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In the West Bank, a Test for God

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A boy dressed in costume takes part in a parade marking the Jewish holiday of Purim in the West Bank city of Hebron March 12, 2017.
A boy dressed in costume takes part in a parade marking the Jewish holiday of Purim in the West Bank city of Hebron March 12, 2017. Credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS

Haim Guri heard the following story from Yehoshua Cohen, who long ago was a Lehi underground operative and later Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s personal bodyguard:

Members of the Jewish Underground of the 1980s asked to meet with him after they were arrested, and the Shin Bet security service allowed it. During the meeting Cohen asked them if their plan to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount had been a mere metaphysical aspiration or whether they really intended to do it. They remained silent.

After a short while, one of them answered that if they had gotten the approval of their rabbis, they would have gone ahead with their plan. When Cohen persisted and asked if they had taken into account the dangerous consequences of blowing up the mosques – like an international jihad against the Jewish people – they answered, “That would have been an acid test for God.”

Thanks to the Shin Bet, it didn’t come to pass and God was spared the test. But the One Up There continues to be the ultimate solution for messianic nationalist Jewish thinkers when they are asked about Israel’s relations with the Palestinians. They are reluctant to say this explicitly but it emerges from behind their positions and the prescriptions they sketch out for resolving the conflict over the Land of Israel, as has become increasingly clear during the past few weeks.

The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States apparently released the safety catch and led members of the right-wing camp to spit out the yearnings and weird ideas that until now they generally kept to themselves. Suddenly the demand to apply Israeli law to the West Bank, to annex most or all of it, became legitimate. It is no longer the craving of an extreme minority but a sweeping position shared by most members of the ruling coalition; a stance that the leading opposition party is flirting with, which the Knesset speaker and Likud ministers support and which even the nation’s president identifies with. The two-state idea is fading and is being replaced by the alternative: one state for two peoples.

This has stopped being a metaphysical idea and has turned into a practical work plan. Naftali Bennett is calling for annexing Area C of the West Bank and consolidating Israel’s hold on the West Bank by making huge investments in the development of civilian infrastructure. Uri Ariel is suggesting the annexation of the entire West Bank while giving the Palestinians residency status and the possibility of citizenship in the future if they want it (after they pass a test of loyalty to the state).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may still be paying lip service to the two-state solution, but his body language signals that he’s shucking it off (“regional solution,” “state-minus,” and, especially, the dissolving of the “peace process”). So too Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The right wing is pulling off the shelf the legal basis for establishing one state: a minority ruling by the late Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy that justifies the claim for Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.

Like the members of the Jewish Underground 35 years ago, the right-wing leaders of 2017 aren’t doing a full accounting of what their position means. Yehuda Etzion and his comrades in the underground drew up a detailed plan to blow up the Temple Mount mosques because they believed that the dramatic attack would lead to the War of Gog and Magog, to be followed by redemption (this, plus the goal of torpedoing the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty).

The members of Habayit Hayehudi and their ilk are seeking to annex Judea and Samaria because they believe that they are thus fulfilling the commandment of settling the land (this, in addition to wanting to exploit the unique international circumstances they believe could get the Palestinian people off their heads once and for all). Like the members of the Jewish Underground in 1980, today’s right-wing politicians are aware of the trouble their actions are likely to bring on the country, but they are secretly counting on divine salvation.

Bennett and his colleagues are aware that realizing their one-state idea could be the end of the Zionist vision as embodied in the State of Israel. They also understand that they cannot reconcile their desire to populate the West Bank with making all the Palestinians citizens of the State of Israel. They are aware that if annexation takes place, there will be an irreconcilable contradiction between “Jewish” and “democratic,” and they are also aware that the declarations promising “full equality” or “full citizenship” are false.

So then what are they relying on when they pursue this plan? Two possibilities. Either they believe the hand of God will reach down from heaven to pull us out of the quagmire, or in their heart of hearts they’re thinking of a different solution: transfer.

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