Several arguments are advanced in favor of Israeli acquisition of territory, each with different rationales:
The religious argument - God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish People
The terror argument - Withdrawal from the West Bank will allow creation of a terrorist Hamas state
- The viability argument is perhaps the newest of these, and it is the most problematic. The same argument is used, by the way, by pro-Palestinian advocates of a "one-state solution."
The viability argument - Israel needs more land in order to be more "viable."
The land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was very great in extent, and the territory varied in different pro misses. It is certainly legitimate, after the debacle of the Gaza disengagement, to argue that withdrawal from the West Bank in current circumstances would be suicidal. But the borders of Israel defined in the scriptures are at least finite, and historic Israel and Judea never attained those borders. Israel never reached to the Euphrates river in Iraq. The Americans got there, and found out the limits of power. The security situation is hopefully temporary. Some day, somehow, we will make peace with the Arabs of Palestine, just as we made peace with Jordan and Egypt.
The borders of a "viable" Israel, like a "viable" Roman Empire, are not limited in space and time. There is never enough land, because there are always enemies on the borders. Nobody can demonstrate what size will make Israel viable, and therefore the concept is virtually meaningless. The "case for a viable Israel" translates into "the case for a larger Israel" and is thus unmasked for what it is, a parody of the Zionist ideal, that takes up the false scare propaganda of anti-Zionists about Israeli expansionism and exacerbates it by setting no limits at all. How much larger is large enough? Larger than the borders of the partition plan of 1947? We got that. Israel was viable for 19 years with those borders, and beat three Arab states in a major war. Larger than the 1967 borders? We got that too. We were told that Israel got "defensible" borders in 1967, and "strategic depth." These borders were so defensible that army service had to be increased from two years to three years. We got so much strategic depth, that on a morning in October, 1973, the commander of a Syrian armoured unit was asking for instructions from his superiors, as to whether or not to overrun the Galilee. If we expand Israel to the Euphrates river, there will be enemies just beyond it. We will still have no "strategic depth." In the era of ICBMs, sufficient "strategic depth" can only be gained by moving to Mars. And what will we do with all the people living in those areas that constitute the hypothetical viable Israel?
Abraham Lincoln was asked how long a man's legs ought to be. He answered that they should be long enough to reach from his body to the ground. A similar answer must be given to the question "How large must a state be?" Large enough to guarantee security and prosperity to its citizens. The notion that "bigger is better" doesn't always work for countries. Which proved to be more viable, USSR or Japan? Which is a better model, Switzerland or the Ottoman Turkish Empire?? What happened to the British Empire?? What happened to the Greek city states when they tried to carve out empires in the Italian peninsula?
In fact, in his book, "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," Paul Kennedy demonstratedthat great powers can fall by overstretching their economic limitations while trying to conquer and rule too much territory. What is true for great powers, is a forteriori true for tiny countries of tiny peoples - mice that can't roar.
If we want to ensure the viability of Israel, we have to make Israel great, not greater, and we have to ensure the viability of the Jewish people. Many reactionaries in the Arab and Muslim world fear peace with Israel more than war. They see Israel as a successful and prosperous liberal democracy. They are afraid that the model will spread, just as the model of US democracy and French and British democracy spread. Success is infectious. They are right to be fearful. Japan and Germany did not become great when they tried to carve out empires by aggression. They became great in the same way as the United States became great: when peace allowed them to expand their economy, provide for their people, and demonstrate to others that they have a better way of doing things.
The tiny Jewish people gave monotheism to the world and provided the scriptural foundations of Western culture and of the three monotheistic religions. In so doing, we vanquished mighty Rome and Greece. The Jew with his book beat the centurion with his spear. Who was viable, and who was not viable?
Until recently, Zionism had a remarkably successful career. We did many "impossible" things. We created a state from sand dunes and malaria swamps. We defended that state in many wars, sometimes against overwhelming odds. We created an oasis of democracy in the desert of despotism that is the Middle East. We created a post-industrial society with great institutions of learning and mighty hi-tech corporations. The former sand dunes north of Jaffa bristle with glass and concrete towers of some of the largest firms in the world.
We gathered millions of Jews from all over the world and gave them a new home and a new life. As David Grossman remarked recently, even a secular person has to admit that a miracle has come to pass here. The vision of the resurrection of the dry bones from the book of Ezekiel has taken on flesh and blood all around us. We are proud to be part of that miracle. Zionism was never about land alone. The land was to be redeemed in order to redeem the people of Israel. Without the people, the land is just rocks and sand, a desolation, as it was when Mark Twain visited here over a century ago.
If we are now in doubt, we have to study what we did right before, and what we are doing wrong now, and what we must change in order to survive. Suppose we conquer all this land, who will live there? Will we have 200 million Jews to fill this great expanse? If we alienate the Jews of the United States, we will not have even 10 million.
How will we sustain these Jews without a growing economy, and how will we keep them in Israel? We constantly worry about demography and the famous Arab birth rate. Ben-Gurion insisted that we shouldn't worry about what the non-Jews will do, but rather focus on what we ought to be doing. If the Arabs all stop having babies, there will not be one Jew more in a hundred years. If we do not have a great economy, nobody will live in Israel for long, no matter how idealistic. If we do not provide for education, as we are not, we will not have a great economy, and we won't be a light unto the gentiles and a center for Jewish culture. The salt will have lost its savor.
What we must do is clear enough. It is not impossible. It only requires going back to the fundamental values of Judaism and of Zionism: Constructive labor, respect for education, a humanitarian vision of social justice. We can't have guns and butter. We can't have a great, viable Israel and also a forever larger Israel. If our people is viable, and our society is viable, then our state will be viable. If we believe in our cause and follow our principles justly and bravely, we will have friends. If we will be useful to others rather than a burden, we will have allies. If we make wise alliances and set wise policies, we will be secure. If we make peace with our neighbors and set a great example, the spirit of Israel will extend not only to the Euphrates, but to the Pacific Ocean as well, and beyond.
I had wanted, with a great flourish of trumpets, to proclaim the founding of "The Movement for a Great Israel." It may seem like a great revolution to some, and I too thought it was a great idea. The other day I invented the wheel and the wireless telephone - I am a great inventor. I am told that this idea too, is already taken, however. The Movement for a Great Israel was in fact founded by Theodor Herzl, in Basel Switzerland, in 1897. He laid out the plan. Let's get on with the work.
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Replies: 4 Comments
I have great respect for Ami and all the work he does for Israel. However, in this instance, he tortures history and common sense in his refutation of the viability argument. In part, his dismissal is directed at a book that I made available for free at www.alargerisrael.com.
The book details the case for a larger Israel. As the only Jewish majority State, I believe that Israel must wean itself from subsidy and be a size large enough to be a self-sustaining member of the global community—it need not be one centimeter larger. But neither can it be one centimeter smaller should we wish it to endure in the long-term as anything other than a withering failed nuclear State.
Please visit www.alargerisrael.com and read the book for yourself. Then you will be able to decide for yourself if the book’s arguments, or Ami’s arguments, make more sense.
David Naggar, Monday, November 13th
Dear Rafael Rabinovitch,
Mrs Isseroff is knitting in the living room. She didn't write the article. I did.
Israel has a lot worse enemies than the Arabs who live in present day Eretz Yisrael, some of whom serve in the Army and police. Nasrallah and his gang, for example, are worse enemies.
The question discussed by this article was whether or not Israel should set expansion as a national goal, not whether or not we need to make territorial concessions at this moment.
Ami Isseroff, Monday, November 13th
Mrs. Isseroff conveniently reduces the first two arguments, and has a poor and unnecessarily lengthy refutation of the third.
The borders promised to Avraham Avinu are, as every cheder kid knows, the extent of the Land of Israel in the days of Moshiach. The Torah in Parashat Ma’ase describes the Biblical Eretz Yisrael promised to Bnai Yisrael after Yetziat Mitzrayim. Yehoshua Bin Nun did not get to conquer the entire land, and it took till the days of Shlomo HaMelech for the land promised to Moshe Rabbenu to be under effective Jewish sovereignty.
Today’s kedushat haaretz is restricted to Tchum Chozrei Bavel, the smaller territory occupied by the Jews on the time of the Second Temple. Lo and behold, both the Gush Katif and the Yehuda and Shomron communities belong to this later category.
But the number one reason to NOT give land away is found in the second point, which Isseroff quickly does away with—with a flabbergasting indifference for the families of the victims of Hamas, and an absolute blindness of the current situation in the Gaza strip, where the feared Hamastan is already a reality.
The purpose of existence of both, Hamas and the PLO is not the building of a Palestinian Arab state, but the destruction of Jewish sovereignty on the Land of Israel. Giving them land will only encourage and strengthen them. Giving them recognition, as has been tragic and pathetically done over the past 16 years by several Israeli administrations, nurtures their dream of dancing over the ruins of a destroyed Jewish State.
Furthermore, with the possible exception of Iran (and their Hizbullah proxies!), Israel has no worse enemy than the Arabs who live within present-day Eretz Yisrael. So, unless the alternative contemplated here consists of conquering the entire territory of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, thus ending up with Iran as a next-door neighbor, the argument of “always having enemies within the borders” has no validity.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained very clearly, and without room for misunderstandings, that Israel must hold on to the land for survival reasons. Following the horrendous mistake of the 2005 territorial concessions with further surrendering of land will only be paid with the blood of our children, and our children’s children.
Rafael V. Rabinovich, Wednesday, November 8th
I don't think expaninding Israel's borders will work or create a viable state; but I don't see any solution atall.
Steven, Tuesday, November 7th
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