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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/23/09

Tony Judt poses difficult questions

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Message Rabbi Brian Walt

Yesterday,  Tony Judt,  the British historian, published a very important  op-ed in the New York Times about the settlements.  Today Ha’aretz reports that the Israeli government Israel has just authorized the building of 300 new homes in the West Bank!

Pointing out that there are now close to half a million Israelis who live in settlements,  Judt writes:

“Despite all the diplomatic talk of disbanding the settlements as a condition for peace, no one seriously believes that these communities — with their half a million residents, their urban installations, their privileged access to fertile land and water — will ever be removed. The Israeli authorities, whether left, right or center, have no intention of removing them, and neither Palestinians nor informed Americans harbor illusions on this score.”

He argues that we all pretend that this huge investment by successive Israeli governments will be undone, and speak of a two state solution based on 67 borders.

Further he argues U.S. aid for Israel has made this all possible.  As Judt says, “If Israel is drunk on settlements, the United States has long been its enabler.”

Judt believes that the settlements have made a two state solution impossible.  I fear he may be right.

I personally support a two state solution, because it seems to be the only option acceptable to both peoples at this point in time.  If the two peoples could figure out how to share one country, I think that is a much better solution but there are so few Israelis who trust that Jews could be safe in such a state.   The establishment of two states may end the violence and  begin a period of building trust between the two peoples.  After a period of relative calm, maybe other options may be viable.

For anyone, like me,  who still  holds on to the possibility of a  two state solution,  the Ha’aretz report today is very depressing.   Despite our President’s call for a freeze on settlements, the Israeli government continues cynically to manipulate and deceive.

What will it take to get Israel to stop the expansion of settlements?  Is it only the threat of a cut in aid or an actual aid cut that will convince the Israeli government that it can no longer deceive America and the rest of the world.    As I wrote in a earlier blog, now is the time for the Administration to move beyond words to actions.   All our hopes for a breakthrough in the Middle East will be dashed, unless Obama and the America government get really “tough” with Israel and demand that the building of settlements end immediately.  If Israel continues to be unwilling to end the policy, the U.S. government should withhold aid until it agrees to do so.

As Judt points out freezing settlements  is not even the core issue.  The real difficult issue is the dismantling of settlements to make a Palestinian state a viable option.

I encourage you to read his article and I welcome discussion in response to his argument.  I am sure there are some passionately held differences of opinion among us.  Even though I find his writing challenging, I am grateful for Judt’s honesty, courage and clarity.  What a blessing!

I also encourage you to read Judt’s short tribute in the New York Review of Books in memory of  Amos Elon, the Israeli journalist who died recently.  I remember reading Elon’s book, Israel: Founders and Sons in the 1970’s.  It was one of those books that you remember reading and it played an important part in my evolving approach to the issues of Israel and Palestine.  His daughter Danae Elon, a filmmaker, has made one of my favorite films about Israel:  Another Road Home.  It is an important reflection by a young Israeli of her relationship to a Palestinian man who took care of her as a child. It is poignant and beautiful film.  I highly recommend it.

Finally, Judt writes about Amos Elon:

“Amos, unlike so many of the land-fixated commentators among his fellow countrymen, was one of the first to recognize that the settlements in the territories Israel has occupied since 1967 were a self-imposed catastrophe: “The settlements…have tied Israel’s hands in any negotiation to achieve lasting peace…. [They] have only made it less secure.”

“As he foresaw in 2003, Israeli insistence upon ruling over an Arab population that will eventually become a majority within the country’s borders can only lead to a single authoritarian state encompassing two mutually hostile nations: one dominant, the other subservient. With what outcome? “If Israel persists in its current settlement policy,…the end result is more likely to resemble Zimbabwe than post-apartheid South Africa.” Many have since come to this depressing conclusion; I believe Amos was the first to make the point.”

How little has changed since he wrote those words!  Truly a prophetic voice.  May his memory be a blessing and may we all be blessed with many more prophetic Israeli voices.

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Rabbi Brian Walt is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights North America and was the founding Rabbi of JRF Congregation Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia, PA
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