Sunday, April 06, 2008

Henry Siegman reviews The Accidental Empire by Gershom Gorenberg and Lords of the Land by Idith Zertal.

Grab more hills, expand the territory
The title of Gershom Gorenberg’s book is somewhat misleading in its suggestion that the establishment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza was ‘accidental’. While Gorenberg, an American-born Israeli journalist, notes that no Israeli government ever made a formal decision about the future of the West Bank, his account of the first decade of Israel’s occupation leaves no doubt that the settlements were deliberately founded, and were intended to create a permanent Israeli presence in as much of the Occupied Territories as possible (indeed, the hope was for them to cover all of the Occupied Territories, if the international community would allow it). No Israeli government has ever supported the establishment of a Palestinian state east of the 1949 armistice line that constituted the pre-1967 border. At the very least, the settlements were designed to make a return to that border impossible.

It is clear from Gorenberg’s account, and from Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar’s comprehensive survey of the settlement project, Lords of the Land, that the issue dividing Israeli governments has not been the presence of settlements in the West Bank. Shimon Peres of the Labour Party played a key role in launching the settlement enterprise. Their differences have been over what to do with the Palestinians whose lands were being confiscated.

...The most influential supporter of a vigorous settlement policy was Yigal Allon, the legendary commander of Israel’s Palmach, an elite force established before the founding of the state. ‘A peace treaty,’ he said at a government meeting on 19 June 1967, ‘is the weakest guarantee of the future of peace and the future of defence.’ Zertal and Eldar report that he warned against returning even a single inch of the West Bank, and told the cabinet that if he had to choose between ‘the wholeness of the land with all the Arab population or giving up the West Bank, I am in favour of the wholeness of the land with all the Arabs.’ Allon’s views, which shaped the strategic thinking of Israel’s political and security elites for decades, were deeply influenced by his mentor Yitzhak Tabenkin, one of the founders of the Yishuv. Tabenkin believed that partition was a temporary state of affairs and that the ‘wholeness’ of the land would eventually be achieved, whether peacefully or through war.
I've pointed this out before, but I'll do it again: Yigal Allon
Gorenberg has written at TPM.

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