Indefensible borders

Israel is a democracy, but no amount of spin can mask the fact that a democratic state cannot permanently rule over another people who are denied the basic rights of citizenship.

West Bank outpost 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
West Bank outpost 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Harvard law professor and noted Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz has said that the best way to win over the ‘undecideds’ when he’s speaking in universities on ‘the case for Israel’ is to show that the ‘pro-Israel’ crowd are also in favor of a two-state solution to the conflict, whereas the ‘pro-Palestinian’ supporters are not. In other words, whereas the Jewish students are willing to see a Palestinian state established alongside Israel, the collection of far-leftist, (allegedly) liberal and Muslim students who support the Palestinian cause cannot reconcile themselves to Israel’s existence.
Having been involved in Israel advocacy in universitiesin Britain (a country where the campus anti-Zionism makes the average US university look like an AIPAC conference), I broadly agree with Dershowitz. There is no question that the best hasbara tool Israel has is the Arab world’s history of rejectionism and its repeated preference for continuing the fight to eliminate the Jewish state, rather than compromising and finally giving the Palestinians a state of their own alongside Israel.
HOWEVER, WHAT happens if it’s Israelis who are the rejectionists? What happens in a debate if the Palestinian speaker says he accepts Israel’s right to exist but that the Palestinians should be freed from Israeli occupation, and the speaker on behalf of Israel says that he thinks Israel should remain in control of the entire West Bank? This scenario is not far-fetched. Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are both on record as supporting a two-state solution. And even if you don’t believe they are genuine, this Israeli government is full of ministers – not to mention other MKs – who don’t even try to hide their opposition to it.
It is relatively straightforward to argue that a military operation against Hamas in Gaza is legitimate – it is a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction. The same goes for Hizbullah in Lebanon. It is also possible – and, I believe, right – to justify refusing to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders.
They were never a formal border, just an armistice line, and even the drafters of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions understood that the “green line” is not a defensible border for Israel.
So yes, Israel can say it will keep Ma’aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, and that it will require some kind of military arrangement in the Jordan Valley, and the Palestinian state must be demilitarized. All these demands are fully justifiable, given the Palestinians’ historic hostility to Israel’s very existence, and the experience of withdrawal from southern Lebanon and Gaza – both resulted in a huge upsurge in rocket attacks and the abduction of Israeli soldiers.
There are sound security arguments for keeping anything from five to 30% of the West Bank (depending on your school of thought), but the building of dozens of settlements on the hilltops of Judea and Samaria was fueled by a messianic religious ideology, not a dispassionate assessment of Israel’s security requirements. And it is an ideology that will not wash in the democratic West to which Israel professes to be a part. Just as no Saudi will convince an American or European that women should not be allowed to drive cars just because (his version of) Islam says so; no Israeli will persuade the same audience that it is ok to control a territory in which the Jews have full democratic rights and Arabs do not, just because (his version of) Judaism says so.
Of course that comparison can only go so far; Saudi Arabia does not define itself as a democratic state.
Listen the next time an Israeli leader holds a press conference with an American official. It is guaranteed that he will stress the shared democratic values of the two countries. Similarly, at an AJC conference or any large gathering of American Jews, the visiting Israeli VIP will talk about the love of democracy and liberty that unites Israel and the US.
LET US be clear. Israel is a democracy. With free elections, a free, (hyper-) critical press, and frequent public dissent. But there is no getting away from the fact that a democratic state cannot permanently rule over another people who are denied the basic rights of citizenship.
It can’t be spun and it can’t be brushed under the carpet.
Yes, Netanyahu has said he supports two states for two peoples. And he has talked euphemistically about being willing to make “painful concessions,” but the freeze on building in settlements ends in September, and the signs are that it will not be continued.
If he renews construction in the settlements beyond the blocs, the very existence of which would make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible, the occupation which threatens the Zionist dream of a Jewish democratic state will just become further entrenched.
Hasbara is important. Fears about the de-legitimisation and demonization of Israel on university campuses, in newspapers and, of course, in Orwellian bodies like the UN Human Rights Council are all too justifiable. But pro-Israel activists and diplomats should not be expected to defend the indefensible.
The writer worked for two years in the Hasbara Department of the Embassy of Israel in London, and as the Ambassador’s speechwriter, before making aliya.