Here in Modiin, the buzz this week is about the new status awarded to all residents quite suddenly and unexpectedly: the status of “settler.”
The European Union, in enforcing its segregation of Israeli exports from the “territories,” decided in its wisdom that areas of Modiin (and its conjoined towns of Maccabim and Re’ut) are not really part of Israel but instead “occupied territories,’ no man’s land from the 1948 Armistice agreement that Israel wrongfully seized 63 years ago. Modiin straddles the former Green Line, almost equidistant between Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv, and was meticulously delineated.
The irony is rich, especially because Modiin – rightfully dubbed the “City of the Future” – is a mixed city of some 80,000 souls, joining together in relative harmony right-wingers and left-wingers, religious and non-religious Jews, a microcosm of all Israel and a model of living together in shared space. The left-wingers are not amused. Those who decry the “occupation” and fantasize about peace erupting in the country/region/world/galaxy/universe the very day after all Israeli settlements are destroyed and the settlers dispersed have now been rudely informed by the guardians of civilization and right-thinking that the bell tolls for them as well.
This is actually not new. It is widely known that the hotbed of leftism in Israel – TelAvivUniversity and its environs – rests on the land of an abandoned Arab village named Al-Shaykh Muwannis. It doesn’t stop leftists from condemning the settlements in Judea and Samaria, or from criticizing the “occupation.” For some, it might even be the reason why they – those who are bereft of Torah and any sense of Jewish history or nationhood – perceive Israel’s very existence as illegitimate.
Most people I saw this week were walking a little prouder, with heads a little higher, after the news broke. It is not only solidarity with the residents of Judea and Samaria, but rather the pervasive sense that, to Israel’s enemies in Europe and across the Arab world, all of Israel is occupied territories – pre-1948, post-1948, post-1967, and post-Oslo. To them, Netzarim really is the same as Tel Aviv, and Jews have as much right to Netanya as they do to Bet El. At last, agreement on something has scattered the fog of hatred and political double-talk: the Jewish claim to the land of Israel is either absolute or non-existent. At last, the battle of ideas is joined and honestly confronted. There really is no middle ground.
This realization actually spawns a great opportunity for Israel, now that the enemy’s intentions – to whittle away Israel’s land until it completely disintegrates – are clear. It is assisted by another recent development that has the capacity to transform the terms of the conflict in Israel’s favor. I refer not to the fragmentation and collapse of Syria on Israel’s northern border, where the massacres of tens of thousands of Arabs do not seem to rile up the celebrated “Arab street” as much as does the construction of a single building in Shiloh or the location of a solitary caravan in Kiryat Arba, nor to the ongoing evolution of Egypt into a fundamentalist Islamic state that will eventually renounce the peace treaty with Israel, but to the findings of the Levy Commission.
The Levy Commission, charged with investigating and reporting on Israel’s legal rights in Judea and Samaria, found that, indeed, Israeli settlement in the center of its Biblical heartland is…legal. What occupation? How can a nation occupy its own land, as if it is a foreign element? Its findings are dry, historical, and, well, legalistic, essentially reporting that the area in question was set aside multiple times for Jewish settlement, dating back to the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Despite changes in possession due to war- and its illegal and mostly unrecognized occupation by the Jordanians in 1948 and renounced by them 40 years later, the sovereign nation with the strongest and most logical claim to the land is Israel.
Remarkably, this echoes a report from decades ago, drafted by former US Under Secretary of State Eugene Rostow, who asserted both the legality of the settlements and the superiority of Israel’s claims over those of any Arab entity. He even pointed out that under the prevailing provisions of international treaties and agreements, “the Jewish right of settlement in the West Bank is conferred by the same provisions of the mandate under which Jews settled in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem before the state of Israel was created.” That this conclusion has never been formally adopted by the United States, or that even the Levy Commission does not call for immediate annexation of Israel’s heartland, is, ultimately, politics. Political decisions must weigh a number of competing factors, whereas legality rests on more objective judgments. It was Jimmy Carter, in the first manifestation of the Jew-hatred that so obviously afflicts him (but still does not preclude his being honored with an address at the Democratic Convention this year), who first pronounced the settlements “illegal.” President Reagan explicitly repudiated that designation, and but for a blip during the Bush I administration, that has remained US policy – not illegal but “unhelpful to the peace process,” or the nastier “obstacles to peace.” But those were political judgments, not legal ones.
What can be the result of the Levy Commission findings? For one, it finally restores to Israel the narrative it has lacked since Oslo in asserting its moral, legal, biblical and historical claims to this small territory bequeathed by the Creator to the Jewish people. The Left – Rabin, Peres et al – labored to explain Israel’s legitimate presence in the region, much less in Judea and Samaria. They, and later Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, et al, embraced the language of “occupation,” foolishly playing into the hands of the Arab enemy who gleefully pocketed this unilateral concession and sought more – the total delegitimization of the State of Israel. Let Israel stake its legal claim to the entirety of the land of Israel – and dispatch its ambassadors and spokesmen across the world to explain why – and the tide will turn. It is not that the other nations will become Zionists overnight; it is sufficient that Israel stop being defensive and apologetic about its existence, its struggles, its enemies’ incessant attempts to destroy it, and its eternal rights to its sacred soil. That is the second bonus of the Levy Commission findings – the pride of purpose, the pep in the step of the average Israeli who need not feel on his own land like a thief and trespasser, whether he lives in Hevron, Tel Aviv, or Modiin.
The catch, as is frequently the case, these days, is the coyness of PM Netanyahu, who commissioned the report, but now is sitting on its findings, reluctant to adopt it as Israel’s formal policy. He has become a master fence-sitter – alternately freezing settlements and building settlements, alternately absorbing blows and striking back, alternately embracing political adversaries and discarding political adversaries (and sometimes allies). For sure, he is focused on the Iranian threat, which looms large, and senses that in the macabre calculus of the Arab world, the sins of Syria will be forgiven in an instant by the “Arab street” that would be up in arms over the much graver “crime” of legalizing the existing settlements and spurring the development of war.
All true, but rather than be a status-quo leader, Netanyahu can be a transformative leader, making Israel’s case to the world, and perhaps more importantly, to Israelis themselves. Naturally, the media jumped on a report of 41American –Jewish “leaders” – leftists all – who sent a letter to the Prime Minister urging his rejection of the Levy Commission report. (Oddly, the same media ignored a letter sent by even more American-Jewish “leaders” – I know, because I was a signatory – urging the Prime Minister to immediately endorse the Commission report. Hmm… why would they disregard our letter?)
The irony of Modiin as “occupied territory” provides such a welcome moment, leaving its inhabitants delighted, horrified or bewildered, and reminding everyone that to our relentless adversaries all of Israel is “occupied.” It can be a defining moment, if seized, to change the terms of the debate in Israel’s favor.
Memo to PM Netanyahu: there is nothing better than striking while the irony is hot.