The future of Zionism depends on moral excellence

If we continue to expand outside of the settlement blocs, we will be undermining the strength of Zionism.

Barkan settlement 311 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Barkan settlement 311
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
One of the crucial challenges facing Israel in its current negotiations with the Palestinians is remembering that we are not merely negotiating with them but also with ourselves.
The question is not what they and the international community will allow, but what we as a Jewish people want to put forth as a core aspect of our policy. The failure to understand this has led to undermining the strength of Zionism within Israeli society and to the kindling of Israel’s delegitimization also within the Jewish community around the world.
To state it more clearly, if Zionism means a willingness to occupy another people, and where the holiness of the land takes precedence over the moral principles of our people, then many will want to shed the Zionist ideal, leading to a post- Zionist identification. In the world, even among our most loyal friends, the occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank is viewed as contrary to international law, antithetical to Israel as a democratic state and in opposition to Jewish values, which are rooted in the equal treatment of all human beings created in the image of God.
Ending the occupation and maintaining a morally defensible position until which time that we are able to bring it to a close while preserving our legitimate security needs are thus of critical significance to Israelis who care about Zionism and Jews around the world who want to maintain a strong and viable relationship with the state. Zionism will not be strengthened through educating Israelis and Jews about its history, but by ensuring that it is the expression of moral excellence.
THE MORAL requirements vis a vis the occupation are clear: An occupation is legitimate only if it is the result of a just war, if temporary, constant efforts are made to bring it to an end without compromising legitimate national security interests and if one refrains from non-security motivated actions which complicate efforts to bring the occupation to an end.
The occupation of the West Bank, which emanated out of the 1967 war of self-defense, clearly meets these standards, so long as we make a constant and genuine effort to bring it to an end under the conditions outlined above.
The fact that the prime minister and the vast majority of Israelis – Likud, Kadima, and Labor supporters alike – support a two-state solution if the outcome is peace, is an important step in fulfilling these criteria. Israelis have accepted that the occupation must come to an end, and while peace requires two sides, it is our policy to do everything in our power to fulfill our responsibility.
This is the context within which we must assess the issue of the settlement building freeze. Any settlement expansion with the exception of those in the areas of Jerusalem, the Etzion bloc, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel, undermines the authenticity of our commitment to bring the occupation to an end and is thus simply immoral. Why continue to expand in areas from which one is committed to withdraw? Continued expansion there is legitimately interpreted as giving lie to one’s commitment to bringing the occupation to an end.
It is important that we recognize that the issue is not whether the Palestinians will accept a temporary suspension in the settlement freeze and will remain at the negotiating table. At issue is what we Israelis and we Jews want as the policy of our country. The US and the international community may succeed in keeping the Palestinians in the discussion.
However, if we continue to make settlement expansion outside of the settlement blocs an Israeli issue, we will be undermining within our own community the strength of Zionism and the relationship of world Jewry to the State of Israel.
It is time for a conceptual shift in focus. The future of Israel and Zionism requires that we understand that, very often, our greatest enemy lies within, and that the future vitality and legitimacy of Israel and Zionism will depend on the moral strength of the policies that we adopt. The issue is not effective public relations but morally defensible policies. When Israelis and Jews around the world can unite around the shared commitment to a Jewish state which embodies the most noble of aspirations, Israel will be truly strong.
Peace requires two sides to agree. However, the transforming of Israel into a Jewish aspirational society inspiring Jews worldwide to a higher sense of purpose and moral voice is dependent on us alone.
The writer is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.