Flying from Tel Aviv to Eilat has a curious effect on me: just temporarily, it makes me more right-wing. It’s not good for my health.
Give me a napkin and I’ll draw you a map of Israel, tell you how narrow the country is here, how short it is there, and how little time it would take an F-16 jet to cross it from one point to another. But it is only from the air that I fully appreciate: this land is really small. AndI mean really small. As soon as the plane turns over the sea, one can already see the hills of Samaria; and no sooner has the air hostess offered one a drink, that one is already over the Dead Sea. Already.
I cannot help but stare, therefore, and think: you want to divide that?
The extreme Right, including most of today’s Likud, denies that the Occupation is an evil: in its messianic devotion to every crumb of soil, it denies that the status quo is problematic either for West Bank Palestinians or Israel itself. The extreme Left, meanwhile, lives in lala-land if it still believes that ceding territory will incur no risk to Israel’s security.
But I can totally understand where both the moderate Right and Left are coming from: recognising that Israel is between a rock and a hard place, they make value judgements about the least worst option.
The Left says, “We know that the risk to Israel’s security from a withdrawal to the Green Line would be bad, but we don’t have a choice, because it is unthinkable that we should continue to rule over a foreign people through occupation.” The Right says, “We know that it’s bad to continue to rule over a foreign people through occupation, but we don’t have a choice, because it’s unthinkable that we should tolerate the risk to Israel’s security from a withdrawal to the Green Line.” Neither solution is perfect, but wouldn’t the alternative be worse?
Understanding that this is the central axis of the political debate enables one to disagree with one’s opponents respectfully, instead of dismissing their positions as stupid, ignorant or evil. But one can still disagree. And one can disagree vociferously. Because these two positions, of the moderate Right and moderate Left, are not equally valid – far from it.
The position of the Right rest on a highly dubious premise – that Israel’s security depends on settlement of the West Bank, and that the defence of isolated settlements surrounded by Arab villages is anything but an irresponsible waste of resources. But this position also contains a serious internal contradiction: it may well be difficult to defend Israel without control of the West Bank – but with that control, there will be no Israel left to defend.
There is a gathering storm ahead, and this raincloud has ‘one state solution’ scrawled across it. The Palestinians have repeatedly threatened that if Israel will not leave the West Bank, then it should annex it and give the Palestinians the right to vote for the Knesset. There is already demographic parity between Jews and Arabs between the river and the sea, and the Palestinians have always wanted a single Arab-majority state on this land: a mini-state within the Green Line was always the next best thing. This terrifying idea is beginning to amass support in respectable circles: the New York Times recently published an op-ed in support. Former PMs Olmert and Barak have warned that on the day the Palestinians carry out their threat, Israel is done for. The more the map of the West Bank looks like one state de facto, the more pressure Israel will face to make it one state de jure, and it will be a Jewish-and-Democratic state no longer. When Israel faces pressure to form a binational state, Yitzhar, Psagot and Tapuach will not defend Israel’s survival: they will be the reason it will be gasping for life.
Vladimir Jabotinsky once warned the Jews of Europe, ”Eliminate the Diaspora, or the Diaspora will surely eliminate you.” Replace ‘Diaspora’ with ‘Occupation’, and you have the crux of the Jewish Question of the twenty-first century.
The altitude makes me right-wing, but then I touch back down to Earth.
Welcome to Eilat. We hope you have had a pleasant flight.