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The Land of Israel, every last millimeter of it, belongs to the State of Israel. It belongs to the Jewish state because it belongs to the Jewish people. Our nationhood is predicated on it. Our right to the Land is based on history, on international law, and, above all, on faith. And it is indivisible. We cannot say that we own Herzliya and Haifa, neither of which appears in the Bible, but not Hebron and Bet El, which do. Three thousand years of Jewish devotion to our home does not permit us to decide, for whatever diplomatic exigency, to disown it.
This has been a guiding principle of the Zionist movement since its nineteenth-century inception. It is the reason that the international community recognized the whole of Palestine, including what is today Gaza, the West Bank, and Jordan, as the Jewish patrimony. It is the reason why the Arabic names of many Palestinian cities serve as palimpsests for the original Hebrew. Not accidentally does Jordan, the Hashemite Arab Kingdom, take its name from the Bible.
As the Jewish State we are duty-bound to defend and settle our land. In Jewish terms, the high-rise contractor in Rishon L’Zion and the caravan-dwelling settler on the Samarian hill have exactly the same justification. Those Israelis who refer to the occupation of Judea by Jews are guilty of a tautology, for a people cannot occupy its own homeland. Those who refer to the annexation of Judea are equally to blame, for a people cannot annex its own homeland. On the contrary, living in and extending our law over the entire Land of Israel is our national and moral imperative.
That right is unassailable in the mostly unpopulated areas of Judea and Samaria and, especially, in the Golan Heights. Traditionally regarded as part of the Land of Israel, home to a third of its ancient synagogues, vital to our security and possessing immense economic potential, the Golan remains tragically undeveloped. Though more than a half-century has passed since Israeli liberated it, and forty years since Israel placed the Heights under its laws, the Golan is today home to a mere 22,000 Jews. The failure to settle this crucial territory, equal in size to 4.5% of pre-1967 Israel, is inexcusable in either Zionist or Jewish terms. It is particularly glaring in light of America’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. And, as history has repeatedly taught us, failure to settle parts of the land leads to international pressure to relinquish it.
But—and this but’s gigantic—there is a difference between maintaining and even hallowing a right and blindly asserting it. While it is always smart to build a high-rise in Rishon and or a new Golan city, it is not always wise to place a caravan on a Samaritan hillside. Along with devotion to the Land, Zionism also reveres the physical preservation of the Jewish people and the security of our state. If, by settling and extending Israeli law over areas inhabited by millions of Palestinians, we jeopardize the state’s future, we are as guilty as those who forfeit claim to the Land. By 2048, we could live in an Israel embracing the whole of Eretz Yisrael, but an Israel that is no longer democratic or, if it is, no longer a Jewish state.
The demographic threat to a nation-state based on maintaining a single-nation majority is irrefutable. So, too, is the price Israel pays in terms of its economy and foreign relations. But recognizing the presence of another people with claims to the Land is more than just a strategic necessity. There is a strong moral component to our relations with the Palestinians. While Israel, as I’ve said, cannot occupy its own land, it can occupy another people. That occupation, contrary to the image often promoted by the media, is far from brutal, as clear from any visit to downtown Ramallah or Nablus. Nevertheless, that occupation is morally draining. It divides our electorate and places our soldiers in ethically challenging, and often debilitating, situations. It inserts a gnawing doubt into the justness of our cause.
Yet even that moral difficulty is mitigated by the Palestinians’ serial failures to seize two-state offers, their deep reverence for terror, and their identity based almost entirely on negating ours. They are indeed a broken people, scattered across the Middle East and kept dependent on tainted international agencies. Their own leaders, corrupt and unelected, have stolen billions of aid dollars from them and led them down disastrous paths. And, yes, they have suffered. But, by comparison, the Jewish people, spread not only over the region but the world and emerging from the massacre of a third of their number, accepted the UN’s offer of a rump state devoid of resources, established a democratic state and defended it against incalculable odds, and created a miniature superpower.
There is little evidence that, even if offered a state, the Palestinians would be able to sustain it. Not even in Gaza, territorially tiny and hermetically sealed, has Hamas been able to preserve its exclusive rule. And while lionizing those who kill Jews, the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza war against each other, all the while caring nothing for the thousands of Palestinians displaced and massacred by the Syrian regime. This is the opposite of the dictum of mutual responsibility which is the core of Israel’s cohesiveness. “Israel’s problem is not that the Palestinians are not a people,” I once told a U.S. secretary of state. “Our problem is that they’re not enough of a people.”
And yet we cannot allow the Palestinians’ divisiveness and addiction to victimhood to destroy our vision of a democratic Israel. Yes, we must always assert our right to all the land—mirroring the Palestinians’ own assertion—but, no, we do not have to actualize that right in ways that are self-defeating. We must strive to preserve to the maximum extent the territorial integrity of our land without sacrificing our demographic and moral integrity as the Jewish state. Rarely over the course of three thousand years did the Jews control the entirety of Eretz Yisrael, but this never diminished our right. So must it be in 2048 as well.
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