Opinion

Shrinking the Occupation Won't Do. Israel Needs to Separate From the Palestinians

These are the steps Israel needs to take to end the conflict with the Palestinians once and for all. A response to 'Catch-67' author Micah Goodman

Palestinians waiting at the Qalandiyah checkpoint in the West Bank.
Majdi Mohammed/AP

In his article “While we’re waiting for redemption,” Micah Goodman, author of the Israeli best seller “Catch-67,” describes a captivating symmetry between the right and the left on tactical matters, in reference to the divisive reality of the occupation. However, he avoids taking a hard look at the image of the country that the dispute has generated. Devotees of Jewish history know that it wasn’t the disputes, nor even the fraternal hatred, but nationalist and religious fanaticism, arrogance and a blind belief that God will save us in the face of tremendous forces, that led to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the subsequent exile. Twice.

For years, processes of destruction, some of them irreversible, have corroded the foundations of responsible statesmanship, democracy and the rule of law in Israel. One side of the political map appropriated – at first gradually, now with knee-jerk defiance – Zionism, Judaism, love of homeland and nationalism. Contrary to what Goodman maintains in the book, the “passionate focus” and the “height of dreams” of the left is not peace, but the web of the state’s fundamental values.

Our strength does not derive from our (nonexistent) unity. It is, rather, ingrained in our moral common denominator, as embodied in the country’s formative document, the Declaration of Independence: a people that returned to its land in the hope of achieving a secure, egalitarian, pluralistic, democratic life in a country that has a Jewish majority and respects its minorities.

The promulgation of the Declaration of Independence reflected a rare moment of national agreement between the members of different communities, secular and religious, longtime inhabitants and new immigrants, advocates of diverse political parties and worldviews. However, the situation of effectively ruling over another people for decades has distanced us greatly from the basic national values. It promotes hatred, racism, incitement and violence, indifference and lack of compassion toward the Other, the weak or the different.

The complex regional arena – violent and unstable – of our time was no more stable in the 1940s. Accordingly, we would do well to reexamine the Declaration of Independence, which was framed in that decade. Its diplomatic-judicial dimension stands out. David Ben-Gurion wanted the declaration to help in obtaining international recognition for the fledgling state. With that in mind, the bulk of the text was devoted to specifying the legal and historical rights of the Jews to their state, from the Bible down to the United Nations Charter. The declaration’s formulation illuminates its secular character: It was not on a divine promise that the state grounded the justification for its existence, but on the roots that the Jewish people struck in the soil of the Land of Israel and on its political achievements leading up to independence.

The one value that is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and that all Jews – those in Israel and the majority of Diaspora Jewry – should agree on, is the guarantee of the existence of a democratic and secure national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. That is the banner we can all hoist together. The country’s size is not more important than the unity of the people, than peace and security.

According to the Declaration of Independence, within the country’s borders seven basic principles will exist: “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

This is an explicit promise that all the country’s citizens – Jews and Arabs – will be equal before the law and in terms of society’s attitude toward them. That is not the situation today, not within pre-June 1967 Israel, and certainly it is not possible as long as Israel rules in Judea and Samaria.

This too was declared: “We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”

Seventy years after Israel achieved independence, the country appears to be deteriorating toward losing its Jewish-democratic character, because of the absence of a border between us and the Palestinians. It is not security but the state’s character that is now facing a test. The issues in dispute between us and the Arabs will not change, nor will their solutions. We will have no genuine national resilience as long as we continue to rule another people in practice.

Since the state’s establishment, we have often witnessed the advantages of the wisdom of political-diplomatic action over the limitations and consequences of military action. The two peoples will continue to live here. Public opinion needs to be prepared for the compromise that’s necessary for the sake of our future, and not by means of brainwashing or slogans.

Goodman examines the position of the left and the right in regard to the occupation. But in doing so, he turns his gaze away from the long-term goal that is delineated so clearly in the Declaration of Independence. That is a basic error.

For the good of Israel and its security, we must strive to separate from the Palestinians. Goodman appears to understand this, as he proposes interim measures aimed at “shrinking the conflict,” as he puts it, but there he chooses to stop – instead of forging ahead toward the strategic goal embodied in the values of the Declaration of Independence.

Goodman proposes useful steps to ease the life of the Palestinians and to empower the Palestinian Authority, but they are far from being sufficient to ensure our national goal. The interim measures need to lead to a separation from the Palestinians that will avert a re-eruption of the conflict, on the road to the primary and strategic goal: to ensure a Jewish-democratic Israel for generations.

Halting the expansion of the settlement blocs, as Goodman proposes, is also a necessary step, but it is insufficient, unless two concurrent actions are undertaken.

One action is related to the question of the future of settlers who live outside the blocs, where Israel does not intend to expand the settlement project. In order to make it possible for those settlers to restart their lives in a place where Israeli sovereignty is guaranteed and to allow for the development and expansion of their communities in the long term, the state must enact evacuation-compensation-integration legislation for them. It is the duty of the leadership to tell them the truth and to enable them to relocate and rehabilitate their lives.

And in order to prevent the regression and intensification of the conflict, cessation of construction outside the main settlement blocs and the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem must be accompanied by a declaration that Israel has no long-term sovereignty claim over those territories. This will serve the goal of setting the ship of Zionism back on course toward the original destination of a democratic state for the Jewish people.

It will also benefit Israel politically: Trust in the country’s intentions will be restored, international recognition of the legitimacy of the demand for a national home for the Jewish people and of Israel’s right to defend that home with force against attacks on it will be restored, and an opening will be created for future agreement on Palestinian sovereignty in these territories.

The creation of a two-state reality even before a full peace agreement is reached will improve Israel’s diplomatic-security situation. On the military front, it will strengthen pragmatic trends in Palestinian society; the continuation of the military struggle, to the extent that it is required, will take place in conditions of broader international legitimacy and in a more flexible space for maneuvering should the use force be necessary; and domestically, the principles of the Declaration of Independence will once more make possible an internal discourse on Israel’s future as the democratic state of the Jewish people.

If we possess a national conscience, it is the Declaration of Independence. Rereading it brings us back to the responsible path along which we must tread: gradually and with moderation, but without turning our gaze away from the goal.

The authors are the founders of the Blue White Future organization.