By Howard Teich
Israel is faced with among the most dangerous conditions I have seen in my lifetime. There are choices that need to be made today. Prime Minister Olmert has said, after the debacle of the unilateral retreat from Gaza, and the apparent retreat five years ago from Southern Lebanon without any guard against the strengthening of Hezbollah that directly led to the recent war with Israel’s Northern neighbor, that his unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank is “on hold for now.” I say to him that I am 100% opposed to giving up the land.
I remember when the concept of Land for Peace was born amid great hopes for Israel and its neighboring Arab states. I remember when the Jaffe Center reported out its study years ago among great criticism in the Jewish community, showing the need to give up the West Bank and Gaza, or face the loss of a democratic Israel through future demographic factors. I remember then Mayor of Jerusalem Olmert standing together at City Hall in New York, united for the future of Jerusalem as an undivided city, the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people under Israeli sovereignty.
And what is the policy of the Olmert Government, that is now “on hold.” The plan is to remove Jews living in Judea and Samaria from their homes, and to set new borders for Israel near the Green Line. Although this plan provides for keeping portions of the West Bank, 90 % of the land would be given back including parts of Jerusalem.
After the recent war with Lebanon, and now recognizing the extraordinary danger of missile attacks on Israel, the land of Judea and Samaria is more important to Israel than ever. In negotiation after negotiation, that land was on the table. I say it should now be taken off, all of it. The Palestinians have shattered every attempt to create a peaceful resolution to their continuing war with Israel, and no longer should we be apologists for them.
If choices are to be made, then let’s make them. The Olmert government’s “Land for Surrender” policy does not work, so let’s never consider it again. Then, let’s declare “Land for Peace” as a policy discontinued, and dead. It does not, and will not work. This Oslo terminology should be dropped from our lexicon. No agreements have been kept by the Palestinians, and we really have to see them as they are.
Hamas is the ruling party of the Palestinian people if we believe in their elections and democracy, and if they want to develop a state, they have the land to do it on the land in Gaza which they now control. I was opposed to the Sharon/Olmert Government’s removal of the Jewish community of Gush Katif, and I am not surprised that the Palestinian people there have been more concerned with creating a terrorist stronghold to attack Israel than to foster a future of peace and success for their own people, notwithstanding the continuing Abbas charade.
As to the West Bank, the land of Judea and Samaria, it is clearly not occupied land. That land is clearly part of the ancient homeland of the Jewish people. It’s time that we Jewish people take a renewed view of our vision and mission in being back in our ancestral homeland, and recommit ourselves to the entirety of the traditional homeland of the Jewish people. We have it now for the first time in nearly 2,500 years, and we must not give it up. It is our history, and our ancestry. We should declare it as such, and unite it with present day Israel proper, and start building a strong future for those people living there, both Arab and Jew, as part of a new Israel.
Yes, it’s true I don’t live in Israel. I am not on the front line of today’s battle. Some would say I have no right to speak out on Israel policy. I disagree. I am part of our heritage. And that means I have a responsibility for our generation, and the generations to come. That’s the way we have always been as a people. We have always looked to the future, to redemption. The policy for Judea and Samaria is not a limited Israeli political issue, it is a moral and spiritual issue for the Jewish people in Israel and in Diaspora, and I have the obligation to speak out.
This is a time for a new policy of “Peace for Peace,” with a blueprint in place for building a future in confidence for all the people in the entire land of Israel, and those others who want to cooperate with Israel. Let’s truly be a light unto the world.
Think about the dangerous future with a Palestinian State in Gaza and the West Bank, terrorist states on all sides with the unimpeded possibility of mortally wounding Israel and the Jewish people. Clearly, that would be the most likely scenario unless the policy changes I have suggested are implemented now. Future generations would be facing continued poverty and war, rather than peace and prosperity.
Certainly, it would require a commitment to building and rebuilding the infrastructure of the Arab sections of the West Bank, which have been so significantly deteriorated under the leadership of Arafat and his successors. It would require a revitalization of the working relationship of Jews and Arabs, and the taking down of walls and barriers between the peoples. And it would require the enforcement of a lawful society in Judea and Samaria, where all people could live in security and peace, with a potentially prosperous future for all.
Is this unrealistic? I think not. Yes, the world would be initially aghast. But it would see peace and progress develop, and perhaps its eyes would reopen to a new possibility. I would rather see this future for Israel and the Jewish people, one that would give peace to the Jewish people, long-life to the Jewish State, and progress for its Arab citizens than a future of destruction that appears today.
So, Prime Minister Olmert, if its unilateralism, then let it not be defeatism. Give up land in Judea and Samaria – “Not Now, Not Ever.”
Howard Teich is a practicing attorney in New York City who has held multiple leadership positions in the New York and national Jewish community.