Israel May Not Be Able to Achieve Peace, but We Need to Separate From the Palestinians

A huge sword hangs over Herzl’s vision. To counteract it, we have no choice but to separate from the Palestinians and draw permanent and defensible borders.

Ron Huldai
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Theodor Herzl in Basel, site of First Zionist Congress.Credit: Central Zionist Archive/Courtesy Simon Wiesenthal Center
Ron Huldai

Let us begin with the bottom line: For the next 20 years at least, the concept of “peace” with the Palestinians will probably not be relevant. Even the camp to which I belong, the camp that for many years has dreamed and fought for peace and believed in it with all its heart, cannot seriously talk about it today without sounding naive. The main danger we face now is not the end of the dream of peace, but the looming end of the Zionist ideal, an end that can only be prevented by a determined effort to separate from the Palestinians.

Theodor Herzl, the visionary of the state, did not promise peace; his declared objective was a Jewish state that would be a liberal and progressive home of the Jews and would ensure the welfare of its inhabitants and strive to uphold legal and social justice, equal rights and equal opportunity. A state with a guaranteed Jewish majority in which the equal rights of minorities who wish to live there would also be guaranteed.

Let us be honest: A huge sword is currently dangling over this vision. The aimless meandering along the paths of diplomatic inertia and the unending control of the lives of millions of Palestinians are eroding Israel’s democratic character and causing us to slide toward a situation in which the only state of the Jewish people will cease to be a Jewish state.

This is the gravest danger facing Israel.

In the face of this danger, the government’s ruinous inaction is all the more appalling. Netanyahu & Co. tenaciously adhere to the paths of inertia as they zealously try to maintain the current situation, failing to understand that nothing stands still in the Middle East. If you are not moving ahead, you are in retreat and fall behind, as hope is eroded and the extremist forces that seek to set the region alight are strengthened. We have been feeling the consequences of this process in the international arena for the past decade, with the growing political and economic boycotts; and on the national level in the past weeks, with the surge of Palestinian terrorism.

The way our leaders see it, the solution to the current wave of attacks is to build more settlements. In response to the absence of hope and the escalation in the security situation, our leaders want to take steps that would deepen the connection with the Palestinians rather than untangle it. In this sense, the far right is finding common cause with the vision of the far left, and is pushing toward the creation of one state for two peoples, which would in fact spell the end of the Jewish state.

As someone who has devoted many years of his life to the security of Israel and who was personally involved in our nation’s wars for survival and its dreams for peace; as someone who took part in the great victory of the Six-Day War and shared in the most difficult and anxious moments of the Yom Kippur War, I cannot be accused of naveté. I know very well that in the Middle East there is no national revival or independence, no survival or liberty, for a state that is not capable of protecting itself, of maintaining its security and its citizens’ safety. This is all the more evident given the turmoil that has been roiling our region in recent years, with everything from lone terrorists to the dangerous nuclear program being pursued by the regime in Tehran.

In every scenario and under all circumstances, Israel must remain several steps ahead of its enemies. It must preserve its military dominance and its technological superiority. For the foreseeable future, at least, Israel will still have to live by the sword. Apparently, there is no other possibility.

But we must honestly ask ourselves: What will lead us to a more secure future, a state with a clear Jewish majority, in which the non-Jewish minority enjoys genuine and full equal rights; or a state that is home to two peoples – millions of Jews with full rights and millions of Palestinians without equal rights?

For me the answer is clear: A state in which the vast majority of inhabitants are Jews will be a much stronger and safer state, a more equal and ethical state, than one that has more territory but in which the Jews become a minority.

Indeed, we have no choice but to separate from the Palestinians and draw permanent and defensible borders. The skeptics will say, “There is no partner.” But “no partner” is the best friend of the agents of fear and despair. Yet the Israeli leadership does not have the luxury of blaming others for our situation. Even if there is skepticism about the desires of the other side, our leaders must present a clear political horizon and create the practical conditions that will help to dissolve the hostility and suspicion, and bring us closer to this objective.

Personally, I cannot say if there is a partner or not, nor do I know what the Palestinian leadership wants. I know what is right for my people and the only country I have. And I know that separating from the Palestinians will not detract from security; rather, it is the only step that can ensure security. It is the only way for anyone whose heart is still filled with the Zionist dream.

Today more than ever, Herzl, the man and his vision, should serve as a source of inspiration for us. We must return to a creative, innovative and energetic Zionism, one that sees the opportunities as well as the risks. A Zionism that does not simply react hastily to events that are imposed upon it, but which actively shapes the reality, which defines a national vision and strives to realize it with determination, courage and boldness.

We must get back to advancing a political process that will lead to the drawing of permanent and defensible borders, with the understanding that separating from the Palestinians is not counter to our security interests. Just the opposite. Setting borders is a prerequisite for security. If we are not willing to give up some of our dreams, we will end up emptying the entire Zionist dream of meaning. The time has come for us to be a nation like all other nations, a nation in which a teacher can point to a map of the country and tell his or her students – these are the recognized borders of our country.

The writer is mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and a brigadier general in the Israel Air Force reserves.

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