With Israel moving toward elections, we will be hearing a great deal from leaders of the settlement movement. By all accounts, their influence is growing in Israel, including in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud Party. Unfortunately, there is much that these leaders do not understand.
I actually agree with the settlers about one fundamental thing: Israel is a vulnerable state, surrounded by enemies and located in an unstable region of the world. I can imagine no scenario in the foreseeable future that would lead to a true peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I would be delighted to see the appearance of a Palestinian Nelson Mandela, but that has not happened, and there is little reason to think that it will.
Given this reality, the settler leaders reach two conclusions, both of which are wrong.
The first is that security for Israel requires keeping control of Judea and Samara. Without the West Bank, they say, there can be no secure borders for the Jewish State. But the problem with this argument, even admitting the precarious nature of Israel’s situation, is that security for Israel is not solely a military issue; it is both a military and political matter.
Israel’s security relies on the might of the Israel Defense Forces and on the political and military support of her allies in the world, particularly the United States. (The support of the western European democracies is important as well, but not nearly as much.) Absent military superiority over her neighbors, Israel will not survive; but absent the political support of the United States and other allies, Israel’s existence will also be in jeopardy, even if her eastern border is the Jordan River. The threat of a nuclear Iran has made this point manifestly apparent. And the United States will simply not tolerate an indefinite occupation of the territories.
The second conclusion of the settlers is that our besieged people must rely on the Torah, and the Torah requires that the territories be retained. While I endorse the idea that the Jewish State should embrace the teachings of Jewish tradition, those traditions must be properly interpreted. And the simple fact is that there is no religious obligation to remain in all of the territories.
I have written previously in these pages about how Jewish sources discuss “the holiness of the Land of Israel,” noting that the Jewish understanding of the holiness of the Land is not related to borders. Furthermore, the tradition provides not one but several definitions of the borders of the Land of Israel. In addition, the tradition makes no assumption that those who have expanded Israel’s borders are to be viewed favorably.
The words of the prophet Amos are interesting in this regard. Israel’s King Jeroboam, son of Joash, “restored the territory of Israel from Lebo-hamath to the sea of the Arabah…and recovered Damascus and Hamath for Judah in Israel.” But Amos, who prophesied during his reign, scoffed at those who took delight in these military victories as if they were a personal triumph. Jeroboam, he knew, “did what was displeasing to the Lord” (II Kings 14:24-28) and therefore Amos made known God’s intention to “turn upon the House of Jeroboam with the sword.” Jeroboam, he said, “shall die by the sword, and Israel shall be exiled from its soil” (Amos 7:8-9).
In other words, Amos did not see conquest of the Land of Israel to be either a virtue or the fulfillment of God’s will—and neither should we. His teaching was: If the people of Israel wish to be “at ease in Zion” and “nevermore uprooted from the soil,” their task is to concern themselves not with borders but with righteousness and not with territory but with justice.
The State of Israel today cannot simply walk away from the West Bank, but she can do what is needed to keep Israel a Jewish and democratic state. In determining how to do this, her politicians will need to carefully consider their policies and their message, especially at this election season.
I recommend, therefore, that they look to the teachings of Amos: Territories and borders are not now and have never been the essential issue. What is essential is a fair resolution of a difficult conflict that will provide security for Israel and justice for all the inhabitants of the land.