Bennett’s Ignorant and Dangerous Distortion of Jewish History

Does Prime Minister Netanyahu agree with his coalition partner’s destructive dogmatism? The answer will decide the fate of the peace process.

Not for the first time, the country owes a debt to Naftali Bennett – for speaking his mind in clear, unequivocal words. The debt is not for the chutzpadik, anti-democratic words with which Minister Bennett attacked the prime minister's hysteria and “ethical befuddlement” about leaving some settlements inside the projected Palestinian state.

The national debt to Bennett is rather for the "ideological" words that followed: "Two thousand years of longing for the Land of Israel did not pass so that we could live under the rule of Abu Mazen," Bennett asserted. "And whoever even considers having Jews live in the Land of Israel under Palestinian sovereignty undermines our presence in Tel Aviv."

This assertion has two possible sources, not mutually exclusive: Ignorance of history, and adherence to today's dangerous dogma of Jewish religious nationalism.

The ignorance cries out. Under whom over the generations of Jewish history did the Ramban or Rabbi Yosef Karo or Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk or the disciples of the Vilna Gaon think they were going to live if they succeeded in settling in Eretz Yisrael? Under Jewish sovereignty? Of course not. Under relatively tolerant Muslim rule. Their purpose was to be granted, by the Muslim rulers, untrammeled access to the holy and historical places that inspired them in their prayers and studies. That purpose was often achieved.

The change in the ultimate goal – an independent Jewish state in Palestine - was the essence of the Zionist revolution (although, for tactical reasons, the Zionist Organization itself forbore in its early decades to decode Balfour's "national home" as "state").

The important and dangerous issue is the way in which Bennett and his camp twist history, consciously or not, in order to support their contemporary, pernicious position: That any Jewishly desirable (for religious or historical reasons) swathe of Eretz Yisrael must end up under Israel's sovereignty.

That position makes a peace agreement with the Palestinians – in other words a re-partition of Palestine – virtually impossible. It effectively negates Palestinian contiguity, which has always been an objective of the settlers. It ignores the principle of untrammeled access which can offer a foundation for a partition agreement between two states. Violation of the access provisions would constitute a casus belli. Israel would maintain its vast military superiority over Palestine in order to deter any such violation. But by the same token it would ensure untrammeled access to holy places in its sovereign territory in order to avoid more armed conflict. The present-day tough selection arrangements often applied on Fridays at the Temple Mount hardly accord with Israel's proud claims that the holy places are freely accessible.

Since Bennett's demagogics a week ago, the Prime Minister's people have explained that Netanyahu's public thinking about leaving settlements inside Palestine was "a trap" for Abu Mazen to fall into and expose his fundamental rejectionism. Well, in the event Bennett and the Likud far right fell in, which is also useful for the prime minister diplomatically, demonstrating what a bunch of extremists he has to work with.

The all-intriguing question remains whether the prime minister, in his heart, agrees with Bennett's position, founded as it is on destructive dogmatism and twisted history. Netanyahu now envisions an additional settlement bloc indeed replete with Jewish historical sites …in clear sight of Ramallah.

For Bennett, it must be hard to reconcile his position with the historical fact (if he knows it) that some, at least, of his movement's ministers were doubtful during the Six Day War about ordering the IDF to conquer the Old City. What were they weighing up? That Jews would continue to be barred from the Western Wall as they were during the 19 years of Jordan's violation of the access provisions in the Armistice Agreement? Or rather that Israel's now-proven power would guarantee untrammeled access for Jews to their holy and historic places, whatever sovereignty arrangements were eventually put into operation in Jerusalem and the West Bank?

Yitzhak Rabin once purportedly spoke of needing a passport to enter Gush Etzion. That seems unimaginable today. But such diplomatic formalities, in an on-the-ground atmosphere of cooperation, could provide the pragmatic flexibility needed in a partition agreement. They certainly should be on the table in the Kerry negotiation. The Rome/Vatican agreement is the classic precedent. Bennett, with his misguided merger of religion and nationalism, frankly spurns any such creativity to end the conflict. And Netanyahu?
 

Emil Salman