Will Jewish History Repeat Itself?

The Torah portion (parsha) for the week of June 13, Shelach lecha (Go up there), is well known to contain “the sin of the spies.” Moses had ordered leaders from each of the twelve tribes of Israelites to go into the Land of Canaan to scout out the people and their cities. This occurred after many of the multitude following Moses were wary of attempting to conquer the land as God has told them, without first gaining intelligence about the mission.

After forty days, the scouts returned, two of them bearing a giant cluster of grapes which proved that Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey, as God had promised. So what was the sin? Ten of the twelve, all except Joshua and Caleb, were fearful of the Canaanite “giants,” who made them feel like grasshoppers in their own eyes and certainly in the eyes of the Canaanites. For doubting God’s promise ensuring that Canaan was to be the Israelites’ heartland, Moses informed the Israelites that God decreed that they would wander for forty years in the desert until the generation that retained a slave mentality had died out. The sole exceptions would be the two courageous scouts, Joshua and Caleb. 

How does this relate to modern Israel? Today, Israel has the greatest chance to fulfill God’s promise to the Jewish nation to be sovereign in its heartland. The US, Israel’s closest ally, has promulgated the Trump administration peace plan, officially titled “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.” This plan is a huge improvement over the tired, failed, 1993 Oslo Accord.

Not only God’s promise could be achieved, but also Israel’s legal rights according to the Balfour Declaration (included in the 1920 San Remo Resolution), the 1922 League of Nations resolution on Palestine, the 1945 United Nations founding statement, and the fact that Israel regained the land in its defensive war of 1967, when it defeated Arab armies seeking to “wipe Israel off the map” and “drive the Jews into the sea.” 

Israel has acted boldly to protect its sovereignty numerous times since its independence in May, 1949. The prime ministers listed below accomplished tremendous, surprising, and necessary steps for Israel’s existence:

David Ben-Gurion not only led the Yishuv (pre-state Israel) but headed the country in its formative years. He accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan despite the fact that it produced a severely truncated Israel. Though not a military man, Ben-Gurion successfully led the War of Independence against five invading armies and shortly after proclaimed Jerusalem Israel’s capital, despite universal objections. Ben-Gurion was extremely pragmatic. He didn’t let himself be pinned down and quickly took advantage of every opportunity to expand Israel’s territory throughout the area delineated at the San Remo Conference as the location of the Jews’ national home. 

Levi Eshkol was Israel’s prime minister during the pivotal Six Day War of 1967. While not intending to push Jordan out of its occupation of part of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (which the King of Jordan named the “West Bank” in 1950), Eshkol took advantage of Jordan’s weakness when King Hussein entered the war. Israel was able to liberate all of Israel west of the Jordan River and the Golan Heights by aggressive actions. Importantly, Eshkol extended Israeli civil law and citizenship to all who applied for it in united Jerusalem. Since 1967, Jewish Israelis have resided throughout the city, making the designations “East” and “West” Jerusalem pretty meaningless. Remember that Jerusalem was only divided for 19 years in its 3.000 year history. Until now, most of Jerusalem’s Palestinian Arab residents have not requested Israeli citizenship, but nevertheless enjoy the benefits of Israeli residency and can vote in local elections.

Menachem Begin was the first non-leftist prime minister. He shocked the world when in 1981 he authorized Operation Opera (aka Babylon), which unilaterally leveled Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, destroying Saddam Hussein’s goal of attaining nuclear weapons. In the same year, Begin extended Israeli civil law to the Golan Heights, another bold move which stunned world leaders.

Ehud Olmert followed Arik Sharon as prime minister and later spent time in prison for accepting bribes while he was mayor of Jerusalem. In 2007 Olmert authorized Operation Out of the Box, which unilaterally destroyed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s nuclear facility under construction. This unexpected, bold act revealed Syria’s connection with North Korea, whose reactor design was being replicated close to Damascus. 

All of the above acts were unexpected, unappreciated by the international community, and above all, quick. None were boasted of by politicians or splashed across newspapers before the fact. They were a fait accompli, which were done before bigger powers like the US could stop them. In most cases, they were highly criticized for years, and only sometimes were they acknowledged as significant acts which were beneficial.

That brings us to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is Israel’s beleaguered but longest serving prime minister, simultaneously serving in his post and defending himself from charges, which include bribery committed during his term. Netanyahu has approved bold moves himself, but none on the scale of the aforementioned acts. 

Netanyahu has lost the chance to achieve a fait accompli because he and his party have broadcast the intention to extend Israeli law to 400,000 Israeli citizens in Judea and Samaria, albeit under the auspices of the Trump peace plan for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This has been chewed over so much that the opportunity to extend sovereignty may be wasted because of the concerted effort to thwart it.

Ben-Gurion, Eshkol, Begin, and Olmert all acted surreptitiously and suddenly. Foreign governments and the media could only criticize or praise their actions after the fact. Because that is no longer  the case, strong opposition has been expressed by many parties, including some Israeli citizens. 

While Trump’s peace plan has received some encouragement from Western oriented Arab Gulf countries, the time lapse from planning to executing has caused a limiting Israel’s options. On Friday, June 12, the UAE issued perhaps the most significant warning yet, much more important than incessant UN and EU complaints about Israel. See: The Jerusalem Post

As I, and many others observe, Israel will go ahead with extending sovereignty to some of the territory where Israelis currently live under Israeli military law, but not to the Jordan Valley, the area that has drawn the most controversy. This could happen as soon as the beginning of July. Time will tell whether Israel’s leaders emulate the ten diffident scouts or the two bold ones, Joshua and Caleb, when the Israelites stood at the border of what was to become the Land of Israel.

(See my recent articles about the extension of Israel’s sovereignty at
https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/steve-kramer/)

About the Author
Steve Kramer grew up in Atlantic City, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1967, adopted the hippie lifestyle until 1973, then joined the family business for 15 years. Steve moved to Israel from Margate, NJ in 1991 with his family. He has written more than 1100 articles about Israel and Jews since making Aliyah. Steve and his wife Michal live in Kfar Saba.
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