Peace After Netanyahu – Benny Elon

Netanyahu may have succeeded in the historic mission of holding the line, but to preserve its gains Israel requires a realistic vision of how to solve the conflict with its neighbors. This vision must not ignore the unique character of Zionism as a political movement, but at the same time it can be understood and justified only with the aid of the Biblical narrative.

Zionism in the Style of Rabbi Benny Elon

The following article, originally intended for the second issue of Hashiloach, is based on conversations with Rabbi Benny Elon (1954 – 2017), my beloved teacher and mentor, in his home last fall. His illness prevented him from talking; we exchanged whispers and notes. Though I submitted the completed article for his review, Rabbi Elon preferred not to publish the article in the state it was in. He felt that it was not worthy for a bedridden man, distant from actual politics, to take a stand on public issues. Yet it was clear from our conversations that he was superbly well-informed in current political developments. His analyses were sharp and unique, as always — hitting the mark and precisely drawing the broad picture of the political arena.

His reluctance in publishing this piece reflected a rare trait, which characterized his approach to this arena from the moment he decided to enter it fifteen years ago: an abiding respect for the political arena and politicians. Elon was not naïve, but he distanced himself from the common cynicism of Israeli discourse on politics — on the part of those who cover the field, those who take part in it, and those who go into the Knesset promising not to be politicians. Elon treated the political arena as a sphere that entailed a great deal of responsibility in rendering decisions, a sphere in which the sovereignty of the Jewish people is expressed and where that people can realize its collective character. When he entered the Knesset, he appealed to his students not to call him "the Rabbi."  He no longer considered the title relevant while he served the public as an MK. Though he entered the Knesset as a representative of a party on the far right of the Israeli political spectrum, this basic respect—along with a pleasant demeanor and personal charm that accompanied him during the thirteen years he would spend in government—allowed him to forge an extensive system of bonds of trust with MKs from all parties.

The figure of Rabbi Elon, a unique personality who devoted his life unfailingly for the redemption of Israel, is worthy of a full biography (which will certainly be written). Here we will only devote a few words to his public image and the sources of his thought.

picture by: Israel Allies Foundation


Binyamin Elon was born in Jerusalem in the fall of 1954 to Justice Menahem Elon (1923-2013, later the Deputy Supreme Court President and Israel Prize winner) and Ruth Buchsbaum. His leadership skills and vision were evident early on. He led a protest against missionary efforts in Zichron Yaakov, and helped establish a "religious youth publication" called B'Etzem, which became a very significant platform in the few years it came out.

These  two poles which would characterize his life’s work. First, without fear or apologetics Elon constantly strived to realize the idea of the "redemptive Torah" which he received from Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook and his yeshiva, Mercaz HaRav (which Elon entered by storm at a young age and remained affiliated with until his dying day). Second, Elon would devote himself to cultivating areas of poetry, writing, and discourse by founding the Bet El Library publishing house and by shaping the Beit Orot yeshiva.

After completing his yeshiva studies, Elon served as the rabbi of Kibbutz Shluhot in the Beit She'an Valley in northern Israel. He subsequently taught at a number of yeshivot, did educational work in the United States, and headed the Beit Orot yeshiva as its first dean. Elon, a child of divided Jerusalem, also took part in redeeming homes in the east of the city.

In the 1990s, the Oslo Accords took Elon out of the study hall and into the political arena. He became active in the Zo Artzenu [This is Our Land] movement, and in the struggle to strengthen Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem. In 1996, Elon was elected to the fourteenth Knesset as a member of the Moledet party. He spent more than twelve years in the Knesset, during which he worked to unite the rightwing parties under the umbrella of the Ihud Ha-Le'umi [National Union] party. Following the assassination of Moledet leader Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001, Elon served as Tourism Minister in the second Sharon government. In 2004, he was dismissed by the Prime Minister in order to ensure the implementation of the Disengagement Plan (the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza, and the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005). During his tenure, Elon worked to strengthen Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem by pushing out the Palestinian Authority, encouraging Jewish settlement in the east of the city, and blocking the ring of illegal construction around the Holy Basin [ancient Jerusalem including the City of David and the Temple Mount]. He also cultivated support for Israeli positions in parliaments around the world and especially in the U.S. Congress, with which he enjoyed good relations.

Although he clearly belonged to the wing of religious Zionism which saw the establishment of Israel as part of the process of redemption, Elon brought pragmatic perspectives to bear on the political and strategic questions facing the country. He accordingly pressed for the creation of a "political plan" on the basis of the rightwing worldview, a plan based on an understanding of the international system and the constraints of Israel's geopolitical situation. In 2003, he formed the "regional outline for peace," an updated version of which appeared in 2007 — after the Disengagement and the Second Lebanon War — under the new heading of "The Israeli Initiative." (Full disclosure: the present author helped draft and brand that initiative.) This was not just a matter of marketing: As one who respected the political system, Elon also respected the intuitions of Israeli society, and its interests in promoting security and prosperity.

Even when he served in rabbinic positions, Elon formed significant ties with Israel-loving Gentiles, from the Makuya in Japan to Protestant churches and organizations in the United States, Europe, and Africa. He cultivated these ties for pragmatic reasons, due to the State of Israel's need for real allies, but no less for theological reasons: Like his mentors, he saw the process of the Return to Zion as a matter of universal significance, a realization of the vision of the prophets. In his last years in the Knesset, Elon started to create an international network of support for Israel in parliaments around the world, and continued to cultivate this network even after he chose not to run for the eighteenth Knesset. In the spring of 2016, Elon was awarded the Moscowitz Prize for Zionism in recognition for his contributions to strengthening united Jerusalem and fostering international support for Israel.


When I wrote this article based on Rav Benny's words, I had occasion to be surprised. I had learned from him and worked with him, but until I put these conversations into writing, I was insufficiently aware just how much his words were the words of Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, and just how profoundly the "redemptive Torah" sprang forth in his thinking. This impression only deepened when I heard his family speak of Rav Benny after he passed away.

Indeed, the words below clearly reflect his worldview — and to an extent of an entire generation with a great deal of accomplishments to its name. The passing years have only revealed the historic and political truths embodied in a view often slurred as “messianic” by those who failed to grasp the good and the truth therein.

Elon was both complex and simple. He was a warm, heartfelt person, who looked straight at what was most humane in his interlocutor. At the same time, he was a brilliant intellectual who saw a few moves further than those he spoke with. His burning faith and his dedication to what he saw as God's will were complete, even as he remained far from asceticism, dogmatism or fanaticism. A vigorous spirit of love of the world and humanity flowed from him. Few are the public figures who devote their works for the sake of Heaven. I have merited to meet such a rare specimen, and hope I have learned something from him.

Yoav Sorek

I’m grateful to Emunah Elon, the ally and partner of Rav Benny in all his public works; this article was written thanks to her and is published with her encouragement.

Peace After Netanyahu – Benny Elon

 Netanyahu may have succeeded in the historic mission of holding the line, but to preserve its gains Israel requires a realistic vision of how to solve the conflict with its neighbors. This vision must not ignore the unique character of Zionism as a political movement, but at the same time it can be understood and justified only with the aid of the Biblical narrative.


The roots of the century-old Israeli-Arab conflict lie in the unusual historic shocks which Zionism unleashed: The arrival of the Jews to Palestine, a semi-wilderness in the heart of the Arab world, the subsequent demographic transformation of the land, and the establishment of a Jewish nation-state with a western orientation. This earthquake changed the lives of millions of people and many nations. During the War of Independence, hundreds of thousands of Arabs were forced from the territory on which the State of Israel had just been born, finding themselves in surrounding Arab areas. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced from a series of Arab states and found themselves in the nascent State of Israel. This exchange of populations, which gave birth to the refugee problem, demonstrates more than anything the essence of the Zionist revolution. It is no coincidence that this exchange remains the mythical heart of the conflict itself, even after three generations and several wars.

If this were a regular national or territorial conflict, as too many are tempted to believe, it would not have resisted any attempt at solving it for so long, as generation after generation adds to the cycles of blood and bereavement. Those who adhere to accepted theories of conflict resolution are doomed to disappoint time and again; no amount of good will, no sums of billions of dollars will help. This conflict is "bigger," deeper, and touches on areas which are usually beyond the horizons of the usual discourse in political science departments. We are used to a way of thinking which limits itself to things it can explain. This is why the West so belatedly recognized the power of religious myths and the centrality of Islam in the Middle East. For the same reason, the discourse on the Israeli-Arab conflict has avoided the essential truth of that conflict: The Return to Zion as the fulfillment of a Biblical narrative, which deviates from the normal rules of history even as it operates within its rules.

Shivat Zion. picture by Fin Hans.

Even though the State of Israel is the fruit of a national movement, the Zionist project is not a routine "national awakening" of a nation which reaches national consciousness and proceeds to shake off foreign rule. Even though the Jewish settlement of the Land of Israel was the fruit of the movement, Zionism is not a typical expression of "colonialism," in which a power wishes to dominate natural resources or make its mark on a territory distant from its natural habitat. True, the Jewish Yishuv forged disparate communities into a nation. Yet the revival of Israel is not merely a unification of tribes into a single sovereignty. What took place in the Land of Israel in the twentieth century was a process which is irregular by any yardstick of historical realia: The ingathering of the exiles of a people living in dispersion for many centuries, to a piece of land no-one imagined could once again be a true homeland. This is an event on a Biblical scale, appropriate the the terms and thinking of Biblical meta-history.

Today we seldom speak openly in meta-historical terms. One of the characteristics of the Zionist revolution itself is the breaking free of religious language, which attributes events to God. Zionism adapted a modern, secular, and scientific language which pegs everything on human actions. This is no secondary or marginal matter: It was precisely the secularization of the language which allowed the redemption for which generations prayed. The abandonment of religious language and the adoption of an anthropocentric, national, political-historical language led to that taking of responsibility. As to the ones who brought about the miracle, we are taught by the popular poem of Shmuel Bass: "This is your hand, your hand is what plants." Zionism succeeded thanks to its flight from the religious-messianic language toward the secular language of sober politics, from the heavenly expectation of redemption to the earthly taking of our fate in our own hands. Even within the Zionist movement, the victory of Theodor Herzl over Ahad Ha'am represented the victory of the practical way of thinking about the existential problems of the Jews over thinking which emphasizes the spirit of the nation.

The fear of sliding into irrational conduct due to the adoption of a messianic narrative is a justified one. But we cannot shut our eyes to aspects of reality just because they don't fit rational models. Messianism has become a pejorative word in Israeli discourse, a word employed to scare those who believe in the vital elements of Zionism. But Israeli realism cannot exist without the recognition of the messianic element. The project emerging before our eyes is a mythical, messianic, biblical one, even if it is fulfilled in realistic, political, sometimes cynical ways. A statesman who wishes to helm the Zionist ship, much like his advisers and critics, must make use of political cunning, cold sobriety, and an understanding of what lies in the hearts of men. This is how I understood the words of my teacher and mentor Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, who explained the words of Isaiah (52:8): "Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes." Two eyes are required to see at the Zionist project. One sees the overall picture, in which God moves within history to return the people of Israel to its land. The second looks on the practical, political, historical, sociological, and strategic dynamic in which this process takes place, with its dangers and mistakes, its opportunities, and its turning points.

The first, mythical perspective is necessary not just to understand the Return to Zion, but even to understand the players on the scene. Without the mythical dimension, there is no "People of Israel" as an entity with a millennia-long history; there is only the gathering of refugees from different countries who share a cruel fate and who wish to establish a country as a shelter. Without the mythical dimension, which recognizes terms like "the hatred of Israel" and the "mission of Israel," we cannot explain why the world has such a charged relationship, for good or for ill, with this corner of the Levant. A truly rational analysis cannot ignore such forces. Precisely as rational-scientific thinking cannot contain all of reality, whose wonders immeasurably exceed the conception of human logic, so must rational-analytical thinking at its best contain the mythic reality and not deny its existence. Science has taught us to recognize both the anomaly of water, whose physical traits from those of other substances, and the dual, particle-wave, character of energy. So must a sober look at history recognize the existence and uniqueness of phenomena, rather than force them into ready-made molds which fail time and again in understanding reality.

This dual perspective can be confusing and elusive. Those exposed to the messianic perspective, primarily people infused with religious faith, often dismiss the practical and tangible approach as an inferior and marginal perspective. With burning faith, some of my friends have thought that they can ignore difficult questions, ignore the political arena, and conduct a discourse in which the existential and security dimensions are inferior to uplifting visions of redemption. Those who fulfilled the approach of "an eye for an eye" were the secular leaders of Zionism, who understood axiomatically the necessity of secular and political language, and conducted themselves within its bounds. This is true even though they knew very well that the foundation of the same Return to Zion which they were leading could not be contained by this language alone.

One need only scratch the surface to expose the Biblical depths which have driven those–from Herzl to Netanyahu–who stood at the Archimedean points which together engendered the Zionist revolution. Take David Lloyd George, whose faith led him to translate British interests in the Middle East into the Balfour Declaration, providing Zionism with a push whose importance is difficult to exaggerate. David Ben Gurion’s explicit messianism allowed him to lead to the revival against all the odds and maneuver among the powers until Israel was established. When Golda Meir was asked if she believed in God, she replied that she believes in the Jewish People, and that she believes in God. This wonderful answer expresses the mindset which guided many Zionist leaders.

At the same time, religious society failed to embed within itself the great innovation of Rav Kook. According to his teaching, faith is not monotheism, or the role of God in the life of man, but political theology, in which the Divine is revealed in the historical actions of humankind. After all, we pray every year on Rosh Hashanah: "Let everyone whose soul is in his nostril: God the Lord of Israel is the King, the Ruler of all that is ruled." Not just an abstract God, but the Lord of Israel. And Israel is a real nation. Faith, according to this, is not a religious fantasy or ecstasy, but a reality which reveals itself in history. It starts with our founding ethos, the Exodus, the movement of the people to freedom and the knowledge that God is with them. It continues to inform the new founding ethos, the ingathering of the exiles, which is a double, triple Exodus.

From the outset, Zionism has been accompanied by a fear of the messianic dimension. From the late Gershom Scholem to the sharp critics of Gush Emunim in its various forms, we feared the wild growth of nationalist ecstasy which may sprout from a "messianic" conception of Zionism. The criticism was–and still is–far from fair; it suffers from a profound blindness when discussing the messianic dimension in the self-conception of Gush Emunim. As noted, this fear has a role to play in shaping Zionism as a sober national movement. But this fear also repeatedly obstructs our ability to offer a true vision for a peaceful Middle East. For if we do not understand what this Zionism is against which the Arab world battles so mightily, and if we do not understand that it is more than a national or territorial conflict and more even than a religious conflict, then we are doomed to continue to provide the thirsty with vinegar and waste our time, money, and blood on futile solutions.

Peace will come only when the Arabs make their peace with the fundamental Zionist transformation of the Middle East. Not with the right of Jews to live here or the existence of a state with a Jewish majority, but with Zionism itself: With the fact that we have come home from the ends of the earth. With the Law of Return. With the State of Israel as the State of the Jewish people.


"We cannot entirely receive the willing agreement of the Arabs of the Land of Israel to the transformation of the one Land of Israel from an Arab land to one with a Jewish majority." So wrote Zeev Jabotinsky at the beginning of the British Mandate, when Jews were still a minority in the land and the language for discussing Zionism was still Russian. Jabotinsky pointed plainly to the essence of Zionism — the demographic and political transformation of Palestine. He acknowledged the obvious resistance of the Arabs, and the only way Zionism could counter this resistance. Long before the Holocaust and the shaky justifications it gave to the Jewish State, Jabotinsky wrote: "If Zionism is moral, that is right, [check quote] then this justice must be implemented without consideration of anyone’s consent or non-consent." Zionism must make clear that it is a fait accompli, and create an "Iron Wall" in this matter. Only when the Arabs lose all hope of defeating Zionist plans will they be ready for peace. "The only path to an agreement in the future," Jabotinsky said, "is expressed in the complete avoidance of any attempts to reach an agreement in the present".

.Ze'ev Jabotinsky. The man and the the iron wall, photo: wiki commons
.Ze'ev Jabotinsky. The man and the the iron wall, photo: wiki commons

The “Iron Wall” doctrine has accompanied Zionism from Jabotinsky's time to our own. The Oslo process and its successors undermined the doctrine by allowing the Arabs to refuse to make peace with Zionism in favor of trying to reach a compromise. This attempt, we need not remind ourselves, failed. Since then, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been fulfilling his own version of the Iron Wall. Netanyahu sees his role as blocking the forces against the State of Israel, and in preserving its geopolitical standing so as to ensure that no dramatic change occurs before the fateful Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish State.

The Iron Wall preserves its iron logic even when the Middle East has been taken by storm by a factor which was not given its proper due in the past: Islam. Jabotinsky, it is safe to assume, aimed most of his arrows against the Arab national feeling, whether in its pan-Arab variant or in local variants (including the Palestinian one). Yet we now face radical religious forces, ostensibly not subject to rational behavior. But those who understand Islam know that like other religions it has mechanisms which can accommodate reality and accord the inevitable religious significance.

To be sure, Islam is full of irrational hatred of Israel. The Christian antisemitism which served as the soil for the Holocaust must not blind us to the attitude of Islam to the Jews, or to the fact that Islam has become the global lighthouse of Jew hatred. This is part of that mythical cycle: The Return of the Jewish people to its land is a global shock, and those at the center of the shock become the representatives of the resistance, of antisemitism. Our Sages taught us that "Amalek" is not a genealogical concept, as "Sanherib mixed up the nations," but a typological one: "The first of nations was Amalek," as Bilam said (Num. 24:20), a saying parallel to "Israel who were called first." Amalek is a name for the spearhead of Jew hatred, and this spearhead is lurking in wait for us at the intersection between Israel and the nations. Because we still suffer from Holocaust trauma, we continue to seek antisemitism in the European, Christian culture, which was the center of antisemitism when Europe was the center of Jewish life. But that is yesterday's war. The head of the snake of antisemitism is no longer in Europe; Jews are by and large no longer there. This doesn't mean we need to forgive or forget — but it does mean that we need to fight the war in the right place, and not on the previous battlefield.

Despite all this, it is not an eternal decree that Islam must adopt the path of Jew hatred. Islam includes a range of voices and options, and here, too, the key lies in creating that Iron Wall. Judaism is not the only religion which considers the constrains of reality, such as "God exempts compulsion." Islam has known for some time to distinguish territories whose conquest by Jews should not be contested from territories where they feel they can undermine Israel's hold. Islam, too, features an oral law that can adapt to changing reality. This is of course true in both directions: For many generations, Islam has avoided insisting that Muslims must reconquer Spain or Hungary, countries which were unquestionably part of Dar al-Islam in the Middle Ages. But if the position of Islam in those places grows stronger, and the sovereign states there weaken, we can expect to see changed tunes there, as well. Like other religions, Islam reacts to reality and is equipped with mechanisms of flexibility; running into an Iron Wall is therefore also the key for its making peace — even religious peace.

In the eyes of many, the hunkering down at which Netanyahu excels is a cowardly position. But it provides an anchor of stability in the unpredictable reality and shifting sands of the Middle East. This basic position has played no small part in the impressive leadership of Netanyahu, which has so far left his rivals far behind. He offers a self-confident Zionism, secular but deeply rooted, sober and free of illusions.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's defense strategy may explain why he has not offered an alternative to the two-state solution. Although Netanyahu stridently opposed this solution in the past, he sees it today — in its demilitarized form — as the lesser evil. Netanyahu believes that time is on our side, and that Israel must maintain its economic, military, and moral advantage over those who wish it harm. The fact that there is no real partner on the other side for the two-state idea, at least not the sort Netanyahu is willing to accept, makes this idea less threatening in his eyes. Naturally enough, the many upheavals in the Middle East make it difficult to present a worthy long-term alternative.

Even if Netanyahu has not offered a vision for the future of the Middle East, he is not unaware of the importance of such a vision. The centrality which the Prime Minister has accorded to the Bible and Jewish heritage sites is no coincidence. It derives from that same rooted Zionism which he leads and represents—the sort which doesn't speak much of ideology, but believes that what we see before our eyes is, quite simply, the realization of the Return to Zion. Netanyahu is not alone in this regard. The Israeli mainstream, which in the past was subordinated to ideologies — from socialism to Haredi zealotry — is coalescing around the basic idea of simple Zionism (perhaps under the welcome influence of the Mizrahi-traditional element). This idea derives not from a class revolution, nor from any other 'ism' seeking to repair the world, but from the almost obvious belief that Israel is the stage of independence in the long Jewish story; that, simply put, we are witnessing the Return to Zion. Ideologues will continue to bemoan the decline of the generations, and complain that we have become a society without direction. But this is an expression of blindness to the victory of simple Zionism, which has become a fact of life and a first principle, a victory whose sweet fruit is a degree of confidence in our place here.


But leaders who wish to lead a country in conflict do not have the luxury of merely holding the line. When you do not present a positive vision to strive for, the status quo becomes a starting point from where there are only retreats. Even the Iron Wall erodes when the forces trying to weaken it are faced only with a guard and not a spearhead. Even if Netanyahu demonstrates amazing ability in blocking tactics, and reduces the erosion to the minimum possible, he cannot hold out forever. A personality like Netanyahu, for whom the defense of Israel from those who wish it harm is a deep existential matter, is a rare personality in Israeli life. The combination in Netanyahu of political and media leadership skills and the profound and pessimistic Jewish historical consciousness handed down to him by his father Benzion is a one-time phenomenon. The Zionist-existential ethos–connected to Judaism without being drawn into its religious patterns–is to a large extent the lot of a generation which has already passed. The day after Netanyahu, we will need a far-reaching political vision, based on understanding the unique essence of Zionism and the Middle Eastern and international arena in which Israel operates.

In fact, the necessity for such a political vision is a logical consequence of the Iron Wall itself. In the event the Wall proves its worth, and an era of Arab and Muslim reconciliation with the State of Israel arrives — how, then, should we address the questions which will remain open? What of the territories of Judea and Samaria and their populations? What of the refugees of 1948 and UNRWA? What of the Gaza Strip? What sort of state do we envision on the day our enemies make peace with us?

That day is not far off;  in fact, it is partially already here. Arab resistance to Israel is steadily weakening, and no longer puts up a united front. A sound political vision is one which can be implemented modularly, which one can move towards at every junction and opportunity that arises. Those who have a long-term strategy can derive tactics to use during the crises of the hour.

There is no need here to bore readers with details of the political program I drew up in the past, the most recent version of which was called "The Israeli Initiative." The fundamental principle of the initiative derives from what I mentioned above: Seeing the Return to Zion as a fundamental factor in the Middle Eastern equation, constructing a general and lasting peace based on reconciliation with it, and turning this into a leverage point for prosperity throughout the entire Middle East. This, in contrast to all the empty “peace plans” which either do not require reconciliation with the return to Zion, or compromise with this enormous historical force and those who wish it harm. Since such a compromise is not possible, seeking it only dooms the region to unending rounds of war.

The Return to Zion, as we said, deviates from the normal historical discourse. At the same time, it uses political instruments and works within the constraints of alliances, security considerations, international law, and global opinion. An Israeli vision for the Middle East must first and foremost include the "settling of accounts" of what happened in 1948, that same exchange of populations which enabled the establishment of the State of Israel and created what became known as the "Palestinian refugee problem." This problem–which began in the war of liberation Palestinians call a "Nakba,"—was placed before Israel as the state’s Original Sin. It continues to nourish the Palestinian national narrative, which is entirely based on opposition to the State of Israel and constant attempts to reverse 1948 — as we saw yet again, when Mahmoud Abbas demanded that Britain apologize for the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

A generous and intelligent plan to rehabilitate refugees must be included in this vision, alongside the elimination of UNRWA, the agency which perpetuates refugee status for generations in order to delegitimize Israel. Israel must initiate a process of rehabilitating the refugees, even though we are now dealing with their children's children, and even though the entire matter now deviates from the accepted international norms regarding refugees. The Israeli interest requires removing this refugee status (and in this manner also providing a better horizon of hope for the residents of Gaza, the overwhelming majority of whom are the descendants of refugees). Seventy years later, this means accepting the exchanges of populations which allowed the establishment of Israel as simple and unquestioned fact. In this way, the rehabilitation of the refugees completes the Law of Return and anchors the principles of the ingathering of the exiles.

Imposing Israeli sovereignty in the heart of the country —Judea and Samaria — will anchor the no less important principle of the return of Israel to its land. To regard these territories as "occupied Palestinian territory" or as under "unlawful occupation" is to turn pull the rug from underneath the idea of the Return to Zion; we should remove this disgrace from ourselves at the earliest opportunity and at the right political moment.

Because Zionism operates within political constraints, we do not act today to expand territorially to all the parts of the Land of Israel. We may have given up our hold on Judea and Samaria — a temporary and tactical concession — if the security and political considerations would show us that it would be better if Israel gave the Arabs of these regions self-rule without thus endangering the State of Israel and without strengthening those who desire its destruction. But in this case, as in many others, the realistic, political, and security considerations unquestionably tilt the scales precisely in favor of the Return to Zion. Indeed, any sober observer who compares what is being done in Judea and Samaria to what is being done in Israel and its neighboring states knows that there is only one way to turn Judea and Samaria from a perpetual focal point of conflict into a well-developed region with agricultural urbanism and tourism, and a model of Jewish-Arab coexistence: apply Israeli law to this territory, cease sending mixed messages regarding its fate, and properly invest in it as is worthy for the historical and geographical heart of the country. In this case, the two views see eye to eye.

Here, of course, we must acknowledge the Arab population in Judea and Samaria. There is no dilemma of justifying the "occupation"; Zionism is nothing more than the creation of a new demographic reality in the Land of Israel. What we have here is a concrete practical question of finding the proper arrangements which will grant Palestinian residents the rights which every individual deserves, in accordance with the highest norms of international law, without endangering the State of Israel's Jewish character. This is not an ideological problem, and there is no need for it to be a right-left battleground. It is a political and legal problem, which requires a solution or a combination of creative solutions, for example granting autonomy of one sort or another, or involving Jordan and regranting of Jordanian citizenship to the residents. In the end we seek a controlled and slow process which will offer a range of possibilities (citizenship, residency, immigration) based on the understanding that Jews are here to stay — and that we will maintain a just society in which everyone enjoys full rights.

Israeli checkpoint. Picture By Avi Ohayun. government press office.

To lead and not just defend, to navigate the stormy waters of the Middle East (as well as the no less stormy seas of the international, legal, and media discourse), the State of Israel needs a clear political vision, even if full implementation is not yet visible on the horizon. The country requires a vision which can inform our policy, articulate a clear Israeli position in international discourse, and remain dynamic enough to allow its implementation at every juncture we face — and there will be no lack of these.

We require a vision which will remind us that Zionism is not just a spent force which brought us here, but remains the yeast in the dough of our great enterprise. Such a vision will drive us forward toward an Israel that is not just safe and secure, but also a source of blessing to the Middle East and the entire world — as we were commanded and blessed when our forefather Abraham came here from Mesopotamia: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:1-3). In our pursuit of this vision and this calling, we are already underway.

 Main Picture: Rabbi Benny Elon at a conference of lobbying for Israel in Washington, Israel Allies Foundation

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