Israel’s rightwing government is a disaster – an utter, total, complete disaster. It is undermining Israel’s security, endangering her alliance with the United States, alienating young American Jews, and complicating already tense relations with the European Union.
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And the government is doing all of this not out of conviction but of out of cowardice and indecision. Unable to decide on a coherent set of principles to which it is committed, first it says it will do one thing and then says it will do the opposite. But most of the time, especially on critical issues, it does nothing at all, weakening Israel in the process.
Its most serious mistake is turning Israel into a single, large, Jewish/Palestinian state. Such a state, of course, fulfills the dream of radical leftists around the world. The international BDS movement – calling for a program of divestment, sanctions, and boycotts against Israel – proclaims its commitment to a one-state solution in Palestine in which everyone, Israeli and Palestinian, Muslim and Jew, will enjoy complete equality.
But no one is fooled. The BDS leaders are Israel-hating anti-Semites, and the state that they and their allies hope to create will not be democratic, or Jewish, or bi-national. It will be an Arab state with, in the best case scenario, a barely tolerated Jewish minority engaged in constant conflict with the Palestinian majority. In the BDS vision, Israel will become Syria. And this will mean the end of the Zionist dream and of Jewish sovereignty in any part of the Land of Israel.
Even if there is no Palestinian partner for peace and even if Hamas is working to assert control over the West Bank, the creation of a single state in Israel/Palestine makes no sense. Preventing such a state from coming into being should be Benjamin Netanyahu’s absolute first priority.
And since the mixing of Palestinians and Jews in the territories makes such a state much more likely, Mr. Netanyahu should be taking every reasonable step to keep the Jewish and Palestinian populations there separated. But incredibly, he is doing the reverse.
Israeli settlements are an instrument for mixing together Arabs and Jews in the West Bank. The building of settlements, particularly outside the major blocs, advances the cause of a single state and strikes at the Zionist foundations of Israel. It also is the major cause of tension between Israel and her American and European allies.
So what does Mr. Netanyahu do? He instructs his diplomats and cabinet members to say, usually in off-the-record meetings, that his government has unofficially stopped building settlements; Yoav Galant, his housing minister, made such a statement to Jewish leaders in New York in May. But then, when settler protests mount, previous promises of restraint are ignored, and new building permits for settlements are announced, inside and outside of the blocs. And then, when challenged by American or European leaders, Mr. Netanyahu downplays the new construction, even though it has long been clear that settlement growth has been significant during his tenure.
The result: A ridiculous game of zigzagging and obfuscation that fools no one, infuriates Israel’s friends, and contributes to the creeping annexation that can only lead to a single state. It is a policy of utter madness. Why in heaven’s name does Netanyahu do this?
I simply do not know. Netanyahu is not a monster, a fascist, or a fool. During his lengthy tenure, Israel has remained a contentious but vital democracy, regardless of what his critics may say. A master politician, he has done a reasonably good job of handling Israel’s economy, avoiding unnecessary military adventures, and coping with the threat of terror. Nonetheless, history will ultimately judge him by one standard alone: Has he stopped his country’s descent into a one-state reality that will put an end to Israel’s Jewish and democratic character? If he has not, nothing else will matter.
If Netanyahu were looking for a way to change course, a new option is available to him. More than 200 retired members of Israel’s security establishment – army generals and those of equivalent rank in the security services and police – have produced a document titled “Security First.” The document’s premise is that Israel relies on a political and military status quo that does not exist; in fact, every day Israel’s security situation gets worse and the single state reality draws closer. The generals urge Israel to stop waiting for a Palestinian partner, who may or may not appear, and to take actions on her own that will improve her security and her international standing.
These generals are not wide-eyed doves. They do not call for uprooting a single settlement and say that, for now, Israel must retain security control over the West Bank. But they also call for completing the security fence, freezing all settlement growth to the east of the fence, reiterating Israel’s commitment to two states for two peoples, and instituting various measures to improve life for the Palestinians in the West Bank. And they propose offering assistance to the people of Gaza in return for steps to be taken by Hamas to guarantee quiet on the Israeli side of the border.
What the generals are proposing, in fact, is not a peace plan or a “peace process,” and it is refreshingly free of the nave, “gee whiz” language that peace process documents often possess. What they propose, instead, is a hard-headed security plan, intended to reverse the security deterioration on the ground, stop Israel’s slide to a single Jewish/Palestinian state, and preserve the option of negotiations at some future date. On a recent trip to the U.S. sponsored by the Israel Policy Forum, which supports the plan, several of the generals made their case to Jewish and general audiences, including members of Congress, and were enthusiastically received.
Netanyahu says that everything he does is motivated by his fears for Israel’s security. But as the generals of “Security First” have pointed out, Mr. Netanyahu has chosen a course that makes Israel’s security situation more fragile and her political situation more tenuous. And worst of all, it makes the one-state solution the most realistic outcome of the current stalemate.
It is not too late to avoid the one-state nightmare, but time is running out. Will the prime minister do what he has always done, cower before the settlers and continue on the same absurd path to tragedy? Or will he embrace the sane and sensible ideas of several hundred non-political security experts who care about saving a Jewish and democratic Israel? Mr. Netanyahu, your call.
Eric H. Yoffie, a rabbi, writer and teacher in Westfield, New Jersey, is a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Follow him on Twitter: @EricYoffie