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‘I am not a Jew with trembling knees’

Perhaps the best response to the dire warnings and threats regarding Israeli annexation of parts of Judea and Samaria is that given by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to then-Sen. Joe Biden in 1982.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Credit:
Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Credit:
Steve Frank
Steve Frank
Steve Frank is an attorney, retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications, including “The Washington Post,” “The Chicago Tribune,” “The Jerusalem Post,” “The Times of Israel” and “Moment” magazine.

On July 1, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to announce plans to extend Israeli sovereignty over portions of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) containing the vast majority of Israeli settlements. This territory comprises 30 percent of the West Bank. The remaining land, where most Palestinians reside, will be reserved for an independent Palestinian state under the Trump peace plan should the Palestinian people and its leadership choose to live in peace side-by-side next to the Jewish state.

Although Israeli’s anticipated action is consistent with the U.S. government’s most recent peace proposal and has already received the green light from the administration, it has been greeted in other quarters with criticism ranging from outrage to outright threats. In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, ominously warns that any such “annexation” would “damage Israel’s relations with the Trump administration, the Democrats, Europeans and Arab leaders, as well as destabilize the region, radicalize the Israeli left, and harm the Zionist goal of a Jewish State.”

During the recent Democratic primary season, several leading presidential candidates threatened to use U.S. aid to Israel as financial “leverage” to ward off any such action by Jerusalem. The presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, has denounced Israel’s plan as likely to undermine the long-defunct “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel’s proposed action in the West Bank is lawful, pragmatic, and designed to break the peace process deadlock as even the director of Pipes’s own Middle East Forum has effectively argued. Pipes’s hysterical and speculative fears, spread by The New York Times, have been met with swift rebuttal (see here and here). Pipes’s view stems from the deep-rooted but misguided galut (diaspora or exile) mentality that if only Jews do not upset the goyim, they will be left in peace. Such a delusional belief should have been buried in the Holocaust, and it is disturbing to see it raised again by a distinguished Jewish commentator.

The Jewish claim to Judea and Samaria goes back at least 3,000 years and is supported by literary, historical and archaeological evidence. In 1967, the State of Israel legally acquired territory in Judea and Samaria in a defensive war after being attacked by Jordan, which had itself been illegally occupying the land for the past 20 years. Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria are lawful and consistent with international law, as the U.S. government recently underscored.

The present Israeli plan will extend sovereignty only to present Jewish settlements and will in no way interfere with Arab cities or the vast majority of Arab residents, who will continue to be governed by the Palestinian Authority as agreed under the 1995 Oslo Accords. The plan does not prevent the granting of Israeli citizenship to the limited number of Arabs who will fall within the domain of Israeli sovereignty.

Nor does the plan foreclose the possibility of an independent Palestinian state in the remaining 70 percent of the West Bank where the vast majority of Palestinians reside, should they choose to pursue peace. Having rejected proposals to create just such a state on at least six occasions over the last century, the Israeli action will strongly convey the message to Palestinians that rejectionism has its consequences.

There is no need for an extended defense of Israel’s proposed plan of action. One can trust the Israelis to act in their best national interest, as citizens of any other country do. As for the dire warnings and threats by opinion writers, editorialists, NGOs, presidential hopefuls and others who make a good living off of disparaging any action by the State of Israel, perhaps the best response is the one former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin made to then-Sen. Joseph Biden in 1982.

At the time, Biden was chastising Begin during a Senate hearing over Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank, harshly threatening to cut off economic aid to the Jewish state if it did not immediately cease its settlement activities. Begin forcefully replied to Biden in words equally applicable today:

“Don’t threaten us with cutting off your aid. It will not work. I am not a Jew with trembling knees. I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history. Nobody came to our aid when we were dying in the gas chambers and ovens. Nobody came to our aid when we were striving to create our country. We paid for it. We fought for it. We died for it. We will stand by our principles. We will defend them. And, when necessary, we will die for them again, with or without your aid.”

Or to put it in even starker terms, as Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, famously quipped:

“It does not matter what the goyim say, it only matters what the Jews do.”

Steve Frank is retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in publications such as “The Washington Post,” “The Chicago Tribune,” “The Baltimore Sun,” “The Jerusalem Post,” “The Times of Israel” and “Moment” magazine. 

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