and at times, messianism), and diminished the democratic ethos within Israeli nationalism. This is in stark contrast to the Labor Party’s Zionism, which had put more weight on civil society and less on land.
The choice that the State of Israel has long been trying to avoid is clear. The tensions created by the competing ideas of a Jewish national state, a democratic state and a Jewish state that includes Judea and Samaria, cannot remain in place much longer.
Something will have to give.
If Israel wishes to remain democratic, it must give up either Judea and Samaria, or the idea of being a national home for the Jews.
If it wants to be a national home for the Jews, it must withdraw either from Judea and Samaria, or from its democratic principles.
If it keeps Judea and Samaria, it will lose either Jewish nationality or democracy.
Fifty years after Israel seized control of Judea and Samaria, our political leadership seems to dread the possibility of giving up these regions, even at the price of quenching Israeli democracy and the Zionist dream of a model society.
It is possible that there really isn’t a current Palestinian partner for peace. But certainly not enough is being done by Israel to further an agreement, and to secure the future of a democratic, independent Jewish state. Unless liberal Israeli forces rise and come to the fore, the next 50 years may unfortunately witness Zionism, having come at least partly to its fulfillment, unravel and demise.
Dr. Tomer Persico is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, which is holding a series of conferences across North America in May, where the issues raised in this essay will be explored in depth by scholars, rabbis and others. For information on these events, go to the Hartman website.