The Unmaking of Israel

Reviewed by Michael Rubner, Professor Emeritus, James Madison College, Michigan State University, Middle East Policy Council, summer 2012, (Harper Collins Books, 2011, 325 pps.)

“On April 24, 2012, the Israeli government retroactively legalized three Jewish settlement outposts housing 188 ultra-Orthodox families in the West Bank. Critics of Israel’s settlement policy condemned the legalization as a dangerous, heretofore unprecedented, move that seriously undermines the already slim prospects for a two-state solution. Michael Sfard, a legal adviser to the Israeli human-rights group Yesh Din, noted that two of the government’s own reports on unauthorized, and hence illegal, outposts had described all three settlements as “problematic” (New York Times, April 25, 2012, p. A8). Defending the move of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, spokesperson Mark Regev denied that the three settlements were illegal outposts and claimed that this decision “was simply a matter of resolving technical problems such as improper permits and mistakenly building on the wrong hill.”

“This latest controversy provides additional evidence for the main thesis in Gershom Gorenberg’s provocative and aptly titled The Unmaking of Israel. It is this: the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank spawns an illegal settlement policy and undermines Israeli democracy by fostering religious extremism, strengthening ties between synagogue and state, and poisoning relations between Jews and Arabs in the territories as well as inside Israel proper. According to Gorenberg, a prolific Israeli journalist and historian, these ominous trends did not result from any single carefully deliberated policy. They also reflect values that were much more appropriate for the period preceding Israel’s independence and have no justification in a state claiming to be a liberal democracy.”

“For Gorenberg, Israel’s settlement enterprise from its very beginning in September 1967 represents an assault on the rule of law. He notes that in response to his inquiry, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was informed by Theodor Meron, then legal counsel in the Foreign Ministry, that ‘Civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.’ Eshkol, however, decided to evade Meron’s opinion by misrepresenting the initial settlements in the West Bank as temporary military bases that were very quickly transformed into permanent civilian communities. In acquiring land for settlement, subsequent Labor and Likud governments treated the occupied West Bank as if it were stateless territory over which two ethnic movements, one Jewish and the other Arab, struggled for control, with only one of these being backed the power of the state. Lands expropriated by Israel included public areas previously controlled by the Jordanian government and private properties belonging to Palestinians. Such expropriation violated the 1907 Hague Regulations, which forbid the confiscation of private property by the occupier, and disregarded Jordanian law, which limits expropriation for public use only.”…

“Gorenberg concludes that, if Israel is to restore itself as a liberal democracy, it must immediately stop constructing settlements, end the occupation and find a peaceful way to arrive at a negotiated two-state solution. It also needs to separate religion from the state and ensure full equality to all citizens regardless of their ethnicity. Ending the occupation first, he argues, is a precondition for divorcing the state from the synagogue and creating equality for Israel’s one-million Arab citizens. Gorenberg concedes that in order to end the occupation and the ethnic warfare generated by it, Israel must not only stop the settlement enterprise but also begin evacuating Jewish settlers immediately, even in the absence of a peace agreement. He recommends that the government offer incentives to those settlers who are willing to move, including assistance to purchase homes inside Israel and vocational training and counseling to facilitate the adjustment.” (more…)

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