Danny Danon MK, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Chairman of the World Likud, believes the freeze should end: “This Sunday we will celebrate the end of the ill advised building moratorium in the Israeli communities of Judea and Samaria.
“Ten months ago Israel unilaterally declared this unprecedented step as a supposed incentive to encourage the Palestinians to return to the negotiation table. We now find ourselves in an extremely weakened strategic position as we begin peace talks under threats from all sides that all will be lost unless we extend and increase this freeze on people’s lives. Prime Minister Netanyahu has told me repeatedly in private, as he has told Israeli people, that all citizens of Israel will be allowed to build once again beginning next week. This is the right policy for Israel, and the Likud Party together with a majority of Israeli citizens will provide full backing to the Prime Minister on this most important decision.
“There are numerous reasons why this policy was the wrong decision at the wrong time for the State of Israel. From a pure human standpoint, the freeze has been highly unfair to the Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria. It is important to remember that these Israeli citizens have broken no laws. On the contrary, a vast majority of them were encouraged by successive Israeli governments and all the leading political parties (Labor, Likud and Kadima) to settle in these historic areas. These “settlers” are the crème of the crop of the Israeli population, serving in our most elite army units and are active in all parts of Israeli cultural, business, and social society.
“Last November, the Israeli government decided out of the blue to essentially freeze their lives. Since then, young couples have been unable build their new homes that for which they had already begun paying mortgages. Growing families have been prohibited from expanding their houses for their growing families. Our government has basically designated the residents of Judea and Samaria as second class citizens enacting draconian rules that don’t apply to anyone else in our country.
“Leaving aside the extreme unjust implications on the lives of our citizens, the long term strategic damage of the freeze is something that must be rectified immediately. Israel has never before declared a building freeze – even when negotiations with the Palestinians were at their most intensive peaks under the left wing governments of Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres and Barak. There was sound strategic thinking behind this policy. Why should we declare at the outset that our historic and legal claims to these lands are less legitimate than those of the Palestinians? Why should we put our peoples’ lives on hold while at the same time our Palestinian neighbors have continued to build unabatedly, putting facts on this disputed ground as they expand their existing cities while even building a completely brand new metropolis with full financial and logistic support of the Americans and the Europeans?
“We now enter these negotiations with an extremely dangerous fait accompli – that it is illegitimate to build anywhere in Judea and Samaria and doing so would somehow be more dangerous to the prospects for peace than the thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli population center by the Hamas entity in Gaza. This is not the ideology of the Likud Party and its coalition partners that triumphed in the 2009 elections, but rather the historic claim of extreme left wing groups like Peace Now that have been discredited at the ballot box where their representatives in the Meretz and Labor parties have suffered historic blows in recent years.
“Some supporters of the Prime Minister have claimed that the objective of the freeze was to call Mahmoud Abbas‘ bluff and unmask his real intentions about his unwillingness to really reach a negotiated settlement to this century old conflict. This too is a dangerous strategy that has been tried before. In fact, Ehud Barak publicly made that argument following the failed Camp David talks in July of 2000. We all know the result of that experiment – almost a decade of Palestinian initiated bloodshed that claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Israeli citizens. We cannot risk repeating this mistake.
“It is now clear that our government policy regarding a moratorium in Judea and Samaria was mistaken from both a moral and strategic standpoint. The good news is that this mistake can hopefully be rectified. If the Prime Minster and his cabinet stay true to their word and end the freeze on September 26th then we will make clear to our own citizens, the Palestinians, and the world, our true intentions and goals. We all want peace and an end this conflict, but we are not ready to enact ill-advised, unjust, and dangerous policies that serve only extreme elements on all sides while only moving us further away from a peaceful and prosperous existence that we so desperately strive for.
Paul Usiskin, chair of Peace Now UK, believes the freeze should be extended:
“In the gap between ‘we took it’ and ‘we never left it’ is a reality that Israelis and many Jews are either unable or unwilling to confront, echoing the “Ain Breira”- “No Choice” attitude in the years before Israel stepped into the limelight after June 1967. These phrases are shorthand definitions of Jewish history and the Jewish people’s relationship with Eretz – the Land. Part of that Land is regarded by both the international community and the Palestinians as territory illegally occupied by Israel.
“The former, many believe, has nothing to tell us. We were the butt end of everyone else’s history, and suffered the consequences of it. Only our own moral code provided us the key to survival. With it were we able to rise above the exigencies of our endless ‘guesthood’, believing that we were the equals of the majorities amongst whom we lived, and aspiring to be better than them, should our oppression ever end. Herzl dreamed of removing us from the path of the eternally rushing train of anti-Semitism, and his successors set the bar with ‘a light unto the nations.’ Whether that train has finally reached its terminus and we have crossed the bar are moot points.
“Of the latter, the Palestinians, we have few if any positive or amicable thoughts. For some they are Amalek and deserve the fate of that tribe. For others their existence is conveniently hidden away by a separation fence that must have cost the citizens of Israel as much as the Bar-Lev line along the Suez canal.
“’We took it’ summarises how the West Bank was occupied. Whether unwittingly as Shlomo Gazit suggests in “Trapped Fools” (Frank Cass 2003) or accidentally in Gershom Gorenberg’s “The Accidental Empire” (Times Books 2006), is not moot but fact.
“‘We never left it,’ reflects what has been in our hearts and souls. But the very code by which we have survived, reminds us of the reality behind that quintessence.
“There are a couple of familiar signposts. The first is the Mitzvah we read in shul on Yom Kippur – “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” In one sermon our Rabbi reminded us of the inherent reciprocity in this Mitzvah and she went to the heart of it when describing it as the fulfilment of the highest of our values.
“The second I stumbled across one Shabbat a few years ago. It is from the Soncino Humash notes for Exodus 22.20: ‘You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ We learn that the Talmud says the precept ‘to love, or not to oppress the stranger,’ occurs 36 times in the Torah. The commentary concludes: ‘The reason for this constantly repeated exhortation is that those who have been downtrodden frequently, prove to be the worst oppressors when they acquire power over anyone.’
“Israel has become the regional power. But there are limits to that power and for a people that has rightfully been greedy for freedom, accepting limits is hard indeed. We resent questions, especially when we know the answers. We cannot be told that the occupation is morally corrosive even if we know that it is. We pretend not to notice how we and it have become pejoratively synonymous abroad.
“We have forgotten the ‘light unto the nations’ message and the minority experience from which it was born. We seem intent on ignoring any limits, even those set by whatever or whoever we believe is our Jewish moral arbiter. The Mitzvot and exhortations are just a nuisance.
“Those who insist on us having our cake and eating it too, who simultaneously seek to blur the green line and pretend the separation fence they built isn’t there, are in danger of creating a divide as destructive as between Judah and Israel. They undermine the moral values the state of Israel is supposed to represent and call into question whether Israel as an occupying power is capable of being the guiding spirit for the House of Israel.
“We owe it to ourselves not just to extend the settlement freeze but to use it as a statement of our sincere desire for an end to occupation and for peace. Not doing so says the opposite of what we believe and what we want to be.
Danny Danon MK
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