The “success” of Israel’s 40-year-old settlement project in Judea and Samaria has created a reality which any position regarding Israel’s future borders cannot ignore. Whether the settlements are critical to or serve Israel’s security interests or not, whether the settlements are illegal or not, whether Judea and Samaria is the ancient homeland of the Jewish people or the future homeland of the Palestinian people, are no longer the only questions on the table. There is a new reality on the ground, and the realm of politics is not the domain for messianic aspirations but rather a framework in which ideas, values, and interests meet the real world and accommodate that world in an attempt to implement the best of what is possible.
Five hundred thousand “settlers” who live around Jerusalem, in the three main settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim and Ariel, and in individual communities dispersed throughout Judea and Samaria constitute an unmanageable number for any proposed resettlement effort. Whether justified or not, such a proposal simply serves to bring any negotiations to a deserved halt. In a messianic era, following some universal adaptation of the concept of the jubilee year, it is possible to imagine every person returning to live on the ancestral land that is rightfully theirs. Messianism, however, is about the proverbial tomorrow and does little to enable us to redeem the present.
The fundamental question that Israelis and Palestinians must ask themselves is whether we want to, and are capable of, changing the present reality for both of our peoples. After setting aside the counter-narratives of ancestral rights and victimhood, the question is really quite simple: Given our mutually professed acceptance of the idea of two states for two people, how many individuals can Israel relocate within a five- to ten-year period, taking into account their legitimate rights to housing and employment on the one hand, and on the other, which settlements need to be dismantled in order to allow for a viable, contiguous and dignified national home for the Palestinian people?
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trial balloon regarding the maintaining of certain settlements and settlers within the borders of the homeland of the Palestinian people, on the surface is interesting, for it purports to affect the equation of what is possible. A decrease in the number of individuals needing to be resettled increases the possibility of the formation of a Palestinian state in our lifetime.
Again, independent of the elephant in the room, which speaks to the legality of these settlements, the key question is whether such a policy contributes to the two-state solution or not. To answer this question, a number of other questions need to be addressed.
First, after discounting Jerusalem and the three settlement blocs, wherein more than 80 percent of Israeli settlers sojourn, is a resettlement project for the remainder implementable? If the answer is in the affirmative, the issue is not whether Palestine should be Jew-free, but whether Israel has a right to claim further real estate from the Palestinian state. If the answer is in the negative, the issue is again not whether Palestine should be Jew-free, but rather what is the number that can be resettled, and from which settlements must they be taken so as to maximize the viability of the Palestinian homeland.
Second, the core question is not whether Palestine will be Jew-free, but Israel-free. Will the formerly Israeli citizens agree to become Jewish Palestinian citizens in the Palestinian state? It is here that the issue becomes tricky — and the surface conversation duplicitous. It is morally obvious that a Jew-free Palestinian state is a reprehensible concept. A nation-state incapable of allowing for an ethnic minority is an odious and racist enterprise. I am certain that a majority of Palestinians would welcome the Jewish members of Neturei Karta as citizens in their state. At issue is not Jews but these specific Jews.
In the Palestinian narrative, there is no distinction amongst “the settlers.” They are defined or perceived as individuals whose life mission is the denial of Palestinian national rights. It is understandable why such individuals would not be welcome. When we are honest with ourselves, and go beyond the Jew-free Palestine rhetoric, which Israeli settlers would even consider such a possibility? They are not the hundreds of thousands who moved to the West Bank as distinct from Judea and Samaria in order to find affordable housing and supportive communities in close proximity to Israel’s economic centers.
They are individuals for whom the holiness of the Land of Israel is more important than citizenship in the State of Israel. They are not members of an anti-Zionist, haredi group, for such groups do not live outside of the settlement blocs. They are ardent messianic nationalists who believe that Israel’s redemption is dependent on our holding on to all of the land. Individuals who believe that a Palestinian homeland is contrary to the will of God and detrimental to Israel’s messianic dreams. Not wanting such individuals as fellow citizens is not an act of anti-Semitism but national sanity.
It is time for us to get real. Whether we have a peace partner or not, it is time for Israel to ask who it is, who it wants to be, what are our core values, and what we are willing to do to try to actualize them in the present. It is possible that regardless of our best intentions and international efforts, the fulfillment of these aspirations is not possible today.
We, however, will only truly know this when we formally put forward our plan for a two-state solution, a plan as distinct from a declaration of vague interest. Such a plan must start with an extensive outline of why the two-state solution is an Israeli agenda — for today and not merely someday. Proclamations as to our nation’s love of peace have grown thin. They must be replaced by detailed and passionate articulations of our desire to no longer occupy another people, of our desire that the justice and rights we claim for ourselves be theirs as well, that we are committed to international law, not merely when it serves our interests, and that a homeland of the Jewish people is a value only to the extent that it is democratic and values the rights of others.
We need to get over the trauma of the Second Intifada and begin to seriously reconnect to what we truly want as a nation and as a people. We need to talk the talk and then put forth a clear vision of where we are willing to walk. What prices, hardships and dangers are we willing to take and impose on our citizens in order to be who we want to be. Not messianic and pie-in-the-sky compromises which will endanger our survival or which are not implementable in our lifetime. Not policies which merely serve to reinforce our narrative that we have no peace partner (“They want a Jew-free Palestine.”), but policies which challenge and enable Palestinians to be such partners.
It is time for us to get real and put forth a plan for the present, for the reshaping of our lives today.