No one was more insistent than Amos Oz in recent years that Israelis and Palestinians have to get a “divorce.” We need to live in separate apartments, Oz said, and when J Street came along in 2008 to lobby for a two-state solution, the Israeli novelist exulted he’d been “waiting for [that] movement his entire adult life.” Then when Oz died last December at 79, J Street hailed him as its “spiritual god-parent.”
So it came as a shock when I was reading a (great) book of reporting by Oz, titled “In the Land of Israel”, to discover that a settler leader told Oz clearly in 1983 that settlers would foreclose the possibility of a Palestinian state by 1988, and they’d gotten as far as they had with the help of the liberal Zionist hero Shimon Peres.
Oz interviewed Pinchas Wallerstein in Ofra in the occupied West Bank. Wallerstein was then a “settler heavyweight” as a Gush Emunim leader and head of the Binyamin council–and he still is. In the Netanyahu government, Wallerstein heads a committee responsible for legalizing outposts in the West Bank.
Here is Wallerstein’s prediction to Oz, laced with contempt for Palestinians:
There are twenty-five thousand Jews, net, in Judea and Samaria today, not counting greater Jerusalem. Seven years ago there were, in all of Samaria [northern West Bank], from Afula down to Jerusalem, exactly fifteen Jewish settlers. And five years from now, if you go by the home-construction starts, there’ll be fifty to a hundred thousand. They’re coming from all sections of society now. Without ideology. They’re looking for quality of life in Ariel, and a high standard of living in Alfei-Menashe, and they’re looking to live it up in Maaleh Adumim. The People of Israel is investing its savings and building a home in the liberated territories. One hundred thousand–that’s not the eight thousand you had in Yammit [the Sinai, who were removed in 1982 under the Camp David agreement] — that’s a number it’ll be impossible for any government to uproot. Just give us five more years of peace and quiet, and the question of the Land of Israel will be sewn up. For good.
The Arabs who live here? No problem–there are four hundred thousand Arabs in the Galilee, too, and no one in his right mind would suggest we return the Galilee because of that. No, I don’t think we should expel the Arabs from here, not only for humane reasons but also because an expulsion of that sort would aggravate the hatred tremendously. But what I would do is maneuver them–all the Arabs in the country, including the ones in the Galilee who are already Israeli citizens–to take some other citizenship, maybe Jordanian. So they’d be residents of Israel but citizens of Jordan. That’s not so terrible, is it?
Yet liberal Zionist organizations continue to insist that there can be partition, when the settlers said they only needed to get to a fraction of that number to foreclose the possibility of a Palestinian state. “For good.”
Now, Shimon Peres. Wallerstein is today in the bad bad bad Netanyahu government that liberal Zionists (and I too) hope will end in April. But he got a foothold in the West Bank with the help of Shimon Peres, the late Labor Zionist leader revered by liberal Zionists.
Wallerstein told Oz that his settlement of Ofra deep in the West Bank was started in 1975 by a group of biblical zealots who worked by day with the Israeli army to convert the old Jordanian garrison there into a work camp and went back at night to make it a Jewish colony. At the time Yitzhak Rabin was Prime Minister and Shimon Peres was Defense Minister. And the army was in on the colony.
“The political echelon informed us: … the regional army commander has received an order to ignore you altogether, not to remove you… When our people heard this announcement, late one night at the military administration building in Ramallah, we immediately broke out the cognac and drank a toast with the military commanders. That same night they drove us back to Ofra…
“The highest level turned a blind eye. The position of the Rabin government was, at the least, ambivalent toward us. Why, once when we went for a meeting with Rabin, the director of his office told us that we were Peres’s baby and that therefore we shouldn’t expect any help from Rabin. But Rabin didn’t get in our way much either. The military in the area helped us a lot. Shimon Peres helped a lot. At least once a month he’d come personally to visit us and to see how we were doing…. We sensed that the hearts of most of them [in government] were with us. Bear in mind that in May 1975, we were the only Jewish settlement in all of Samaria…
“And bear in mind that all of this happened while Labor was in power, through the ambivalent silence of [Yigal] Allon and [Yisrael] Galili and Rabin and through the quiet but crucial support of Shimon Peres. Those people, the leaders of Labor, had, in spite of it all, a certain awe of latter-day pioneers like ourselves. It’s in their blood…. [Menachem] Begin’s a different story altogether. He was the one who broke the Zionist taboo against uprooting a Jewish settlement [in Sinai].”
In fairness to Peres, he reinvented himself as a dove in 1984 in order to position himself to the left of Likud, Gershom Gorenberg writes in “The Accidental Empire.” “With time, the tactic turned into principle,” Gorenberg says of Peres.
But the damage was done. And settlement is a Zionist ideal, under leftwing Jewish Israeli governments of the 70s and enduring to this day. Just what I saw when I stayed in the settlements, including Ofra, in 2016.
So how are you possibly going to uproot those 600,000 settlers, or even just most of them, to make a viable Palestinian state, when there are more settlers every day? At what point do Zionists admit that the two-state solution is a “cruel joke” (as Jonathan Weisman put it in the New York Times) and an ethnocentric pipedream that the US establishment enables so it doesn’t have to deal with the issue and so Zionists can continue to maintain that they built a liberal democratic miracle, rather than a Jim Crow police state.
I understand why Amos Oz labored under that delusion for 30 years after he saw it broken before his eyes: he had his historical/psychological/nationalist reasons as the son of eastern European refugees who set Jewish culture as the apogee of civilization. But that’s not our problem; and Americans really need to lose the scales from our eyes.
P.S. In that book, Oz told the settlers that they were causing Zionism to lose contact with reality, Israel depends on western support.
Without that support there would have been no Zionism and no State of Israel. It pays to keep that in mind…. … And so decent people outside of Israel, including decent people upon whose support and aid and good will Israel’s fate depends, relate to us with growing suspicion:What do they want from us, these Jews? Is it really only a strip of land for refuge, a homeland, independence, peace and security, as they claimed originally, or are they really cheating, and is their real goal to construct some nationalistic-religious fantasy? … The State of Israel will not stand for even a single day wihtout substantial support from at least one friendly superpower… He who forgets this is playing with fire. Such outside support is not some luxury, nor some whim of sissies eager to please the goyim. Outside support is a vital condition for the existence of any small state with big and powerful enemies.”
Thanks to the lobby, the settlers have gotten to have their cake and eat it.
H/t James North.