Stephen Harper: Why the Israeli right is wrong

The disgraceful walkout by Arab MKs during Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s address to the Knesset made the headlines. But after reading the text of the speech, I was left wondering why a different sector represented in the Knesset didn’t also respond with some kind of protest.

The pro-settlement right applauded enthusiastically, with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett referring to Harper as “a brother”. (Can we assume then that he doesn’t agree with an MK from his party, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, who stated recently that all Jews have “higher souls” than all non-Jews?) Effusive praise for Harper also came from the Likud’s Danny Danon who, like most of his party, rejects the two-state solution proposed by the Likud Prime Minister. Bennett’s recruitment of MKs from Likud Beiteinu to join his party’s efforts to ensure peace talks with the Palestinians do not make any progress is an open secret. However, both Bennett and Danon have excellent English. Therefore they can’t possibly have misunderstood this section of Harper’s address:

“Just as we unequivocally support Israel’s right of self-defence so too Canada has long-supported a just and secure future for the Palestinian people

“And, I believe, we share with Israel a sincere hope that the Palestinian people and their leaders will choose a viable, democratic, Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish State of Israel.”

Harper, like other pro-Israel political and public figures in North America and Europe criticizes the Palestinians for their failure to live up to their commitments, but the assumption is that Israel is committed to a two-state solution:

“As you, Prime Minister, have said, when Palestinians make peace with Israel, Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations. It will be the first.”

Even though Harper’s comments about the Palestinians were couched in extremely pro-Israel language, the settlement movement and its supporters in the Knesset were forced to confront what is for them an uncomfortable reality: Even Israel’s best friends in the world do not accept their ideological position of forever remaining in control of the West Bank.

Our genuine friends in the democratic ‘club’ of which we are a member are not blind to our security concerns. They understand that June 1967 was an existential war of no-choice for us. Many of them also appreciate that a full return to the pre-67 borders leaves us unacceptably vulnerable. But we cannot and will not convince them that we can permanently rule a territory where the Jews have full rights as citizens and the Arabs do not, just because of our religious and historical connection to that territory.

The attempts of Bennett, Danon and others to persuade our western allies otherwise will not succeed.

The pertinent question is what will Benjamin Netanyahu’s response be to Bennett’s efforts, which will undoubtedly have the effect of isolating Israel further in the international community.

Notwithstanding concerns about true Palestinian intentions – and the concerns are real and legitimate – Netanyahu must decide whether he will continue his unfortunate, career-long tendency of avoiding tough decisions in an attempt to placate all sides, or if he will follow the lead of the late Ariel Sharon, who would never have stood for members of his coalition working so openly against stated government policy.

Has Netanyahu genuinely reached the point that Sharon described as “what you see from here, you don’t see from there”? Has he, like Sharon, and other prime ministers from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Olmert, arrived at the conclusion that Israel’s future depends on ending its rule of another people, on disentangling Israel from the Palestinians and establishing clear, defensible and internationally recognized borders for the state? Has he understood, finally, that this is not some naïve, leftist fight for the cause of the Palestinian national movement; it’s a fight for the future of the Jewish national movement, for Zionism?

Stephen Harper is a genuine supporter of Israel and of the justice of Jewish statehood, and he fully deserved the standing ovation he received in the Knesset. But some of those applauding should be asking themselves whether a Stephen Harper, or a Tony Blair, or even a George W. Bush would be able to remain in Israel’s corner if the right’s vision of permanent Israeli control of the West Bank were realized. The future of a Jewish democratic state depends on Jewish demographic superiority, within secure borders; not on a Jewish state necessarily on all of the land of Eretz Israel. And Israel’s place among its allies in the liberal democratic west will not survive the permanent denial of political rights to 2.5 million Palestinians under Israeli control.

Bennett’s moves to stymie the peace talks undermine his Prime Minister and the government of which he is a part, and they need to be challenged. The ball is in Netanyahu’s court and the world, including Israel’s greatest friends, is watching.

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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