Whatever you may think of him, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon tells the unvarnished truth, at least in private settings. Recently, in a closed-door session with students at a West Bank yeshiva, he made a telling admission. Speaking to an obviously sympathetic audience, he said that the Israeli government has every intention of expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and that this construction would already have begun had the United States, Israel’s chief ally, not opposed it.
Ya’alon’s comments, while refreshingly direct and honest, are a cause for deep concern. They tell us that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government intends to create yet more “facts on the ground” and thereby preclude the possibility of an equitable two-state solution.
Israel has been building settlements in the West Bank since the 1967 Six Day War. The Labor Party initiated the process and the Likud Party accelerated it after Menachim Begin’s election as prime minister in 1977. In keeping with his rigid Land of Israel ideology, Begin vehemently opposed a sovereign Palestinian state, as did his equally inflexible successor, Yitzhak Shamir.
Netanyahu, campaigning for his fourth term of office, has been forced to modify the public face of Likud dogma. Four years ago, in a speech at Bar-Ilan University, he came out in favor of partition to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Critics, however, charged that he was merely paying lip service to a two-state solution. To a very large degree, they were right. Netanyahu, while singing the praises of peace, continued to enlarge Israeli settlements in the West Bank, thus diminishing the chances of reaching a fair and durable agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
By expanding the settlements, Netanyahu satisfies his constituents and ensures his place in the Likud pantheon of heroes. But this is a short-sighted policy that perpetuates an occupation that has lasted far too long.
There is not a single country in the world that accepts Israel’s occupation. Not the United States, Israel’s friend, benefactor and protector. Nor Canada, one of Israel’s best friends. And certainly not any of the nations that back Israel at international forums.
The occupation has had a corrosive effect on Israeli society and has isolated Israel on the world stage. Beyond that, the occupation is undermining Israeli democracy and creating the conditions for a binational state, the antithesis of the Herzlian Zionist dream.
When will Israel wake up from its messianic dreams?
Some Israelis, like Ya’alon and Netanyahu, earnestly believe that Israel can have its cake and eat it. But in the real world, this rose-colored option does not exist. It’s a mirage.
The occupation is creating layer upon layer of anger, resentment, hatred and bitterness among the Palestinians of the West Bank. It’s radicalizing young Palestinians and confirming the worst assumptions and fears of the older Palestinian generation. It’s increasing the popularity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both of which reject Israel’s existence. It’s undermining the position of Israel’s most promising partner in years, Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president. It’s alienating Jewish liberals and moderates. It’s a gift on a silver platter to the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
In short, the occupation is endangering Israel.
And yet Ya’alon, in his talk at the yeshiva, expressed the hope that the Obama administration “won’t remain forever” so that Israel can pick up the pace of construction in the West Bank.
Ya’alon and Israelis of his ilk fervently believe they are supreme realists who are doing what is best for Israel’s interests and survival in a tough and unforgiving neighborhood. But in fact, they are sowing the seeds of Israel’s destruction as a Jewish democratic state.