In March, when the results of the election were announced, I believed that it was Benjamin Netanyahu who had won. I was wrong.
It was Greater Israel that won. I just didn’t know it yet.
At first, I didn’t want to believe it. I chose denial over acceptance. Just as, in denial, I had wanted to believe Netanyahu when he’d committed himself to a two-state solution, democracy and human rights.
But this election was different. There was no denying it anymore. The signs were too bald. The direction was too clear.
Greater Israel had come back from the dead, to claim all of Israel as its own. Netanyahu was simply along for the ride. He’d served his purpose. But he would no longer call the shots, if he ever really had. Greater Israel, which after the 2005 disengagement from Gaza had seemed mortally wounded, no longer needed him.
Now the peace process was dead and buried. Undeterred attacks on West Bank Palestinians escalated until they reached the obscenity of the firebomb murder of an 18-month-old infant and both his parents as they slept in their beds.
Meanwhile, Israel would now be represented at the United Nations by a leading annexationist. Israel’s envoy to the largest nation in Latin America would be the ex-chairman of the settlement movement’s Yesha Council.
Israel’s ranking diplomat in the world would be a deputy foreign minister who had helped resurrect the ideology of Greater Israel within the ruling Likud party.
“Whoever believes in the Greater Land of Israel has never been prepared to give parts of our homeland away for any purpose, not even for peace,” she said in 2013, adding that for rightists who believe that Greater Israel should include both banks of the Jordan River, “the existence of [the nation of] Jordan is a historic compromise.”
Most significantly, the election would crown the far right’s success in transitioning from the defeat and despair of the Gaza disengagement to an ardent, increasingly mainstream campaign to expand Jewish activism at the Holy Land’s most incendiary sacred site, the location not only of the ancient Jewish Temple, but of Islam’s Al Aqsa Mosque.
The proof came after a Temple Mount visit in early October by cabinet minister Uri Ariel, a Greater Israel stalwart so radical that in 2013, as construction minister, he was quoted as declaring that “we need to build a real Temple on the Temple Mount.”
The fall guy
So far, amid the firestorm of ensuing violence, the overall win-win strategy of Greater Israel has proven itself. After all, when things were quieter, Netanyahu let Greater Israel quietly sink ever-expanding roots.
Now, as the violence-plagued prime minister faces plummeting approval ratings, polls show the Israeli public beginning to look elsewhere for leadership – to the far right.
It turns out that Greater Israel did not need Netanyahu as a leader. It needed Netanyahu as a smokescreen, a roadblock, a diversion, a front, a firewall – and, if need be, a fall guy.
The moment anything went horribly wrong, like the shock wave of stabbings, Netanyahu could serve a new purpose. He could take the fall, leaving Greater Israel room to roll along with someone new.
Now that it is victorious, however, is Greater Israel any more truly realizable? Sustainable? Advisable? Of course not.
But will that stop the apostles of Greater Israel? Don’t make me laugh.
As the saying goes, Yesha [the West Bank and Gaza] is here. Which is to say, there is more of the occupation here in pre-1967 Israel every single day. More of it in government. More of it in the lawlessness and antidemocratic currents, and the blood running in the streets.
Greater Israel is prepared to die for the cause, if need be. Which is to say, that if need be, Greater Israel is willing to take us all down with it.
After all, Greater Israel always carries a Messiah in its back pocket. What have the rest of us got? A belief in the potential of coexistence? Of democracy? Of social justice? Of diplomacy?
Don’t make the Greater Israel guys laugh.
In the end, oddly or perhaps fittingly, the only hope for a reversal of occupation – the occupation whose engine and fuel is the dream of Greater Israel – maybe some wholly unexpected, shockingly positive act of God, or even of humankind.
I so want to believe that this will come soon, in our own days.
I want to believe that the many, many people on both sides who are working to help heal old wounds instead of creating new ones, are not working in vain.
I still believe that Israel has the capacity to defeat Greater Israel and survive as a democracy.
But, then, I’ve been wrong before.
Bradley Burston is a columnist for Haaretz and Senior Editor of Haaretz.com.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now