Migron - Daniel Bar-On - 2.8.2011
The West Bank outpost of Migron, August 2, 2011. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Haaretz’ article on the recent letter sent to Prime Minister Netanyahu urging him not to adopt the Levy Commission report on the settlements expressed “surprise” that I would sign such a letter. I’m surprised. The letter did not argue that Justice Levy’s legal argument was legally incorrect; it also took no stand on settlement issue writ large, about which serious minds and committed Zionists can – and do – disagree. The letter simply asserts that if the Prime Minister adopts the Levy Commission report, he will do Israel serious damage.

Sadly, Israel has no partner with which to make peace. Today’s Palestinian leadership insists on the refugees’ right of return, something Israel cannot permit if it is to remain a Jewish State. The Palestinians have also rejected Netanyahu’s demand that they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, something that Israel must insist on if precluding the refugees’ return is to be defensible. Neither of those will change anytime soon.

The question is how Israel should conduct itself in the face of that stark reality. A wise Israeli leadership would do everything in its power to communicate to the world that beyond those two existential issues, which are not negotiable, Israel will discuss virtually anything. There are matters on which Israel will compromise, and others on which it will not. Israel, though, must continually and publicly urge the Palestinians to come to the table; and when they refuse, Israel’s leaders must then make clear that it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are the obstructionists.

Adopting the Levy Commission report would make it impossible for Israel to make that point. While the Levy Commission insisted that its findings were legal and not political, that distinction would be utterly lost on the international community. Observers everywhere would read the adoption of the Levy report as tantamount to annexing the West Bank. It would be read as putting the Palestinians on notice that Israel plans never to evacuate any settlements, and that hopes for a Palestinian state are dead. The damage to Israel – in the international community and even among more Zionists than this government realizes – would be profound.

Internally, the damage would be no less significant. Israel today faces a profound educational challenge, one that it has not even begun to address. Intentionally or not, adopting the Levy Commission report would signal to Israelis that their political leadership believes that the status quo is actually the ideal and that young people should give up even dreaming that the conflict might, one day, be behind us. Can we imagine ourselves in an interminable conflict without numbing our moral sensibilities? How do we encourage our citizens to be willing to fight for this country, without making hatred of our enemy a foundation of their Israeli ethos? Israel needs to educate a generation of young people and new leaders passionately committed to the proposition that a Jewish State needs to be defended vigorously, all the while hoping that our enemies might someday become simply neighbors.

Zionism at its best is aspirational. Not for naught is Israel’s anthem called “The Hope.” Zionism struggles to survive, even to thrive, in the realities that face it, but it also hopes. It hopes for a richer and more sophisticated conversation about how a state can be Jewish. It should aspire to greater social equality. And it should yearn for a day when its sons and daughters will not have to go to war.

Though that day will probably not come in our lifetime, perhaps not even in the lifetimes of our children, we dare not give up on Zionism’s aspirational essence. To state publicly now that what we have in Judea and Samaria is not an occupation might be a legally justifiable claim. But it would also signal that it is time to give up even thinking about how a different reality in the Middle East might be achieved.

That, we must not do. Whatever its intentions, the Levy Commission report does not serve Israel’s interests. Our children deserve to know that even if they, themselves, will not live to see this conflict resolved, “our hope is not yet lost,” and we will do all we can to cling to the possibility, however distant, of a better future for us all.

Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and Koret Distinguished Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. His book, Saving Israel, won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award. The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness is Actually Its Greatest Strength will be published in August 2012.