As usual, The New York Times has printed another strangely incomplete and misleading article on the Israel-Palestinian issue. The topic of this one is "Why Greater Israel Never Came to Be," coming on the cusp of the controversial initiative to dismantle all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

For an article that promises to answer the question of why Greater Israel never came to be, it's curious, although not surprising, that this one leaves out the two most important factors behind the idea. The author asks two good rhetorical questions: "What possible future could the settlers have had? How could their presence have done the state of Israel any good?" And then he fails to answer them with any intellectual honesty. In doing so, the article reduces the rationale for Greater Israel to one factor of doubtful significance: population management. I think what is being said here is this: Greater Israel was conceived as a way to absorb overpopulation in Israel proper. If only more Jews had made the expected journey to Israel, these settlements would have been able to serve their purpose; since they haven't, they aren't necessary. Not only is this absurd, it's historically inaccurate and revisionist.

Let me address the absurd part first. Look at the claim numerically. Here's a useful source for the demographic facts. The area of Israel proper is just over 20,000 square kilometers. It has 6 million residents. The West Bank is just over 5,000 square kilometers. It has 2.5 million residents. That's 300 people per square km versus 500 people per square km. If the total number of residents of Israel were to double to include all of the world's Jews, the number would go up to 600 per square km. The point is, the addition of the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip to Israel proper, which collectively amount to about a 25% increase in land area, and contain almost all unarable, desert land, is not going to do much to solve any potential population problem. It doesn't make much sense to use a more populated territory to try to absorb population overflow. You could do this analysis with the Gaza strip, but then the numbers would be so ridiculously disproportionate that the argument wouldn't be effective.

Now let's address the historical inaccuracies. Yes, it might be true that at some point in Israel's early history, political leaders were seriously throwing around the idea of expanding Israel into ancient territories "Judea" and "Sumeria" as a way to ward off potential population problems down the road. Regardless, Judea and Sumeria (as distinct from its modern, more limited ancestor "Greater Israel") include modern Jordan, and also all of the Sinai Penninsula. Now, the Sinai Penninsula ALONE is larger than Israel proper, and the Jordanian territories are probably comparable. Second, once the leaders saw that the Jews of the world were not going to migrate to Israel, the rationale behind this factor becomes null. As the Times article puts it, "... the misery that (early) Zionists expected Jews elsewhere to suffer has not materialized." (Technically, Zionism was not founded on the concern of Jews being miserable, but rather that they would assimilate too much into their native cultures. Granted, the Holocaust changed thinking on this topic quite a bit, but nevertheless.) It's a fact that by 1970, Israel's leaders (and probably everyone) knew that the mass exodus was not going to occur.

Now look at the alternative factors we know played a role in the settlement movement because they still operate today. Actual Israelis know that the religious right has had a hugely disproportionate influence on Israeli politics from day one. There is a list of historical events attesting to that influence: reparations for the displaced Palestinians; a steady supply of willing volunteers to man the front lines of the original security-oriented kibutz network; the lions share of lobbying for settlements; a handful of civilian attacks in the territories; the assassination of Rabin. No one can deny that Greater Israel was, and arguably still is, a religious idea. For direct justification one only need look in the Old Testament.

From a practical perspective, a big incentive for promoting settlements in the territories is and always has been security. This may seem like a lame excuse, given that even all the settlements together won't take up very much territory. But Israel is only 12 miles wide at its narrowest of northern points, so in fact every little settlement in the West Bank does make a difference. Yet the goal has not only been expansion, but more important, buffering. From the earliest days, pioneers risked their lives on Israel's border-lying Kibutzim. Though the kibbutz concept is always painted as a peacful experiment in socialism, in fact the early border-lying kibbutz was actually a military entity, serving as a first line of defense and early-warning far before the concept of 'settlement' was put into practice. The same principle operates today in the occupation and settlement of the captured territories. Of course, the analysis applies equally to Gaza. Given that Gaza is a reality, it poses a security threat since Hamas practially runs the place. And this doesn't even count the tunnels and smuggling networks that we know exist between Gaza and Egypt, which supply the territory with a steady stream of armaments.

It's disappointing but completely predictable that, now that Israel is disengaging from Gaza, the Times has followed step and begun to cleanse the settlement movement of its unsavory historical and political aspects. It's also another blow for the intellectual integrity of the paper, but we already knew it didn't have much. Who wants to think that settlements were motivated in part by - Judaism's own biblical literalists? "You mean Judaism has fundamentalists too??" Score one for Arabs in the moral piety contest.

Perhaps more disturbing than the revisionism is the heavy emphasis the article puts on the fact that terrorism has worked. Unfortunately, this no joke. In fact, the whole second half of the article is devoted to making this very point.

"Of course terror has a role in the disengagement," said Michael Oren, a
senior fellow at the Shalem Institute, a conservative Jerusalem research group.
"It convinced us that Gaza was not worth holding onto and awakened us to the
demographic danger. It took two intifadas for a majority of Israelis to decide
that Gaza is not worth it."

A senior Israeli official who spent years closely associated with Likud
leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
topic, said that Israelis long had little respect for Palestinians as fighters,
but that had changed.

"The fact that hundreds of them are willing to blow themselves up is
significant," he said. "We didn't give them any credit before. In spite of our
being the strongest military power in the Middle East, we lost 1,200 people over
the last four years. It finally sank in to Sharon and the rest of the leadership
that these people were not giving up."

Some came to a similar conclusion much earlier. The Israeli left has been
calling for a withdrawal from Gaza for years, and even many on the right
believed settlement there to be futile and counterproductive. Mr. Kimche, the
former foreign ministry official, recalled that when Prime Minister Yitzhak
Shamir of the conservative Likud party was running against Yitzhak Rabin of
Labor in the early 1990's, several Shamir advisers told him: "Unless you
withdraw from Gaza, you're going to lose these elections." He did not withdraw;
he lost.

Mr. Rabin himself said that he decided to negotiate a withdrawal with the
Palestinians when he realized how unpopular military service in Gaza had become.

"He said privately - I heard him say it - that military reservists don't
want to serve in the occupied territories and while they are not formally
refusing they are finding excuses to stay away," Yoel Esteron, managing editor
of Yediot Aharonot, recalled. "That put a real burden on the army and it meant
we couldn't stay there forever."

This is the most destructive choice of all, and the Times is idiotic for printing it, especially since the paper ostensibly has a pro-Israel position. This could very well be new intellectual territory being forged here. They're pro-Israel, but they're pro-terrorism too. It's a happy medium! (P.S. They must really be into the Mossad) On the one hand they support an active democracy with a flourishing economy. On the other hand, they also support terrorists blowing up civilians as a means for political gain. Nothing incongruent about that.

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