It has been this way since our ancestors started walking upright, maybe before that: Two tribes struggle over a piece of land. One will prevail and the other will be defeated. One will remain in the land and the other will not. The loser will be destroyed, expelled, dispersed or absorbed—then, they usually disappear from history.
The Jewish people are connected to the Land of Israel by religion, language, culture and history. We were expelled from our homeland and dispersed throughout the world but finally succeeded in returning and reestablishing our sovereignty over that homeland. I know of no other people with a comparable story.
Arguments about international law and postcolonialism vs. Zionism are a waste of time. The justice of the Jewish case is entirely irrelevant to the outcome of the struggle over the land. It will be determined by which tribe is successful at occupying the land, establishing control over it and assuring its demographic dominance, just as humans and other primates have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years.
This is what our enemies, the Palestinian Arabs, understand. Many, perhaps most, Israeli Jews do not. How else can the weakness and vacillation that characterize Israeli policies be explained?
We have amply demonstrated that we Jews are capable of fighting fiercely and effectively to protect our land when we are attacked. What we can’t seem to do is look squarely at what must be done to keep the state we have won. As a result, we have consistently failed to set long-term national goals and adopt policies to achieve them.
Our greatest mistakes have come from our failure to perceive the nature of our struggle. Three examples: 1) The 1967 decision to give control of the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Waqf. 2) The 1993 Oslo Accords. 3) The 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. In each case, Israel deliberately surrendered sovereignty over part of the Land of Israel, giving up our honor and weakening our strategic deterrence. Whatever was expected in return was not forthcoming. The Arabs took what we handed them and demanded more.
These mistakes and countless others have encouraged the Arabs to believe that their strategy of combining violence short of war with diplomatic and cognitive warfare is succeeding. They are convinced that time is on their side and they will ultimately prevail. We, on the other hand, are conflicted and uncertain. The Arabs sense our lack of direction and reluctance to fight and respond with more frequent and vicious terrorism, such as we’ve seen in recent days.
Violence is now decentralized and traditional command and control have been replaced by “organic” terrorism, in which civilian youth are the soldiers and social media the motivator. This is a relatively novel development in warfare and very difficult to counter.
At one time, many of us believed that our conflict had a compromise solution—that Jews and Arabs could share the land. We thought that if the economic condition of the Arabs was improved, they would come to accept Jewish sovereignty between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. We thought we could cooperate, at least to some extent, with “moderate” elements among them. But we underestimated their tenacity and the seriousness of their ideological and religious commitment.
Perhaps we also failed to understand that—at least with respect to territorial behavior—Jews and Arabs are still primates and victory over our enemies is a necessary condition for survival. I call this the “survival imperative.” It demands that we strengthen our sovereignty over the Land of Israel, fully occupy it and ensure perpetual demographic superiority for our people. Only thus will we survive.
While this might be a disappointing reality since it precludes a quick, peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it also is liberating: It provides clear national goals and suggests appropriate policies.
For example, rather than dismantling Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, we should be strengthening them and building new ones. Sovereignty over all of the land is paramount. Policies should be designed to encourage Jews to move to Israel and stay there, while Arabs, particularly those in the disputed territories, should be encouraged to emigrate. Cooperation with and support for the Palestinian Authority should be stopped. Enemies should be treated as enemies.
Some will object that this is a prescription for war and international condemnation, and the Biden administration will be displeased. They might charge that these policies are racist and undemocratic. But, if you haven’t noticed, we are getting war and international condemnation in any case, and hypocritical moralism from those without a knife to their throats is best ignored. Moreover, we must end our unhealthy dependence on the U.S. in any case.
The survival of the world’s only Jewish state and probably that of the Jewish people depends on a clear perception of the world in which we live and the unchanging reality of human behavior. We have the resources and the strength to prevail. The only question is whether we have the vision and the will.
Victor Rosenthal is a retired software developer who lives in Israel.