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What Do Israelis Want for the West Bank?

Feb. 15 2017

While a small number of Israelis want their country to hold on to Judea and Samaria at all costs, and another minority want to cede these territories as quickly as possible, the majority, according to Haviv Rettig Gur, are themselves of two minds over what seems to be an intractable problem. The internal tensions go back to the very strategy that created the West Bank settlements in the first place:

The new settlements [founded after the Six-Day War] ran roughly along the contours of the “Allon Plan,” developed by [the Israeli general Yigal] Allon, who had urged the conquest of the West Bank in 1948. The plan sought to strike a balance between the two incompatible aims with which the Israeli cabinet had wrestled twenty years earlier: to claim areas that would mitigate the perpetual threat to Israel’s narrow north-south corridor while leaving intact and unclaimed a large, contiguous Arab-majority territory that could someday become a Palestinian state.

In practice, that meant relatively modest steps, such as establishing well-defended hamlets along the Jordan River whose reservists-turned-farmers could hold an enemy army at bay in an emergency, or expanding the most vulnerable and precious of Israel’s cities, Jerusalem, to encompass the hills that before the war had threatened it on all sides. Even today, most of the settlers live in a circle around Jerusalem or in towns placed as buffers around the main highways leading to the capital. . . .

When diplomats in Washington, London, or elsewhere wonder about Israel’s intentions—when they complain that Netanyahu is lying either about his support for Palestinian statehood or about his support for settlements, because how can he support both?—they are overlooking the most important fact of Israel’s position. Since Israel’s earliest days, the West Bank has meant both secure boundaries and mortal danger, a homecoming to the landscapes of Jewish and biblical history and a potentially disastrous intertwining with a foreign people.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics, Palestinians, Settlements, West Bank

A New Book Tries, and Fails, to Understand the West Bank’s Jews

Aug. 22 2017

In City on a Hilltop, Sara Yael Hirschhorn seeks to explain Israel’s settler movement, rejecting the common misconception that its members are fanatics uniformly motivated by religious zeal and ferocious nationalism. Nonetheless, writes Evelyn Gordon, Hirschhorn fails to look past her own political assumptions:

[R]eaders emerge from [the book] with no clear understanding of what drives the settlement movement. This isn’t surprising, since Hirschhorn admits in her conclusion that she herself has no such understanding: “After discussions with dozens of Jewish-American immigrants in the occupied territories, I still struggled to understand how they saw themselves and their role within the Israeli settlement enterprise.”

Consequently, she’s produced an entire book about settlers that virtually ignores the twin beliefs at the heart of their enterprise: Israel has a right to be in the territories, whether based on religious and historical ties, international law, or both, and Israel has a need to be there, whether for religious and historical reasons, security ones, or both.

This glaring omission seems to stem largely from her inability to take such beliefs seriously. In one noteworthy example, she writes, “While their religio-historical claims to the Gush Etzion area are highly contentious, many settler activists over the past 50 years have asserted Biblical ties to the region.” But what exactly is contentious about that assertion? No serious person would deny that many significant events in the Bible took place in what is now called the West Bank. . . . One could argue that this doesn’t justify Jews living there today, but if you can’t acknowledge that this area is Judaism’s religious and historical heartland, and that many Jews consequently believe that giving it up would tear the heart out of the Jewish state, you can’t understand a major driver of the settlement movement.

Similarly, Hirschhorn pays scant attention to the security arguments for retaining the West Bank, and none at all to Israel’s strong claim to the area under international law. . . . The result is that while most of her settlers don’t come off as fanatics, they often do come off as simpletons—people who became “colonialist occupiers” for no apparent reason, without ever really thinking about it.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Israel & Zionism, Settlements, West Bank