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Let the Debate Around Settlements Begin

As we are now implementing unilateral policies that are going to determine where the borders of Israel will ultimately lie, we need a serious debate about the consequences.
©abu adel photos/
©abu adel photos/
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and holds the Kaufman Family Chair in Jewish Philosophy. He is author of the highly regarded 2016 book, Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself, and is the host of “For Heaven’s Sake,” one of the most popular Jewish podcasts in North America. Donniel is the founder of some of the most extensive education, training and enrichment programs for scholars, educators, rabbis,

Published originally on Times of Israel

When faced with anti-Israeli decisions in the international arena, it has become a requirement within the pro-Israel camp that we prove our credentials with a condemnation. One is only as loyal as one’s last denunciation of the forces that undermine the viability, legitimacy, and well-being of Israel.

So let me begin with a list of well-deserved condemnations of the recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Friends don’t bring friends up for censure by the Security Council. The resolution rejects the rights of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and our people’s holiest site – the Kotel. The United Nations, which stands idly by the massacre of a half-million Syrians, has identified Israeli settlement policy as the hindrance to Middle East peace. Israel, and not the Palestinians, is once again identified as the primary cause for the stagnation in the peace process. The resolution was an ambush and a last chance to extract revenge against Israel.

With my bona fides now established, I want at the outset to declare my willingness to add to the above list any further grounds for condemnation that might surface over the next few days.

While I am enthusiastically and unabashedly pro-Israel, I am also pro-Jewish, and as such, come from a long tradition which uses unfortunate events as a foundation for self-evaluation and self-correction. Despite the comforts of victimization, the Jewish tradition was frightened by its over-utilization, as it too often could serve as a foundation for mediocrity. If I am but the passive target of injustice, I am immune from having to consider my possible complicity in shaping my reality.

As I try to limit the inner contradictions in my life, I strive to unify my pro-Israel and pro-Jewish sensibilities. In this case, my work is made easier by the fact that one of the core byproducts of a pro-Israel consciousness is the embracing of the responsibilities that come with political power, and the eschewing of excessive self-victimization. The same powerful Israel, which now has the ability to boycott the mighty nation of Senegal, certainly has the ability to at least reflect on if and how it played a part in inspiring all of its most significant trade partners and political allies to vote fourteen to zero, for a resolution which is so clearly anti-Israel.

As a pro-Israel Jew, I must admit the plausibility of another list, one which questions the sagaciousness – if not value – of some of Israel’s recent decisions. Friends do not unilaterally change the status quo, and do not act in total disregard to what their friends ask of them, i.e., Amona. This is particularly the case when no security issue is at stake. The Amona decision, while motivated by internal Israeli coalition calculations, was only passed as a result of the perception that we could now get away with it in the context of a lame-duck American administration.

The horror of Syria does not protect all other political decisions worldwide, whether by Israel or anyone else, from condemnation. While Prime Minister Netanyahu made his commitment to a two-state solution explicit on “60 Minutes,” some of his and his ministers’ statements, meant for internal consumption, have not always been as unequivocal.

As we compile our lists, however, we are missing the point, and the significant concerns at hand. The issue is not the Obama administration, but who, what, and where Israel wants to be. In the Western world, the issue is not the Jewish right to Jerusalem, and certainly not our right and claim to the Western Wall. The sustaining of the settlement blocs are also not really under contention.

UNSC Resolution 2334 is destructive, and for that matter so is Israel’s de facto settlement policy, primarily because they merge all settlements into one seemingly coherent classification, and thus silence the debate within Israeli society about who, what, and where we want to be in Judea and Samaria.

When Jerusalem and Amona are deemed to be the same, when expanding in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo is indistinguishable from that in a settlement hilltop, it is not our claim to Jerusalem which is undermined, but rather that Amona and other non-settlement blocks are legitimized.

There are two essential issues at hand, the first relating to Amona, and the second to the settlement activity outside of Jerusalem and the settlement blocs. Amona is not the litmus test for the legitimacy of Israel’s claim to Judea and Samaria, nor for the viability of a peace process. As Benny Begin posited, at issue is whether Israel believes that its right to Judea and Samaria gives it a right to ignore the rights of Palestinians to their private property and thus to basic human rights.

It is remarkable and profoundly troubling that the fear of settler response to a non-consensual evacuation of the 40 families of Amona has dominated the public discourse to the extent that a debate over the legal and moral implications of restructuring the status of the 3,000 or so Jewish homes built on private Palestinian land, has not taken place.

Even Amona, however, is dwarfed by comparison to the larger question of where we want to be, and its implications for who and what we are. For many years, the one-state position was the policy only of the anti-Zionist camp, which put it forth as an antidote to a Jewish state, which they felt by definition was classified as non-democratic.

Over the last number of years, however, one-state-ism has penetrated into the heart of the pro-Israel Zionist camp, and possibly even the majority of the current governing coalition. For some, it is motivated by the religious weight of our claim to all the Land of Israel. And for others, by the perceived infeasibility of a two-state solution providing Israel with the security that it rightfully deserves

The pro-Israel community worldwide is no longer unified under an aspiration of Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security. The majority of two-state-ists, such as I, have long ago abandoned unilateral withdrawal as a viable option, and have added to our peace efforts the caveat that they are only to be pursued in a context that provides significant security guarantees.

However, the one-state-ists have yet to give a serious accounting of who and what Israel will become if we continue to maintain our control over all of Judea and Samaria, beyond legitimizing it with evidence of Palestinians’ embrace of terror and delegitimization of Israel, and the profound instability in the Arab world.

No side of the debate should be allowed to claim monopoly over a commitment to peace, human rights, Israel’s security, or the Land of Israel. However, one must earn the right to claim a commitment to any of the above. One-state-ists must provide their responses to the following: What will be the political status of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria? What basic human rights will Israel be committed to there? What impact will a one-state solution have on Israeli Arab Palestinians and Israel as a Jewish and democratic state?

As we are now implementing unilateral policies that are going to determine where the borders of Israel will ultimately lie, we need a serious debate about the consequences. Whether UNSC 2334 will have far-reaching political impact on Israel is not the question. Our position on the settlements will. Let the debate begin.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

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