Last night I heard Professor Gershon Gorenberg speak about the history of Israel, which he divides into three periods. He labels 1948-1967 the “First Republic,” and he argues that while it was an ethnocracy, it was within those bounds democratic, and most importantly as a distinction from the next period, held a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.
The second period he called the “accidental empire,” in which he argues that people both within and outside of the government used extra-legal, non-governmental means to advance the settlements, while increasing the ethnocratic nature of the country. He argued that much of the impetus for holding onto the Occupied Territories and placing the settlements came from the new national religious interpretation of the scriptures, seeing it as a religious imperative to control the entire land from the Jordan River to the sea, though it was initially led, he claimed, by the secular right wing. He sees us as still living in this second period.
He hopes for a “Third Republic,” in which Israel will withdraw from the territories, thus putting behind it the tangle of non-state and quasi-state uses of force, and will continue to struggle with its ethnocratic/democratic identity in a still messy but more coherent state. He argued that a true settlement was required, not a unilateral withdrawal, which he blamed for the post-withdrawal violence. He theorized that an internationalization of the holy places is the best solution for those disputes, and perhaps the presence of international peacekeepers in parts of the formerly occupied territories.
I found his talk fascinating and persuading, but I was sitting with an Israeli friend who had at several times in the talk clearly disagreed with Professor Gorenberg. I asked my friend what he had found concerning. The following is a paraphrase, though I believe an accurate one:
“From my apartment in Ra’anana I can see over Kfar Saba to Qalqilya. I do not want a rocket coming in my living room window. That’s not a religious issue, that’s not a nationalist issue. That’s a basic concern of a citizen. Professor Gorenberg did not address security once in his talk.
What should be done? I don’t know. Professor Gorenberg talks about a truly negotiated settlement, as opposed to the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza. He believes that this kind of settlement will leave us in peace. But we have decades of experience with Palestinian plausible deniability. There will always be issues that have not been settled – for example, the Palestinian right of return. So we would withdraw, there would be a period of peace, and attacks would begin again. The Palestinian government will say ‘well, the agreement on right of return (or something else) was insufficient, so we can’t control the peoples’ feelings. We are trying, but we can’t.’
Professor Gorenberg referred to the use of peacekeepers. We’ve had experience with peacekeepers. In 1967 there were UN troops in the Sinai. Nassar told them to pull out, and they pulled out. No international troops are going to do effective counterterrorism. Italian troops aren’t going to gather effective intelligence and then go into somebody’s basement in Qalqilya to find rocket-making equipment.”
Is my friend correct? Are rocket attacks on the center of Israel likely if Israel withdraws from the Occupied Territories as part of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians? If not, why not? If so, what steps can the international community and the Palestinians take to change that likelihood?