Paul Gross

Democracy or colonialism: What kind of Israel do you want Mr. Danon?

Since he [Mahmoud Abbas] doesn’t speak Hebrew, and my Arabic isn’t great, I will turn to him in a language we both understand. I say: Give peace a chance… We are in favor of conducting negotiations without preconditions — immediately.


Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister, Leader of Likud Party, June 5th 2013


“…there was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution…If you will bring it to a vote in the government — nobody will bring it to a vote, it’s not smart to do it — but if you bring it to a vote, you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.”


Danny Danon, Deputy Defense Minister, Likud MK, June 6th 2013

This lunacy was already foreshadowed before the election. The Likud chose a Knesset list of hardliners, the vast majority opposed to a two-state solution. Meanwhile Netanyahu made sure to remind international allies of his commitment to a negotiated deal with Palestinians, which would, indeed, lead to a Palestinian state (demilitarized etc.) alongside a Jewish state of Israel.

The awkwardness of the situation was exemplified by the Likud’s decision to not release a manifesto or political platform of any kind before the election. This was unheard of in Israeli elections and they were rightly punished by voters for the decision, but one can understand Netanyahu’s dilemma. It was inconceivable that he could publish a party platform which would be openly and loudly rejected by almost all of the other putative MKs in his party. On the other hand, a manifesto which explicitly rejected territorial concessions and the two-states-for-two-peoples formula would have brought the Prime Minister international condemnation and personal humiliation.

One reason that Danon’s outburst is embarrassing for Netanyahu is that it risks making him, and many Israeli diplomats, look like hypocrites.  A frequent criticism leveled at the Palestinian leadership is that, whatever Abbas might be saying about “accepting Israel’s right to exist” etc, there is a ready supply of quotes from individuals in his Fatah party that point to a more bellicose position.

And so we come to a central problem that Danon and his fellow two-state rejectionists will have to contend with.

Harvard law professor and noted Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz has said that the best way to win over the ‘undecideds’ when he’s speaking in universities on ‘the case for Israel’, is to show that the ‘pro-Israel’ crowd are in favor of a two-state solution to the conflict, whereas the ‘pro-Palestinian’ supporters are not. In other words, whereas the Jewish students are willing to see a Palestinian state established alongside Israel, the collection of far-leftist, (allegedly) liberal and Muslim students who support the Palestinian cause cannot reconcile themselves to Israel’s existence.

It is certainly the case that much of the material produced by Israel advocacy organizations focuses on the Arab world’s history of rejectionism, and its repeated preference for fighting to eliminate Israel, rather than compromising on the land and finally giving the Palestinians a state of their own alongside the Jewish state.

So, what happens if it’s Israel who are the rejectionists? What happens in a debate between a Palestinian speaker who says that he accepts Israel’s right to exist but that the Palestinians should be freed from Israeli occupation, and an Israeli speaker – let’s call him Danny Danon – who says that he thinks Israel should remain in control of the entirety of the West Bank?

And it’s not good enough to argue that “it can’t be an occupation because this is our land” because here’s the rub – the problem is not our control of the land but our control of the people: 2.5 million Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens, cannot vote in our elections but who are ultimately our subjects.

And the trouble really starts when you push Mr. Danon on why he thinks that Israel, a liberal democratic country, should continue to rule another people in this way. He will cite security concerns, but he will be being disingenuous. It’s not that he is not concerned about the security issues, but even if there were no Palestinian violence of any kind for a decade, he would still not countenance Israel giving up a millimeter of territory.

The Israeli right has to be honest with itself and with the rest of us. Yes there are voices from that camp calling for Israel to annex the West Bank and bestow Israeli citizenship on the Palestinians. (They risk demography turning Israel into an Arab-majority state but they are, at least, being consistent with Israel’s professed democratic values.) The majority of the two-state rejectionists however have no problem with the status quo.

Israel can argue – justifiably – that the pre-67 borders leave the country too vulnerable, and that even the drafters of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions understood that the ‘green line’ is not a defensible border for Israel.  Israel can say that they will keep Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion, and that they will require some kind of military arrangement in the Jordan Valley, and the Palestinian state must be demilitarized.

But the building of dozens of settlements dotted around the hilltops of Judea and Samaria was fueled by a messianic religious ideology, not a dispassionate assessment of Israel’s security requirements. (Quite the contrary, having tens of thousands of Israeli civilians in the midst of Palestinian population centers is a nightmare for the IDF and Israel’s security services.)  And it is an ideology that will not wash in the democratic west to which Israel professes to be a part.  Even Israel’s steadfast allies – the US included – only accept Israel’s control of the West Bank as a temporary measure, pending a negotiated settlement. None of these countries, with whom Israel proudly and routinely claims “shared democratic values”, will be persuaded that it is OK to control a territory in which the Jews have full democratic rights and the Arabs do not, just because it is part of our historic, divinely ordained homeland.

And many of Israel’s leaders knew this from the start. Gershom Gorenberg’s excellent The Unmaking Of Israel takes us back to the very beginning of Israel’s internal discussions on what to do with the then newly conquered territories:

In the June 1967 cabinet debate [Moshe] Dayan argued for ‘self-government [by] the residents of the West Bank… The residents, he stresses, ‘will not be citizens of Israel.’ …justice minister Ya’akov Shimshon Shapira warned that were Dayan’s ideas adopted, ‘every progressive person will rise against us and say… ‘They want to turn the West Bank… into an Israeli colony’

Only in 1972 did Labor’s governing secretariat get around to discussing the future of the occupied territories. Veteran finance minister Pinhas Sapir told fellow members that expecting West Bank Arabs to accept an improved living standard without equal rights would put Israel in a class with ‘countries whose names I don’t even want to say in the same breath.’

There are serious debates to be had and questions to be asked: Is the Palestinian Authority a reliable peace partner? Should we agree to re-dividing Jerusalem in a two-state scenario? But there remains an inescapable bottom line: Our place in the democratic world is not consistent with permanently ruling another people.

In a response to the recent violence by Charedi thugs at the Western Wall,  Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, a law professor at Bar Ilan University, posed a question equally pertinent in discussing the future of Israel’s control of the West Bank:

“What’s at stake here is the very characteristic of the state of Israel. Are we part of the Western world or are we part of the fundamentalist world?”

What’s your answer Danny Danon?

About the Author
Before moving to Israel from the UK, Paul worked at the Embassy of Israel to the UK in the Public Affairs department, and as the Ambassador's speechwriter. He has a Masters degree in Middle East Politics from the University of London. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem - though he writes this blog in a personal capacity. He has lectured to a variety of groups on Israeli history and politics and his articles have been published in a variety of media outlets in Israel, the UK, the US and Canada.
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