Jeff Weintraub posts and comments on an op-ed by Gershom Gorenberg which argues that Israel should end withdraw from the West Bank and dump the settlements for the sake of peace. Weintraub agrees.
I tend to agree as well, but not based on any deep understanding of the situation. It has always seemed to me — ever since the Six-Day War — that dominating a subject population wasn’t consistent with Israeli national identity: to rule Helots long enough, you have become Spartans. (I later learned that my adolescent reaction tracked rather closely Ben-Gurion’s much more informed view.)
Eugene Bardach, who follows the Israeli situation more closely than I do, agrees with Gorenberg’s prescription, but without sharing his optimism. He writes:
As an expression of nationalist — even redemptionist — ideology, the settlement project was always grandiose and self-infatuated. A more limited project, involving settlements in certain security zones, might in principle have been a good idea. But it inevitably nurtured the excesses under which Israel labors today. Gorenberg and Weintraub are right about all this. They are also right, as a matter of principle and also of prudence, to say that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and, by implication, from most of the settlements there.
They err, however, in giving the impression that an Israeli withdrawal would necessarily end the conflict with the Palestinians or with most of the rest of the Arab and Muslim world. In that world Israel was a pariah state from 1948 to 1967 — that is, between its founding and the Six-Day War — when it did not occupy the West Bank or Gaza. During that period there were no settlements, no settlers, no military roads, no checkpoints, no humiliation of innocent Palestinians trying to get to work or visit a relative, no uprooting of Palestinian orchards, no demolitions of Palestinian homes. And yet there was no peace, only hostility. There is no reason to think that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank today would alter the situation fundamentally. Yes, a withdrawal would be morally correct, and might help a little — but probably not much.
Indeed, the situation is much worse today than it was 40 years ago; for today there are active Islamist parties, like Hamas, that think they are engaged in a clash of civilizations, not just a struggle over territory and justice for displaced Palestinian refugees. The Weintraub-Gorenberg prescriptions are of no value for that particular ideological disease. Given the Hamas world-view, how worthwhile would it be for Israel undertake a major project to dismantle settlements anyway? The world would approve — including most of the Jewish world. But, after the smoke cleared, the Middle East conflict would probably still look pretty much as it does today.
That’s the nub of the problem, of course: the Arab (and Iranian) objection to Israel isn’t to its extent or its policies, it’s to the existence of a Jewish state. I have talked with many anti-Zionists and read much anti-Zionist journalism, and the anti-Zionists make what seems to me a reasonable case that the establishment of Israel in 1948 worked an injustice on the existing Arab population. But I have yet to hear any of them explain just what’s supposed to be done with the 5 million Israeli Jews.
And it’s worth noting that a substantial fraction of that population consists, not of the descendents of European Jewry, but of Jews displaced from Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Egypt by the growing anti-Jewish sentiments and policies of those countries and their inhabitants. Jews have been in Mesopotamia since its capital was called Babylon rather than Baghdad, and in Iran since it was ruled by Cyrus the Great; the Jewish community in Alexandria was as old as the city itself. So tell me, pray: where are those folks supposed to go?