Finally the cat is out of the bag. For years there were signs that Benjamin Netanyahu did not intend to evacuate settlers from the West Bank. In 2011 he said himself in the U.S. Congress that in a time of peace, some Israeli settlements will remain beyond Israel’s border.
In 2013 former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser told Haaretz that the idea of evacuating settlers is passé. Various advisers and aides hinted that creative ideas were required vis-à-vis the settlements. But only this week, at the end of the fifth year of his second term as prime minister, did Netanyahu dare say it explicitly. He will not tear down settlements and not evacuate Jewish settlers. Peace, according to Netanyahu, is peace with no uprooting, no uprooted people and no bulldozers. It’s a peace that leaves hundreds of thousands of Israelis in Palestine.
The people of Gush Emunim, the messianic, far-right movement dedicated to establishing settlements in the West Bank, can be proud of themselves. Their Pyrrhic victory is immeasurable. Netanyahu at heart is not a great fan of the illegal outposts and their residents. In the Jerusalem-stone house where he was raised, no one was very impressed with the settlers’ messianism and their political parochialism. The Netanyahu family does not revere facts on the ground or worship clods of earth. Nevertheless, the huge scope of the settlement project has made Jabotinsky’s student cower before them. Benzion’s son reached the conclusion that there is no way to confront the students of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook and no way to make the destructive settlement structure they built go away.
Hats off to Benny Katzover and Yehuda Etzion, kudos to the late Hanan Porat. Hats off to Ze’ev Hever, Pinhas Wallerstein and Daniella Weiss. The knitted-kippa wearers have defeated the labor movement, the Jabotinsky movement and the State of Israel. Barring a last-minute change, their settlement project will defeat Herzl’s Zionism and bring us all to the brink of an abyss.
Netanyahu’s new demand, to leave all the settlers in their homes, will lead to one of two outcomes. Either the peace talks will collapse and Israel will be blamed, or Israel will be forced to accept Yossi Beilin’s creative idea about refugees in exchange for settlers. One way or the other, the result will be anti-Zionist. On the one hand, Israel will be subjected to dangerous isolation and on the other, it will be dramatically weakened by a flood of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
If the facts the settlers have fixed on the ground are indeed irreversible, they could render Zionism reversible. If there is no way back from the settlement project, then Israeli sovereignty is shaky and its days are numbered.
Neither the Arab nation nor the Palestinian struggle threaten Zionism today, but the disastrous consequences of Jewish messianism do. The destruction sown in the West Bank has become a whirlwind endangering the Zionist dream more than any Arab storm. The danger of diplomatic isolation is known, yet the right wing is ignoring it with ongoing obstinacy. But the danger inherent in Beilin’s brilliant, demanding proposal is a new peril, on that may finally open some eyes among the reasonable right.
Its significance is simple: The settlement project will force Israel to accept the right of return. To uphold the extremist enclaves of Itamar and Yitzhar, we will be forced to accept Palestinian refugees in Haifa, Jaffa and Lod.
Was this Gush Emunim’s Zionist vision? No. But it will be the price we will all pay for that movement’s historic mistake: If you try to grab it all, you end up with nothing. Attempting to inherit the entire land will lead to its utter loss. While Naftali Benett holds a street brawl with an elected prime minister, he must remember that what the PLO couldn’t do to Israel, the devoted Zionists and fanatics he represents are about to accomplish. Those who have built their homes in the occupied territories are the ones now undermining the Jewish national home.