The Israel lobby group J Street hosted Israeli legislator Yair Golan on Zoom the other day, describing him as “one of the great hopes for the left progressive Zionist camp” in Israel, and Golan’s comments are a reflection of how far-right Israel’s Jewish politics are.
Golan said that a solid right-wing majority of Israeli Jewish politicians– 65 out of the 120 members of Knesset– support annexing large portions of the West Bank so as to make sure there will never be a Palestinian state. And the only way to stop them, and save Israel from itself, he said, is on Capitol Hill.
Annexing 30 percent of Judea and Samaria is against the interests of Israel. Many former security figures say that… It’s according to some sort of messianic approach to life which… was so dangerous and so devastating along the Jewish history…. So we need to fight it…. Israel won’t do this annexation without the approval of United States. So yes, you need to work hard in Capitol Hill in order to block this development, which is so dangerous to Israel, against the interest of Israel.
Lately 11 Democratic members of Congress who are big supporters of Israel signed a letter (backed by J Street) expressing opposition to the annexation plans in Israel as having “catastrophic” consequences. The Trump administration has signaled support for annexation but stalled that process by appointing a maps committee.
It’s not that there’s much substantive opposition to annexation from the Israeli Jewish center-left. Golan is a member of the Labor-Meretz-Gesher alliance in the Knesset (7 seats in the 120-member parliament), and he says the only difference between right and left is 35,000 settlers deep in the West Bank.
The messianic right wants to annex the Jordan Valley and 30 percent of the West Bank, “the clusters of settlements.” In fact, that 30 percent is 60 percent of the developable land in the West Bank. “So in fact, by doing that you eliminate the idea of a two state solution. There is no place for it. The right, including the extreme right, wish to see it as a milestone on the way to full annexation. We call it partial annexation, but the meaning is, let’s annex everything.”
But the “progressive” idea would allow about 585,000 of more than 620,000 settlers to remain in “Judea and Samaria,” as Golan put it, using biblical Zionist terms. He described the “reality” of the West Bank that no Israeli government will change:
- 215,000 Israelis in settlements in occupied eastern Jerusalem.
- 185,000 Israeli living in four different West Bank cities: Ma’ale Adumim, Betar Illit, Modi’in Illit, Ariel.
- 185,000 Israelis in settlements along the old Green Line, many of them west of the separation wall Israel built in violation of international law (such as Beit Aryeh-Ofarim). “They consider themselves living inside the boundaries of the Green Line.”
The only difference is “the most problematic,” 35,000 settlers living on the central ridge of the West Bank, in communities like Shiloh and Ofra.
The right is firmly in control of Israeli Jewish politics, Golan says. Netanyahu is “on the horseback.” The right can count on 65 members of Knesset, a strong majority, for the last 10 years. The left has 55 mandates, including the 15 members of the Palestinian Joint List. To change that math you need to move 300,000 people from one side to the other. That will take years, Golan said.
Israeli Jews understand that annexation as a threat to Zionism, because it would undermine the Zionist dream of a Jewish majority in the land, but they are too mistrustful of their neighbors to agree to give up land, Golan said. “Most Israelis do understand that annexing all the citizens of Judea and Samaria, 2.5 million people, plus 2 million of Gaza. That could be the end of the Jewish state. That could change the nature of Israel entirely. Most Israelis don’t like this idea.”
Such language would be anathema in liberal U.S. politics. But J Street’s Yael Patir repeatedly praised Golan for “vision and honesty.”
Golan said that for many on the Jewish left in Israel, “a kind of new hope on the horizon” is the Joint List. “The Arabs will save us from our very problematic political situation.” He doesn’t agree. Much of the Joint List is anti-Zionist, he said, and Israeli Jewish pols can’t work with them. But other members of the Joint List will play ball with Zionist parties. The key to changing Israeli politics in the future is uniting some members of the Joint List and “more progressive elements from Jewish society, to create a new political entity with a new approach to the Arab population”– an approach of equality, and “at the same time working hard to keep the Jewish nature of the state…. to keep the Zionist dream alive.”
Golan sought to distinguish “Arabs” in Israel from “Palestinians” on the West Bank.
Again, it’s startling that a liberal American organization could be embracing such views as “progressive.” Though this is surely a reflection of how Zionist the U.S. establishment is. J Street represents a large bloc inside the Democratic Party, including such progressives as Jan Schakowsky, Peter Welch, and Barbara Lee; and Bernie Sanders has praised J Street. You have to go the far left of American mainstream politics, a smattering of new Congresswomen and congressional candidates, to find those who support one democratic state in Israel and Palestine. Because as Golan’s remarks show, there is just one state between the river and the sea.