Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jewish Settlements: The Road From Here to There

I am not a supporter of Palestinian statehood in Judea and Samaria, though I recognize that such an outcome is increasingly likely. I am also not an irridentist ideologue, a "Greater Land of Israel" advocate who believes in the immediate necessity of Jews possessing the entirety of the Land and rebuilding the Temple - I leave that for more auspicious times. I consider my positions purely pragmatic and largely non-controversial - a Palestinian state, by the limits of its geography, along with the nature of its ethnic, religious and ideological composition, in nearly every conceivable scenario based in reality, will threaten Jewish and Arab lives, and in a way that a Palestinian non-state can't. Indeed, the consensus on this point is near total, with only the most creative parties envisioning circumstances that could, over time, with flawless execution, enduring commitment and limitless resources, evolve to mitigate conflict and bloodshed.

Still, I understand that Israel was created and exists through a complex geopolitical formulation that requires creative flexibility to sustain sovereignty and security. Moreover, the stewards of Israel's sovereignty are imperfect, and approach their responsibilities through ideological bias and personal limitations. If the balance of forces necessitates the creation of a Palestinian state, I am reconciled to it without diminution of belief in the spiritual ownership of the land being fully with the Jews, or in the vital necessity of preserving the territorial, cultural and political extent of Jewish sovereignty achievable under the circumstances.

Likewise, a Palestinian state or not, I am undeterred from advocating for Jewish rights and Jewish lives, in any context, anywhere in the world, and certainly on behalf of the besieged Jewish communities in territories liberated by Israel in the '67 war.

As with human beings in general, and with Jews in particular, building unity and consensus are a main challenge of policy advocates. This challenge is compounded by my physical distance from the reality of Jewish life in the Land. However, given the lack of leadership and intellectual foresight in the pro-settlement community, I believe there is little choice but to speak my mind, hope someone will listen, honestly consider and incorporate criticism and adapt with that same creative flexibility that is, in my view, a hallmark of our people.

In truth, there is leadership within the settlement communities, and some of it is capable. This leadership is also horrendously understaffed, under-resourced, (with respect) undisciplined, somewhat fantastical in its strategic thinking, to the extent that long term planning is even considered, beyond finagling development forward, over-reliant on personalities and slogans, remarkably lacking in effective political representation, downright provincial in its public relations (despite recent improvement in this regard) and so on and so forth.

As I wrote in a comment on Yaacov's blog, and as I've had to explain to many American Jews:
There's no such thing as the "political [pro-settlement] right" [in Israel]. I mean, yes, people get elected to the Knesset on the Likud ticket [promising never to give an inch to the Arabs], but there isn't anything in the way of organization, think tanks, advocacy groups, etc., the way you have with the left.

There is no coherent agenda, no long term planning, nothing, not for the territories, not for Jerusalem, not for the country. There are slogans, general concepts, but nothing concrete. You would think these things should exist [with half a million lives at stake, and six million behind them], but they just don't. [This is a remarkable thing to discover among a community of Jews, a people culturally addicted to social and political organizational hierachy.]

There are some small groups, like Im Tirzu, which is brand new, and some settlement groups, small ones that care only about one neighborhood of Jerusalem, like Sheikh Jarrah, or that try to find families willing to settle in Hevron [The Hevron Fund], [or the tireless mayor of Ariel, who built that city with his bare hands on a wing and a prayer] but none of them talk to each other. I mean, maybe they know each other, but they don't coordinate strategy at all, not even in a general way. They usually rely on someone in government that they know and trust, like Danny Danon, but I don't see him with a strategy either [just more slogans, more platitudes]. [The warm bodies are there, but it's] a real mess, conceptually, organizationally, etc.
This is the reality: Under no conceivable scenario being proposed by any serious Israeli politicians will the settlement of Shilo, a community of 2300 Jews, "deep in the West Bank" (i.e. a 30 minute drive to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, tops), remain standing. Or Beit El, 5400 Jews; or a stone's throw away Ofra, 2700 Jews; or Itamar, nearby Bracha, Elon Moreh, Yitzhar, or tiny Migdalim and that speck of life amidst a wasteland that is Niran, and dozens of other settlements, tens of thousands of homes, gardens, playgrounds, lives - none will remain. Choose a community and click on it - it's real, it's there. Zoom in and see people's homes, the trees they've planted, the hillsides they've terraced, the factories they've erected, the lives they're living.

Such naked devastation of Jewish communities would be, to me, unacceptable on an emotional level were it to happen in the United States, or Argentina, or the Ukraine, but all the more so is it bitter that such a calamity is being planned, for the countless time, on ancestral Jewish soil, largely by Jewish hands. Were the bloodshed to end there, at such high a price, an argument could be made for the bitter implementation of the remedy, but no one I consider credible is suggesting an end to conflict; merely a shuffling of the deck, a new beginning.

Needless to say, such hyperventilating is neither here nor there. Here is where we are today, a time of uncertainty and peril, when any given Israeli Prime Minister, including - kid yourself not - the current occupant of the post, believing themselves (perhaps justifiably) to be acting in the interest of Jewish national life, could wake up and sign an order destroying Jewish life in Shomron and Yehudah. There, are permanent, secure and thriving Jewish communities "in the heart of the West Bank", and even in the kidneys, and the liver, and what have you, and not to the detriment of neighboring Palestinian villages.

To get from here to there we cannot merely hope or pray, issue heart-rendering speeches or recite relevant passages of Torah, even in a loud voice and exasperated tone. Nor is it is sufficient to merely build, as helpful as that is, for what is built can be un-built, and indeed is being promised to be un-built (i.e. demolished and hauled away as if it never were) under a given set of circumstances. Our present condition is a consequence of a political and strategic reality. We must accept that reality, make use of it and, with a single-minded focus on preserving Jewish communities, and not to the exclusion of secure Jewish sovereignty in the Levant, plan, down to the intellectual nuts and financial bolts, the road to there, from here.

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