Time to pass on baton to younger leaders, says Wallerstein

Palestinian statehood must be prevented, but not through violence against the IDF or innocent Palestinians, outgoing Yesha Council leader says.

Pinchas Wallerstein (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Pinchas Wallerstein
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
It's a mistake to act violently against the army or innocent Palestinians in defense of Judea and Samaria, warns Pinchas Wallerstein, 61, who resigned this week after 35 years of public service on behalf of the settlement movement.
Wallerstein has consistently been an outspoken critic of the growing call in the settler community for soldiers to disobey orders to destroy Jewish homes in the West Bank. He has also been a firm advocate of civil disobedience as the best tool by which to wage a battle in a democratic society.
This week, as the iconic figure stepped down from his post as director-general of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, he took time to chastise settlers and right-wing activists who have resorted to violence or have been advocates of IDF insubordination.
"People are confused out of fatigue and disappointment. They think that in an extra-parliamentary battle you fight the IDF, but its objective is to weaken the existing government," Wallerstein told The Jerusalem Post. "They want to be victorious over the army and that is impossible.
A person who acts violently to achieve his objective "is someone who does not know what democracy is. He thinks that with violence he will win. He will lose more," said Wallerstein.
"Without the IDF as a protective force, the Jewish people will not survive," he added.
It is for this reason that the IDF should not participate in the evacuation of settlements or the destruction of Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria, he said, but it is up to the non-uniformed elders to fight that battle and not the soldiers themselves.
The council has not spoken up enough on this issue, said Wallerstein, who added that he was as guilty of this as anyone else on the council.
He and the council, Wallerstein said, should have been more outspoken against the "price-tag policy" of some settlers to punish innocent Palestinians for IDF actions against them.
The price-tag policy "is much more serious" than the issue of IDF insubordination, and "cannot be tolerated," said Wallerstein.
The council, he said, should have clearly stated its principles in a pro-active way before events happened, rather than reactively afterwards.
"We want our teens to be educated on certain principles," he said.
In spite of calls among some settlers to secede from the state or to resist the IDF violently, he said he did not believe that a civil war would break out.
"It does not serve anyone's interest. They are trying to scare us with this," said Wallerstein.
The real threat, he said, is not the evacuation of settlements but the creation of a Palestinian state.
"It's an existential threat that could destroy the state. As a Zionist I will do everything that I can to insure that Palestinian state will not be here," said Wallerstein.
"If there is one, oy va voy to us," said Wallerstein.
Once a Palestinian state is created, the danger to Israel will be the same, no matter how many or how few settlements are evacuated as a result, Wallerstein said.
"Our objective is to thwart this," said Wallerstein.
But it is important to do it through civil disobedience, he added.
"I am part of the Israeli society, without any preconditions. I am a citizen of the state even when it makes the most stupid decisions," said Wallerstein.
It his belief, he said, that 95 percent of the residents in the settlements agree with his opinions.
Events since the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 have shown that there is no alternative to the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
Post-disengagement might have been considered a logical time to replace the council, he said, noting that attempts have been made to do this, but they have not been successful. Alternative elements do not have the same power or the same number of adherents as the council, said Wallerstein.
When the council called for non-violent resistance to the 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction, the bulk of the settlers complied, proving that the council is still the largest controlling body, he said.
Everyone speaks romantically of those who rallied in 1974 to try to build a settlement on the ruins of the Sebastia train station, but that was only several thousand people, said Wallerstein.
Now, when the council holds a rally of 15,000-20,000, people shrug it off as a small event, said Wallerstein.
It is true that there are more internal divisions that make it harder for the council to govern, he said, but added, "the Yesha Council has never been this powerful," and represents 95% of the settler community.
He said he disagrees with anyone who thinks that it is weak.
"I believe that the Yesha Council will continue to lead" the settlement movement, said Wallerstein.
Although there has been some difference of opinion between himself and the council regarding the best way to move forward in its campaign of civil disobedience, the disagreements have been over style and not substance.
A child of Polish immigrants who came to Israel in the 1930s, Wallerstein grew up in Kiryat Ata, and moved to the Negev after his marriage.
He found his life's mission by accident, in the early 1970s, when he was asked to head an initiative to start a new settlement in the West Bank.
As a young couple, he said, he and his wife were looking for new challenges. The option to build a new community from scratch "seemed Zionist and romantic and it suited my nature," said Wallerstein.
Initially, the idea had been to settle in the area of Shilo, but in the end, they chose to break ground on what would become the settlement of Ofra, in the Binyamin region.
When they arrived there in 1975 it was an empty hilltop save for the remnants of a Jordanian military base, said Wallerstein, who still lives there.
From that point, he said, everything grew - the settlement, the region, and his career in public life.
First, he became the secretary of Ofra, soon after his arrival there. Then in 1979, he won the race to become the first head of the Binyamin Regional Council - a post he held for 28 years. When he left in November 2007, it was the largest regional council.
In the mid-1990s, he was also the chairman of the Council of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip for three years.
"If someone had said [back in 1975] that I would be in public life and there were 310,000 people in Judea and Samaria, I would have immediately suggested that they be committed to a mental institution.
"When I created the Binyamin Regional Council, I didn't just know every resident, I knew their children. It was very intimate. I matured in the position and with its missions, as heading the Binyamin Regional Council became a much larger and more complicated position."
Leaving that job, he said, was much harder than his latest decision to leave his job with the Yesha Council.
It had proven difficult, he said, to be both a member of the council and its director-general at the same time. It was almost as if he was his own boss.
He had also began to fear that to have someone of his stature as director-general harmed the ability of the council's chairman, Dani Dayan, to lead the organization.
In his resignation letter, Wallerstein wrote, "I am doing this first and foremost to allow Dayan to mark his style and signature on the council's activities."
The time has come to pass on the baton to a younger leadership, Wallerstein said.
He added that he understood he was leaving in the midst of the battle against the moratorium, but that he could not think of when exactly would be a good time to go.
"When you understand that the Zionist endeavor is going to be a long one, and there is no half-time or break" as in a sports game, "then one starts to understand that there is never a good moment to leave.
"Each challenge leads to new challenges and at some point you have to disconnect," said Wallerstein.
He was among those who believed that the freeze would not be over in 10 months. Some minor projects might gain approval at that point, "but the freeze will continue."
He said he did not want to be one of those people who stayed in power so long that people believed he was stuck there.
"You do not have to use pliers to get me out of here," Wallerstein said.
"I have raced for a certain time, and now I have to pass the baton on to someone else. I still have the energy to run, but the next person will run faster," he said.