An Israeli Dilemma.

In 1958, Leon Uris wrote Exodus. While portraying the birth of the state of Israel, he imagined an Israel-yet-to-be: a secular, socialist-inspired Jewish state living on terms of amity with the Arabs. Today, Leon Uris’s vision seems far-fetched.

In the Six Days’ War of 1967, Israel over-ran the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.

What to do with the conquered territories? The Sinai was traded away in exchange for peace with Egypt. The Syrians lacked the strength to take back the Golan, even before the current massive uprising against the Assad regime. Gaza and the West Bank, however, were chock-full of Palestinian refugees from the creation of Israel in 1948. One of the founding illusions of Zionism had been that Palestine was “a land without people for a people without land.” In 1948, many Muslims had fled the fighting, or had answered an appeal from Arab leaders to clear the path for Arab armies, or had been driven out by Israelis by means of exemplary massacres. They had never been allowed to return. Now Israel had over-run the places where the Palestinians had taken refuge. What course would Israel follow? One option would have been to create a Palestinian state that consisted of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.[1] Another option would be to extend Israel’s territory into the newly-conquered lands. The loudest exponents of this policy were to be found among ultra-Orthodox religious zealots. This was the course pursued by Israel through the creation of settlements. Settlements—both “legal” and illegal under Israeli law—began to proliferate. Many successive governments turned a blind eye to the settlements and to the disastrous impact of the settlements on Israel’s international situation. While Israel has not—yet—annexed the West Bank and has withdrawn from Gaza, both the settlements and the inferior legal status of the Palestinians living under what is effectively Israel’s rule give the country something of the appearance of Prussia on the Jordan.

Why? Leftist critics argue that the country has come to be dominated by right-wing voters who pander to religious parties and are deeply hostile to the Arabs, both Israeli-Arabs and the Palestinian Arabs; and that military officers lean ever more toward Orthodox Jews who have a right-wing political bent.[2] Implicitly, a return to Israel’s leftist roots would facilitate a solution to the problems facing the country.

Attractive though it is, this interpretation ignores some realities. A return to its roots by Israel will not undo the radicalization of opinion among many Muslims, whether Palestinian or not. Hamas displaced the elected Palestinian Authority from control of Gaza, then turned the enclave into a base for attacks on Israel.[3] Hamas does not accept the right to survive of Israel, regardless of where its borders are drawn. In the future, Hamas could achieve domination, or at least the tolerance by a sovereign Palestinian government, on the West Bank. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is an Iranian client. Egypt is teetering on the brink of a civil war between Islamists and authoritarians. It isn’t entirely clear what kind of inroads ISIS could make in Jordan. It would be hard for any military adviser to argue that Israel should surrender strategic depth in return for promises of future peace. Not all problems have solutions.

[1] Between 1948 and 1967, this had been an option available to Egypt and Jordan. However, it appears that Egypt and Jordan were more interested in maintaining the Palestinians in misery as a stick with which to beat Israel in the square of international opinion than they were in actually creating a Palestinian homeland. Now the ball was in Israel’s court.

[2] Gershom Gorenberg, The Unmaking of Israel (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

[3] Last summer’s war began over rockets fired into Israel, but Israel’s response soon uncovered a network of tunnels driven into Israel for what could only be offensive purposes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s