Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Greater Israel, one cinderblock at a time

There was a time when Zionist leaders had grand territorial ambitions.

Herzl thought he could get his charter for a Jewish homeland in one solid piece, so to speak, and settle destitute Jews en masse. Eventually, a more pragmatic approach to Jewish settlement of Palestine was taken by the left-wing leaders of the Yishuv: one settlement at a time; on land purchased a piece at a time. It is now called creating facts on the ground. Eventually they did accomplish this; certain areas of Palestine were predominantly Jewish : the coastal plain, west Jerusalem, the Jezreel Valley and scattered outposts in other areas. There were facts on the ground, and during the early stages of the War of Independence, the Yishuv, and then the State of Israel, fought hard to defend these strips of land inhabited by Jews.

There was a pragmatism in the early years regarding ideas of land, its possession, and its sense of importance to the Jewish state. Certainly, there was a cult of the land, but it was always tempered by the idea that only land that could be protected, that could enhance the security of the state, was land worth having. Certainly right wing ideologues dreamed of a Greater Israel, encompassing all of pre-war Palestine, and perhaps even the Transjordan, which would become the Kingdom of Jordan. But eventually those big dreams deflated. Even Begin, who once belonged to the rightest Greater Israel clan, under favorable circumstances traded land for peace.

Now we see that pragmatism completely abandoned. The West Bank does not need another settlement to enhance Israel's security (in fact, they undermine security). Most Israels simply don't care about this area, either practically or spiritually. Three out of four Israelis live on the coastal plain. Gush Dan, the area that comprises Tel-Aviv and its environs, is the largest Jewish municipal center in the world. The West Bank is small potatoes for three out of four Israelis. A small minority makes a few dunams of land an international crisis and the present Israeli government appears happy to skip along with them toward self-destruction.

The dream of Greater Israel died a long time ago.  There is no need to disinter its corpse.

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