Building a Palestinian-free Kingdom

While international leaders are drafting a Palestinian country, Yehuda Etzion is planning a Torah-centric state and the Third Temple. No, Palestinians and democracy are not part of this scheme.

While the president of the Palestinian Authority speaks at the United Nations, reporting to government leaders and ambassadors about Palestinian preparedness for an independent state, Yehuda Etzion is working on his own plan for the region. Etzion, a resident of the settlement Ofra, has a draft master plan for Jerusalem, which he is preparing with a team of Ofra residents and an architectural firm. The plan centers around the Third Temple: where a ring road will pass, where pilgrims will park, where observation points will be located. The Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem will be demolished. They are not part of the plan.

The plan, which is supposed to be published in a book this year, is part of Etzion's work to establish the Kingdom of Israel, which will put an end to all the talk of a Palestinian state. Etzion, 60, is among the founders of Ofra. In the 1980s he was an activist in the Jewish underground and planned to blow up the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, but he was arrested before the plot could be carried out. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, and ultimately served five. Since his release he has been fighting to enable Jews to pray on the Temple Mount and to rebuild the Temple. He makes a living by editing books.

Yehuda Etzion.
Emil Salman

Among the settlers, Etzion is considered an ideologue who avoids politics. He does not vote, and is opposed to the Yesha Council of settlements.

"The state, in a crime of sorts, built a Green Line, and it doesn't want to impose its jurisdiction beyond the Green Line," he says. "You establish an authority that operates only beyond the Green Line [the Yesha Council], for example. What are you doing? The Torah has to lead the nation, it is as relevant to Kfar Aza [within the Green Line] as it is to [the settlement] Ariel."

He also preaches in favor of "Jewish agriculture" - a trend spreading through the settlements in recent years.

Etzion is preparing to live eventually under Palestinian rule. He believes Israel's original sin was not annexing Judea and Samaria. "The government here is a kind of hybrid of a military presence and a civilian services network, without the ethical cover of the law, as opposed to in East Jerusalem and the Golan, where Israeli law was imposed. The army is the sovereign, and that's not ideal. The quality of government in these parts of the country is deteriorating. The government believes it is preserving the territory, but it is actually paving the way for the Palestinian state itself."

He believes the solution is annexing the territories. "My advice to the government is to impose its sovereignty on Judea and Samaria. There's no need to wait; it should be done now. The main catch is demographic, because with annexation, we are bringing in Palestinian citizens. That's why I'm opposed to democracy. Strangers in the land should be treated decently, but we don't have to give them national rights."

Etzion is one of the most prominent activists calling to let the settlers stay in their homes, even if their communities come under Palestinian rule. There are two other schools of thought on the matter: those who prefer not to discuss the fate of the settlements after a Palestinian state is established, and those who claim that life under Israeli sovereignty is more important than the Land of Israel.

"I call on myself and my friends to choose the Land of Israel over the State of Israel. The state wants to leave Judea and Samaria? Take the army, but I don't have to leave. There are Jews in the United States and in Iraq. Leave us here. Don't drag us away."

What kind of relations would you have with the Palestinian state?

"I wouldn't recognize the foreign entity, the enemy, for whom my country established a state. But I would live in the Land of Israel. I would create a problematic and explosive relationship with the Palestinian Authority if it becomes a state.

"I have no answers to all the questions about how we would live under Palestinian rule. Ostensibly it would seem to be in their interest not to massacre us, but they operate contrary to their interests. I support the experiment. I know things will be difficult and that most of the settlers will move to Ra'anana. There will be a substantial minority, more than two or three people, who will remain here. I'm asking the State of Israel not to be a partner to the crime. We'll try to stay on the land the state has abandoned.

"I have no grounds for saying 'Forget all the nonsense, [the government] can continue to babble and we'll stay here.' They've done terrible things, like evacuating Gush Katif. The only difference between that and Judea and Samaria is quantitative.

"I take everyone seriously, and certainly a leader who declares a clear policy, whether he's [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen or Benjamin Netanyahu. I'm not one of those saying 'Bibi declared two states, but he means the opposite.' I say that if he wants to, he knows how to implement it. Ultimately I'm afraid the government could execute [the two-state plan]. It's a serious scenario, for which we have to prepare."

It's hard for people to avoid the feeling that when it comes to the Israeli government, it's all talk.

"I object to the prevailing belief that it's all talk. I tell people, be careful. The only thing saving us is that Netanyahu is not the only player in the arena. If it were up to him, there would be a Palestinian state here."

Regretting his underground past

Two weeks ago Etzion was driving near Migron. Hilltop youth from the outpost, who were angry that buildings had been demolished there, had placed large stones on the road. Etzion hit one and damaged his car. "I believe they did it so that someone would hit the stones and call the army, and then they would throw stones at the soldiers. And in fact, when the army arrived, they started throwing stones," he said.

Etzion has harsh criticism for the hilltop youth. "Even if the government here is foreign, it's our foreign government. Israeli soldiers, who carry out Israeli state policy, must not be harmed, even if I consider it a policy of betrayal.

"During the days of the pre-state underground, it was a mitzvah to kill a British soldier. The comparison hilltop youths make between themselves and the underground is a farce. I myself say that the Israel Defense Forces has donned the suit of the British Mandate and there's a White Paper, but it's impossible to copy the methods of fighting used against the British. Instead of fighting the soldiers, we have to construct an alternative. Throwing stones at an Arab taxi, and certainly at an IDF jeep, is a ridiculous, foolish, worthless and pointless act."

Some of the hilltop youth call the Jewish underground their model. Etzion says he regrets his role in the underground. "It was an immature and childish act. At the time I thought that the actions of a small group could tip the balance. Now I believe there are no shortcuts through violence, because the road is long. There's no choice, we have to strengthen ourselves."

He supports fighting against evacuating outposts. During the evacuation of Amona, in 2006, Etzion was trampled by a mounted policeman and badly hurt. The policeman was brought to trial; Etzion sued the government and received NIS 23,000 in compensation. During the next evacuation he proposes "fighting in every passive way possible."

In hindsight, he believes that building the settlements "was not enough to tip the balance until the state became the real sovereign here. With the exception of serious incidents that took place in northern Samaria and Gush Katif [the disengagement], the settlement movement managed to hold out. But the movement is in danger, because Israel has declared its intention to establish a Palestinian state here. I ask myself what's happened to us. The settlements are a mechanism that keeps in check the bad things that were supposed to happen. Otherwise there would have been a Palestinian state here years ago.

"Look at the Oslo [Accords] map - wherever we began to pitch our tents there was no talk about Area A or about a Palestinian state. The settlements were proven to be the Jewish people's rescue mechanism in the Land of Israel, but it's a partial rescue. At one time the settlements were the holy ark, the supporting pillar; the best Zionist movements fought over who could build more settlements. Today everything is reversed. The norm now is not to build settlements. But I'm the last person who'll say 'never mind.'"