Which of the Two Jewish Nations Will Israeli Voters Choose?

Once, the settlement state begged Israel for legitimacy. Today it is the state within the Green Line that seeks legitimacy from the settlement state.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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An Israeli flag is seen in front of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.
An Israeli flag is seen in front of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.Credit: AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Did he or didn’t he repudiate the “two states for two peoples” formula of his June 2009 “Bar-Ilan speech”? Does he “reject” it, or merely think that in the current “reality,” this formula is no longer relevant? In short, was he lying, or not, when he forced his lips to utter what he does not believe? Did he lie then, or is he lying now, as attorneys like to ask witnesses in cross-examination.

But this argument puts the cart before a horse that has not even been born yet. “In reality,” as defined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the “two states for two peoples” formula no longer has a place, mainly because there’s no Palestinian partner, and that’s because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas allied with Hamas and dared to join the International Criminal Court.

What about what happened earlier, before the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, before Palestine joined the ICC? Six years have elapsed since Netanyahu’s “earthshaking” declaration, and each of those years ended with nothing.

That’s because in the genuine reality, there are already many more than two states. There are two Jewish states, one in the territories and another within the faded boundaries of the Green Line, and two Palestinian states, one that is partly recognized by the international community and another that is still split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

An ideological war for legitimacy has been raging between the two Jewish states for years, while the battle between the two Palestinian states is a political one, for control.

The Palestinian rift coexists alongside the fundamental agreement that Gaza and the West Bank are a single state. Not only because the Oslo Accords said so, but because living in these two physically separated territories is a single nation, with a shared language, culture, history and desire for independence.

The two Jewish states, in contrast, have not yet been fused into a single entity. A thin wall — national, religious and cultural — still stands, despite the projectiles fired at it from catapults. The settlement state operates in accordance with its own laws, both formal and informal. It dictates the national culture of its parent state inside the Green Line. The “state lands” beyond the Green Line are its alone. Its budgets tear savagely into those of its mother state; and its political language is uncompromisingly messianic.

Once the settlement state begged its parent state for legitimacy. It sought to “settle in the hearts and minds” of its inhabitants, to persuade them that “Yesha [the West Bank and Gaza] is here,” in Kfar Sava and Tel Aviv. But now, after nearly five decades, it is the state within the Green Line that seeks legitimacy from the settlement state.

The identity of citizens of the State of Israel (the legal and recognized one) is being built around the question of whether they would let the settlement state annex Israel and impose its laws on it.

This is no longer a question of borders and territory, of recognized or unrecognized settlement blocs, but a test of identity that both Zionism and Judaism must pass if they want to be relevant to Netanyahu’s “reality.” This is also the test of proper citizenship: Are Israeli Jews citizens of the state according to its international definition, or are they citizens of a vision crafted in Ofra and in Hebron?

That is where the absurdity of the wrangling over the “two states” formula lies. The dispute over the territories is secondary to the question of identity. And to answer the latter question, it’s necessary to say to which of the two Jewish nations the Israeli Jew belong — the one that has “forgotten its Jewishness,” and whose key trait is a willingness to make concessions, or the “authentic” one, for which messianic delusions are reality.

This is the great success of the settlement state, which turned the “two states” formula into a litmus test of Jewish identity. This is the question Israelis must answer when they got to vote next week.

In this election, the most important question is not the negotiated solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but rather the sanity of Israel’s civic identity and the strengthening of the wall that separates the two Jewish states.

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