I had a fascinating interview the other day with Ellezer Yaari, executive director of the New Israel Fund. The Fund is a philanthropic group with liberal goals—pro-Israeli but also stressing commonalities with the Palestinians rather than intransigence. If the two sides are ever to quit fighting, I think people like Yaari will have to prevail.
In his view, it is very significant that the government of Israel is forcing 8,000 settlers to give up their homes in Gaza. It is only a small number compared with the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. But it is a first step. Yaari said, “That the right-wing government is executing this is tremendously important”—because the Likud government is, to a considerable extent, the settlers’ government.
Yaari argued that this is the second such important step from the Likud government of Ariel Sharon. The first, he said, was the building of the fence and wall in the West Bank. I have criticized the wall because it is mostly not on the ‘green line’ (the de facto border), but inside the Palestinian territory, therefore laying claim to Palestinian land. But Yaari said it not only defines a land claim but a greater amount of land not claimed.
“It puts a border to Israel,” he said. “Israel didn’t have borders. What we were raised on, the rhetoric of the past 40 years, was that it was indivisible.”
The next logical step, he said, is for Israel to evacuate the West Bank settlements on the Palestinian side of the fence. To the Palestinians that is probably not enough, because it leave Israel in control of Palestinian land inside the wall. But it would be progress. It would narrow the gap between the two sides.
Will Sharon do that? Yaari said he might. Sharon wants more progress on his watch—and he is 78. And it is a good time: “Hizbollah is defeated,” he said. “The fact that Hamas is going to be represented in the Palestinian Authority is a good sign. When radicalism is joining the mainstream, it is a good sign.”
Regarding terrorism, he said, “there is a kind of cease-fire right now.” The recent Passover holiday “was one of the nicest times in Israel in the past four to five years. The restaurants were full.”
It’s never easy to back down from a position backed by both nationalism and religion, but Israel is going to have to evict a lot more settlers from towns that are not, after all, in Israel. It deserves praise for having begun.
Respond to Bruce.