Studying the history of Jewish settlement and state building in the Land of Israel clearly demonstrates that a pragmatic diplomatic strategy, one strongly motivated by an idealistic vision, but one also willing to carefully compromise and steadfastly proceed step by step, has been our country’s ‘winning’ diplomatic strategy.
Ben Gurion’s vision based pragmatism
Vision based pragmatism was Ben Gurion’s winning state-building strategy. For example, in 1937 he was willing to accept the Peel Commission’s recommendation for establishing a Jewish state in only 20 per cent of the Land of Israel. He felt the urgency to create a refuge for Jews escaping Nazism, and was guided by his vision and confidence that a ‘mini state’ would only be the first step, and that changing diplomatic realities would allow expanding the dynamic, ‘mini’ Jewish state to other parts of Israel.
Eleven years later, Ben Gurion continued this pragmatic diplomatic strategy by accepting the UN partition plan, though it gave the Jewish people less than half of the Land of Israel. His acceptance of the partition plan then enabled the United States to critically recognize the fledgling Jewish State.
And in 1967, Jewish bravery, changing diplomatic realities, and G-d’s beneficence allowed us to ‘finish the job’ and establish Jewish control over all of the Land of Israel.
The Yesha settlement movement’s vision-based pragmatism
A vision-based pragmatism political/diplomatic strategy has also been the winning strategy of our movement to settle Judea and Sumaria. We always ‘took what we could get at the moment’ and then, the following morning, continued to establish new ‘facts’ on the ground. And the result of this pragmatic, fifty year, ‘one step back, two forceful steps forward’ strategy is that we now have close to a half a million Jews in Judea and Samaria.
In summary, history clearly shows that a vision-based, pragmatic Zionist strategy, of immediately taking the ‘bird in the hand’-and later carefully planning to take ‘the two that remain in the bush’ , ‘to immediately eat the half of cake that is offered, and then worry about how to obtain more’, has been the best strategy for building a strong Jewish state in a very inhospitable diplomatic world.
Derailing Bibi’s annexation plan would seem to be a tragic, historic mistake
The above analysis causes me to have serious doubts about the efforts of some Yesha leaders to derail Netanyahu's effort to annex strategically important parts of Judea and Samaria under the umbrella of the Trump peace plan. If they are attacking those annexation efforts as a short term political maneuver to gain better terms, then their efforts are legitimate. But if they really intend to torpedo the whole plan (given the facts currently available), I would have to clearly state that I believe they are acting in a historically tragic, destructive manner.
With regard to the Yesha leaders' worries about that the Trump plan could lead to restrictions on building in certain communities and certain areas of the land of Israel, and to the establishment of a terrorist Palestrinian Arab state, I suggest that they take a deep breath, spend some hours reading up on Ben Gurions’ diplomatic successes, and in time, come to the most obvious, pragmatic solution: Take now what is being offered, and the following morning start planning how to use changing diplomatic realities to forestall the unwanted scenarios.
I am sure this is also Netanyahu’s plan. For one example, the possible election of Biden in America will upset everybody’s hands of cards, and create new, but difficult diplomatic wriggling room. Nothing is predictable in the Middle East, so do it (annexation) while you can.
We settlers have a moral, political obligation to ask: Do the interests of unhindered Yesha settlement always correspond with our national interest?
However, I would now like to use my personal life story to teach, a less often heard, but probably much more important, message. Yesha leaders complain that Trump’s plan will create serious discomfort and possible dangers, affecting the mobility and housing construction of settlers in more isolated, outlying Jewish communities. For example, there are reports that the only building to be allowed in South Hebron settlements will be uninviting apartment buildings, and that to travel to Kiryat Arba from Jerusalem you may first have to travel to Kiryat Gat.
My tentative response to these reports is that we veteran settlers must prepare ourselves for the day when we will be called to think beyond the interests of our personal welfare in our particular communities, and think about what may be good for all of the Jewish population in the Land of Israel. Driving an extra hour to arrive at Kirat Arba may be a legitimate price that we will have to pay. (Of course, as of the time this writing, none of us have sufficient facts to make a responsible judgment concerning the costs and benefits of the annexation plan)
And yet it is relevant for us settlers to prepare ourselves to confront a painful moral, political question: Maybe, sometimes, what is good for Yesha at the moment may not always be in the best historical, national interests of the Jewish People in Israel’.
Thirty eight years of helping to build Yesha settlement I think permits me to ask this ‘traitorous’ question
I permit myself to raise these ‘traitorous’ questions because I and my family, have ‘paid our dues’ through our active participation in the Jewish settling of Judea and Samaria over the last 38 years.
Four years after making aliyah from middle class America, we settled in Pisagot in 1982. There were then thirty plus families in Pisagot, and roughly 30,000 Jews in Judea and Samaria. Today, thank G-d, all of my over fifty member family lives in Yesha, with over twenty-five living in very isolate, difficult to travel to, "settlements" (Yizhar, Hebron and in an isolated, eight family apartment building –Biet HaChoshen- in East Jerusalem). For the last thirty eight years we have consistently traveled to visit our children in their isolated communities. In 2001-2002 (at the height of the second intifada) we traveled to Yizhar and Hebron with bullet proof vests and an M16.
Pisagot, our home, is itself an isolated community; basically a narrow neighborhood that adjoins Al Birah. From 1982 -1996 we daily traveled through the narrow side streets of El Bira constantly expecting another barrage of rocks. My children traveled to school in nearby Ofra with an army jeep in front and behind their transportation and experienced not infrequent firebomb attacks. Throughout 2002 Pisagot was attacked daily by sniper fire from Ramallah. We had tanks stationed in Pisagot for most of 2002.
I loyally attended ninety percent of Yesha’s political demonstrations from 1987 to 2006. As a teacher at Hebrew University I always tried to present myself as a proud ‘settler” before the rest of the staff’s not very sympathetic glances. And in 2002 -2003 I worked as a social worker in Shaare Tzedek Hospital helping to treat the victims of the Intifada's exploding buses
I thank G-d for, and do not regret for a single moment, these ‘sacrifices’ that my family and I made to advance Jewish settlement in Yesha. Metaphorically, I want the words ‘proud settler’ to be engraved on my tombstone.
And yet throughout these 38 years of struggle, I think all intelligent, dedicated settlers, knew in our hearts, that one day we would have to sacrifice some of our accomplishments for the sake of the greater, national, historical good of Jewish state building in the land of Israel. Perhaps it is only good in the short term, perhaps it can never lead to good results to put aside temporarily our belief that all the land is ours, but we have to consider it.
I do not think this moment has come yet. It is still unclear if it will come with regard to the Trump peace plan. But I believe that we must clearly understand that the glorious settlement project we have built exists is not for the sake not of our own particular settlements, but for the sake of the historical destiny of the Jewish people. It is no less glorious if it involves some stepping back.
In summary, I hope that the current Yesha leaders are doing their current political posturing in order to improve Bibi’s annexation deal. I really pray that they will not actively try to derail the deal, because I believe that (given the facts known at the time of this writing) this would be a tragedy of historic proportions for Jewish settlement in the land of Israel.
At this point it seems that derailing Netanyahu’s annexation plan might constitute a somewhat politically immoral placement of giving priority to the parochial interests of Yesha before those of the historical, national interests of the Jewish people. Yesha leaders,, please read Ben Gurion and weigh if our bitter experience with the Palestinian Arabs since then precludes taking this opportunity in hand.
I am writing as an historian, sociologist and very veteran settler. With regard to the very serious rabbinic teaching that it is forbidden for Am Yisrael to forgo sovereignty on any piece of the Land of Israel, I will faithfully and humbly let our rabbinic leadership decide.