All Writings
February 27, 2006

Israel’s Destiny

In less than a month, national elections in Israel will determine which party wins a relative majority in the Knesset. I believe that the Kadima Party under your leadership will emerge victorious and you will become Prime Minister. More than at any other time in Israel’s history a courageous and visionary leadership is needed to free your people from the shackles of occupation and lead Israel to its intended destiny.

Kadima’s victory will be the result of your people’s desire to disengage from the Palestinians and live and let live in peace. This is why Kadima was created in the first place. Any substantial acquisition of Palestinian territory will contradict the very premise of disengagement and lead to Israel forfeiting yet another historic opportunity to end the stigma of occupation. Occupying Palestinian territory for so long has been a colossal mistake. The mistake was compounded by the misleading policy of settlements and the largely baseless link created between national security and the settlements. Mr. Prime Minister, you were absolutely right to suggest that the Palestinians have been their own worst enemy, missing many opportunities to regain nearly all the occupied territories and establish a state of their own. And you can now easily argue that a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas, which is sworn to liquidate Israel, leaves you with no alternative but to limit, if not end, any further territorial concessions following the Gaza withdrawal. Unilateral disengagement, however, was exactly that, unilateral; undertaken by Prime Minister Sharon with or without Palestinian cooperation. And it must be your policy today; the occupation must come to an end not only because occupation is unsustainable for demographic reasons, as you have repeatedly said, but also because of moral, humanitarian, and, yes, national security concerns.

Please allow me to share with you a brief historical perspective: For the past 500 years, the Palestinians have been ruled, respectively, by the Turks, British, Jordanian-Egyptians, and Israelis. The Palestinian people have not known a single day without foreign occupation. Having witnessed and experienced more than their share of misery, pain, and despair, nothing will compel Palestinians to accept more of the same: There is no dignity in occupation, no honor in submission to it, and no hope for a better tomorrow under it. In the best of circumstances, occupation is intolerable and Palestinians as occupied people, they are duty-bound to resist, deny, and defy their occupiers by every means they can. Unforgiving, young Palestinians seethe with resentment. They do not understand how things could have come to this point. They do not understand why they must continue to suffer the indignities of occupation. Is it any wonder, then, that hatred has replaced amity, mistrust has eroded cooperation, revenge displaced sanity, and blind fanaticism eclipsed realism?

Israel was not created to rule other peoples against their will. Israel was created to offer a refuge to a shattered Jewry in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The new state was established so the Jews, after millennia of dispersions, pogroms, expulsions, and genocide could have a home of their own and so be able to offer hospitality and be as well a light in the darkness to struggling nations. That was the hope for Israel. The reality is that the occupation is creating a new Israeli character–distrustful, cynical, suspicious, and self-absorbed. Israeli soldiers, trained to defend their homeland from outside enemies, have been sent in the name of national security to fight Palestinian children in the streets and destroy the homes of defenseless parents in front of their offspring. Whole communities have been subjected to humiliating search and seizure operations and debilitating restrictions imposed on the movement of people and goods.

There is no doubt that Israel has legitimate security concerns, especially in the wake of the rise of a Palestinian militancy that does not accept Israel’s right even to exist. But after nearly 40 years of occupation, Israel’s security situation has not improved with the building of settlements; rather it has become more perilous. Tens of thousands of soldiers have been assigned to regular duty to protect, at enormous cost, the settlers and operate military installations. The settlements, built to entrench the Israelis in the West Bank and enhance their security, have become an albatross–a security liability than an asset. The majority of the settlements represent not just a physical occupation of territory; they signify a psychological occupation, a mental closing off, that prevents open discourse on any other matter. Obsessed with the settlements' policy, successive Israeli governments have lost sight of the very meaning, the purpose of their nation's existence. Whichever way we look at the situation, the settlements and their disposition will continue to remain central to any Israeli-Palestinian dialogue: everything else, violence and terrorism included, is a function of the territorial conflict and its profound psychological implications. Let me be absolutely clear: no dialogue with the Palestinians on any subject related to future agreements can have any hope of success unless it is accompanied by a clear and unambiguous departure from the settlement policy that has dominated, and complicated, all previous negotiations. The call of your courageous and visionary leadership is to open the public’s eyes to the folly of the settlements, so peace can eventually be within their grasp.

Although for security reasons the fence has already proven its utility in reducing the number of violent incidents, especially the suicide bombings perpetrated against Israel, its existence is actually a tragic admission of failure. The fence must be seen only as a stop-gap measure, and it must be built as closely as possible to the 1967 lines to be truly beneficial rather than function as a source for new frictions. The fence must not encroach on Palestinian territory in the name of security, when in reality security concerns are not a factor, as the Israeli Supreme Court has twice determined. What is a factor is that the fence has caused undue hardship to Palestinian communities, making it impossible for them to conduct the normal activities of daily life. I am sure you understand that Israel’s security ultimately depends not on the fence but on peace. As long as Israel is an occupying power, it cannot invoke the high moral ground in defending itself and deterring future threats with or without the fence. It is not more territory but that moral ground that Israel must first capture if it is to provide its citizens the ultimate security.

Policies based on the assumption that the Palestinians will never settle for simply the West Bank and Gaza or unless Israel is wiped out have turned out to be self-defeating. They have nurtured a mentality of national siege and played into the hands of right-wing extremists who, in their shortsightedness, have led the new Jewish commonwealth into a terrible conflict, with the inevitable dehumanizing consequences. Subtleties aside, the occupation has degraded Israelis' sensibilities, eroded their sense of proportion, corroded their moral judgment, and undermined their sense of a higher mission.

The redemption of the Israeli people cannot go hand-in-hand with occupation and the subjugation of the majority of the Palestinian population to conditions that deny them any prospects of attaining freedom and dignity. Israel, in the final analysis, is the political expression of the ancient right of all Jews to return to their homeland. That Palestinians occupied much of the same land did not abrogate the right of either people to it. Both Palestinians and Jews can reside in their homeland, but history and reality have determined that neither can have it all. Those Israelis who still dream of a greater Israel (like Likud’s leader Benjamin Natanyahu and his misguided followers), encompassing a major part of the West Bank, have been burying their dead and their dreams in the sands of a no-man's-land. They have failed to grasp that the Palestinian claim to the same land, is, like the claims of Israelis, imbedded in a religion, culture, and history that resides in the bones and sinews of every man, woman, and child.

Scarred by the grievous wounds inflicted by generations of Israelis and Palestinians, by its ancient peoples, the land itself is crying out for a solution. What if the "silent" stones at the holy Jewish and Muslim shrines in Jerusalem could speak? What would they have to say to you, to us? Mr. Prime Minister, I believe that the stones would question why their peoples should continue to suffer when a chance still exists to mitigate and even end it. If you are destined to lead the nation of Israel, you must see that you are also destined to end the occupation. Because only then will Israel live up to its biblical promise and, becoming truly free, shine its light on other nations.