A couple of years ago I had an interesting meeting in Jerusalem with a senior IDF figure. Among many other topics, we discussed the Mavi Marmara incident. I asked her why on earth the IDF, knowing the true agenda of those on the ship, dropped those commandos into the mouth of the beast.
Surely, I said, there must have been a way of dealing with the ships that didn’t involve risking the lives of the IDF commandos? “Listen,” she told me, “we had a bunch of lousy options and that was the least lousy.”
That phrase comes to mind when I consider the future of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. When groups like J-Street and Yachad argue that Israel risks an apartheid-like situation if it stays there, the more robotically-minded of Israel’s supporters shriek the distasteful and reductive “self-hating Jew!” accusation at them.
Like much – but not all – of the criticism aimed at J-Street and Yachad, this is unfair.
After all, Ehud Barak – Israel’s most decorated soldier – said: “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.” Similarly, Yitzhak Rabin, one of Israel’s most dedicated statesmen, said that sovereignty over the West Bank was “an illusion” that would result in “a racist Jewish state”.
In his interesting book A New Voice For Israel, Jeremy Ben-Ami posits a simple but disturbing equation for the future of Israel and the West Bank. He writes that, going forward, Israel will have to choose two of three things: to be a Jewish state, to be a democracy, to remain in the West Bank.
He argues that it will soon only be possible to be two of those things. Israel can remain in the West Bank and remain a democracy – but then it will quickly lose its Jewish identity. Or it can remain in the West Bank, remain Jewish and cease to be a democracy. Or it can withdraw from the West Bank and remain both Jewish and democratic.
Put like that, the third option is the most attractive on paper. However, that’s easy to write as I sit here in east Berkshire, what if I lived in west Jerusalem? Withdrawing from the West Bank now would put Israel’s two biggest cities, its airport, financial districts, gas storage plants and around four million people directly in the line of rocket fire.
I don’t see that risk evaporating anytime soon, nor do I see any Israeli leader wanting to take that risk in the foreseeable future. After all, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza it emboldened its enemies and terror attacks increased.
So, if Israel is going to stay in the West Bank for the foreseeable future, by the reasoning of Ben-Ami, Barak and Rabin, it will soon have to surrender either its Jewish or democratic identity.
Talk about a bunch of lousy options. I’m hoping that one of you will show me that Ben-Ami’s equation is wrong.
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