Like two boxers who keep pummeling each other after the bell, Israel’s right and left are keeping up the debate over sovereignty without noticing that something fundamental has changed. The real, critical and narrow window of opportunity that history is opening for involves not only the rare American backing for Israeli sovereignty in 30 percent of Judea and Samaria, but also, for the first time, a chance to reach consensus among ourselves on an issue that has torn us apart for 53 years.
The tragedy is that the sides debating the future of the “territories” are so invested in what they have been doing for the last 50 years that they can’t see the real issue.
“The god of surprises,” as poet Tirza Atar once called him, has thrown us all, from the right to the Zionist left, a rare chance to end the bitter dispute that has burdened our lives for the past half-century. This is a dispute between the “Land of Israel” people and the “peace camp” people, between those who saw the result of the 1967 Six-Day War as a return to the land of our forefathers and those who always saw the territories as a bargaining chip to be used in future peace talks. Between those prepared to take enormous risks for something masquerading as peace and those who always predicted the security and defense fiasco that would follow the Oslo Accords.
Now we have a chance not only for sovereignty, but also for reconciliation among ourselves, which is at least as important. All the good and bad energy, all the talents and time that both sides have invested in the dispute in recent years can now be channeled elsewhere. This needs to happen both so that the poisons can fade away and so that the energy can be directed toward the serious domestic issues we are facing—the social, religious and ethnic rifts, the need to rebuild the health-care and school systems.
National consensus also plays a major role when it comes to the enemy that for years has used the divide-and-conquer tactic to exploit the “dispute of the century” that has been making us weaker.
The Zionist left will agree this isn’t a plan from the “hard-core” right. Far from it—for years, the Zionist left has been talking about the need to separate ourselves from the Palestinians. U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” vision ensures that separation, if imperfectly. For a generation, the left has been worried about the “demographic threat” and maintaining a Jewish majority. The U.S. plan addresses those concerns. It leaves the vast majority of Palestinians outside the borders of Israel.
The plan also lays out an endgame—to the dismay of many Israelis, myself among them—by laying the cornerstone for the Zionist left doctrine of an end to the conflict through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. That option is on the table. It is not guaranteed under the plan, but it is there.
Rather than trying to prevent sovereignty, the Zionist left should let the plan play out. It’s not only about sovereignty, it’s about lost national consensus. It’s about a beginning, not an end.
The Zionist left has solid historical reasons to let the plan play itself out. The settlements in the Jordan Valley are the result of the Labor Party’s vision and activity: Levi Eshkol and Yigal Allon both supported the Gush Etzion and Kiryat Arba settlements; Yitzhak Rabin and Yisrael Galili founded the settlements outside Jerusalem. Shimon Peres planted a tree in Ofra, in the Judean Hills, and approved the settlement; Motta Gur supported many of the settlements throughout Judea and Samaria. They were all leaders of the Labor Party when Labor was centrist rather than left.
Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi of Blue and White could go along with Meretz and Ofer Shelach of Yesh Atid, but they could also make a different choice and go back to the true center. They could realize the importance of the moment, link themselves to the rare and one-time agreement between the Israeli and American governments, and turn it into broad national consensus here at home on a painful dispute that often causes us to act like two different peoples rather than one.
The right will say: sovereignty should be viewed not only from the perspective of settlements but also from the point of view of national unity, which is as important to the continued existence of the settlement enterprise than international support for Israel, if not more so.
We can try to maximize the achievement and minimize damage by adjusting the maps and bring dozens of outposts inside the boundaries of sovereignty, but we need to understand that ultimately, this is a one-time opportunity. Not only because the next American government will likely be much worse, but also because in the event of renewed political polarization, the chances of creating national consensus about the settlements are slim. This is important because consensus is necessary to maintain the current success of half a million residents living in Judea and Samaria.
In October 1937, David Ben-Gurion wrote to his son Amos that “a partial Jewish state is not an end, but rather a beginning.” Ben-Gurion was trying to explain why he had supported the partition plan from the Peel Commission. “Establishing a state, even a partial one, will be important leverage in our historic attempts to redeem the Land in full,” he wrote.
In 1947, too, the United Nations partition tore the Land of Israel in two, and left the western and central Galilee, as well as Jaffa and the eastern Negev, including Beersheva, under Arab control. The 2020 Trump plan tears Judea and Samaria in two, leaving some 70 percent of the area for a future Palestinian state. But what time and Arab recalcitrance did in the past, time and Palestinian recalcitrance will do now. Israel won’t sit idly by, and there will be a national consensus that will strengthen us.
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.