Bibi on the well-trodden path of pragmatism

The only difference now between a right-wing and a left-wing prime minister is how the land-for-peace concession is framed.

Netanyahu before speech 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Netanyahu before speech 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
"The land of Israel is precious to me, precious to us, the Jewish people, more than anything. Relinquishing any part of our forefathers' legacy is heartbreaking, as difficult as the parting of the Red Sea. Every inch of land, every hill and valley, every stream and rock, is saturated with Jewish history, replete with memories... The right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel does not mean disregarding the rights of others in the land. The Palestinians will always be our neighbors. We respect them, and have no aspirations to rule over them." Ariel Sharon, UN General Assembly, September 2005 "We firmly stand by the historic right of the people of Israel to the entire Land of Israel. Every hill in Samaria and every valley in Judea is part of our historic homeland. We do not forget this, not even for one moment. However, the choice between the desire to allow every Jew to live anywhere in the Land of Israel to the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish country - obligates relinquishing parts of the Land of Israel. This is not a relinquishing of the Zionist idea, rather the essential realization of the Zionist goal - ensuring the existence of a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel." Ehud Olmert, Herzliya Conference, January 2006 "But let me first say that the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has lasted for more than 3500 years. Judea and Samaria, the places where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Isaiah and Jeremiah lived, are not alien to us. This is the land of our forefathers... But we must also tell the truth in its entirety: within this homeland lives a large Palestinian community. We do not want to rule over them, we do not want to govern their lives, we do not want to impose either our flag or our culture on them." Binyamin Netanyahu, Bar Ilan University, June 2009 The clear dividing line between the Left and the Right in Israel used to be over the principle of land for peace. Now, as Binyamin Netanyahu made clear in his speech on Sunday night, there is no mainstream political party that fundamentally rejects giving up part of the West Bank to the Palestinians. The only difference between a right-wing and a left-wing prime minister now, is how this concession is framed. While the Left talk about the justice of establishing a Palestinian state, Netanyahu and his two immediate predecessors as prime minister believe in the fundamental right of the Jewish people to all of the land but pragmatically accept that this right cannot be implemented because of the presence of some 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank whom Israel does not wish to incorporate as citizens. Yitzhak Rabin, who once described the religious settler movement, Gush Emunim, as "a cancer in the body of Israeli democracy," famously dismissed the settlers' protests against the Oslo Accords by remarking that they could "spin like propellers" for all he cared. By contrast, Sharon, Olmert and Netanyahu, speak first about the Jewish right to all the land. A FRIEND OF MINE who grew up on a settlement in the West Bank says that this distinction is important. She protested Oslo vehemently, but Rabin's perceived contempt for the settlers hurt her more than his handshake with Arafat. She believes that, whether or not settling the West Bank was a mistake in hindsight, it was a mission that successive Israeli governments supported. Therefore, the settlers deserve expressions of understanding for the sacrifices they have made building their homes along the new frontier. Like the Prime Minister, my friend has also moved from an uncompromising position on ceding land-for-peace to an acceptance that disengaging from the Palestinians is in Israel's interests - even at the cost of giving up the Greater Israel dream. It would be fair to say that not all of the West Bank settlers share her pragmatism. For them and for many others who share their ideology, Netanyahu's use of the term "Palestinian state" (demilitarized or not) was a profound act of betrayal. With the leader of the Likud joining the leaders of Kadima and Labor in signing up to the two-state solution - and even Avigdor Lieberman accepting it as the inevitable endgame - those who cannot countenance giving up more land or evacuating more settlements are feeling increasingly marginalized. In this Jewish and democratic state the extreme Left is occupied by those who advocate eradicating Israel's Jewish character; it could now be said that the extreme Right - those who would have us rule the Palestinians permanently - is made up of those who would see Israeli democracy become apartheid. Netanyahu has embarked on the now well-trodden path from "all of the land" to partition. Like those he has followed, he knows how important biblical Judea and Samaria are to the Jewish people. He just understands that even more crucial is securing Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state. The writer is an author and educator living in Jerusalem. Before making aliya from the UK he was a speechwriter and public affairs official at the Embassy of Israel in London.