The main political dispute within Israeli society – regarding the future of Judea and Samaria – is not only a dispute over policy. It is in fact a debate on the meaning of Zionism. We can say that it’s a dispute over what exactly we celebrate on Independence Day.
However, in the heat of daily politics, this debate is being pursued in a way that blurs the meaning of the conflict. The rivaling factions present the views of their opponents in a simplistic and at times twisted manner.
The Right, and the religious settlers with in it, portrays everyone who endorses partition as a member of the “peace camp.” Yet in practice, many people back partition after despairing of the possibility of peace. They believe that partition is the only way to prevent the sinking of the Zionist enterprise into a bi-national state, after we lose the Jewish majority.
On the other hand, many partition supporters portray the settlers as a messianic movement. The settlers reject this portrayal. They believe that their enterprise can be justified on a realistic and secular basis. The messianic dimension of their movement is not an operative plan or decree, but rather, a general framework of faith that adds another dimension of depth and meaning to an enterprise that is needed based on wholly earthly considerations.
One can dispute this description of the religious settlement enterprise. Those who view the movement in a historical perspective can spot changes over time. In the era between the Six-Day War and return of the Sinai, the settlers’ leadership viewed itself as carrying out a divine decree. Yet ever since Israel took the road of territorial compromise, we’ve seen a gradual change in this perception.
What wasn’t supposed to happen according to the “salvation plan” ended up happening - and as the disappointments accumulated, the vision of upcoming salvation shifted to the backdrop while its emissaries started to increasingly explain their enterprise using earthly terms.
Endorsing partitionYet for seculars, the issue of a theological stamp of approval for the settlements among its fans is secondary. Even after God shifted to the backdrop, the conflict between secular Zionism to its settler-religious version remained fundamental. Recently I heard Uri Elitzur, who served as Netanyahu’s bureau chief in the past, explain this as follows: In his view, Zionism is the revival of the link between the People of Israel and Land of Israel. The State is merely a means for reviving this relationship.
Yet in the eyes of Herzl, Ben-Gurion, Weitzman, Jabotinsky, Rabin and even Begin, Zionism was a whole different matter. They believed in a Zionism-of-State, not Zionism-of-Land, and in their view the State was the objective, not the means.
This is a significant difference, even though both types of Zionism want both the Land of Israel and the State of Israel. The Zionism-of-Land camp is willing to jeopardize the Jewish majority and the State’s very existence in order to cling to the land beyond the Green Line. Meanwhile, the Zionism-of-State camp, today and at the time of the 1947 Partition Plan, is willing to partition the land in order to prevent the Jewish State from sinking into an Arab majority.
Independence Day is supposed to remind us of that: It is no coincidence that we celebrate it on the date we declared political independence, rather than on a date that marks the beginning of the modern settlement in Israel.
This immense achievement – the most important accomplishment of the Jews in the modern era – must not be jeopardized for the sake of holding on to Judea and Samaria.