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The settlers' goal is not the settlements

It is the total transformation of Israel.

The settlements, the settlers, and the occupation are all entirely associated with one another in the Israeli consciousness. The Left and the Right agree on this, albeit with varying considerations: the Left wants to apportion blame for Israel’s continuing control over the West Bank, while the settlers want to take credit for the settlement project and for thwarting the idea of partitioning the land.

The image of the settler leadership as ideological extremists suits everyone — even the international community, which has accustomed itself to an artificial distinction between “good” and democratic Israel, which is embraced and respected, and bad “settler” Israel.

But this discourse is disconnected from reality. The occupation has persisted not because of the settlers, but because of the actions of the state — in which all of Israeli society participates. The settler leadership is highly pragmatic, enabling it to adopt whichever political position prevails vis-a-vis the settlement enterprise in the Israeli political discourse. Under certain political circumstances, this pragmatism makes possible the evacuation of settlements. Settling the land is not at all the settlers’ true goal, and I’ll explain why.

The first settlement was established in Gush Etzion immediately following the Six-Day War in 1967. There were no real political disagreements over its founding, because it was thought of as a “return” to a site that had been lost 19 years earlier during the 1948 War. The following year saw an attempt at establishing a settlement in Hebron, eventually leading to the founding of Kiryat Arba (Jews only began properly residing in the Palestinian city after Likud took power in 1977). Most of the settlements that sprung up in those early years were in the Jordan Valley, and were in fact established by the Labor Zionists of the Mapai party.

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This last point is significant: there has never been a debate in Israel over establishing settlements, and every single government since the occupation began has built beyond the Green Line. Rather, the debate has been over where to build — or, to be more exact, who will decide where settlements should be built. As such, the term “settler” has never been applied to people living in the Jordan Valley, just as the...

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The lie of Netanyahu's economic 'gestures'

Netanyahu’s goodwill ‘gestures’ to the Palestinians are nothing more than a way to appease President Trump on his visit. So why is the media playing along?

In the run-up to President Trump’s visit to the region, the Israeli government adopted a number of modest goodwill gestures vis-a-vis Palestinians in the West Bank, which the Israeli media immediately dubbed “trust-building” measures. Local newspapers reported that none of the steps taken had anything to do with security, but rather revolved around civilian issues. This included making sure the Allenby Bridge — which connects the West Bank to Jordan — stayed open for longer; easing construction in Area C; and expanding the Tarkumiya industrial zone. As expected, ministers from the right-wing Jewish Home party opposed the measures.

Why do we need a visit from an American president for these measures? After all, Netanyahu believes in “economic peace,”  and the Right keeps promising us that Palestinians under occupation are far better off than anywhere else in the Arab world, and surely better than under a Palestinian state, if and when it is established. The Left has always argued that politics and the economy are intertwined, yet the Right pledged to undo this knot. And anyway, if Israel intends to remain in some or most of the West Bank, what is more logical than developing those territories?

It is no coincidence that not a single political reporter has raised these naive questions before the prime minister. We all know that these gestures are not intended for the Palestinians, but rather for Trump. The Right has no interest in economic development in the occupied territories. “Economic peace” is a farce, and all of us — the media and the political system — take part in it.

The last thing Israel wants is a strong, sustainable Palestinian middle class, since that same middle class will immediately demand political rights. The occupation works best in the face of a poor, disintegrated society, which depends on work permits and a constant flow of money from the Palestinian Authority. And in order to get a work permit from Israel, a Palestinian needs to be uninvolved in all political activities, and is sometimes even asked to spy on his neighbors or family members. Collaborators are an essential part of the system; a viable economy, like freedom of movement, stands in contradiction to the occupation.

Those same “gestures,” similar to work permits, are cards that Israel...

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One day the settlers will be thanking the High Court

For five decades, the High Court has legitimized nearly every aspect of the occupation. It may take time, but one day the settlers will thank the court for 50 years of Israeli rule over the West Bank.

We should be enraged at the Israeli Right’s attempt to ban left-wing NGOs from filing High Court petitions on behalf of Palestinians. There is no doubt that the motivation behind the initiative is to allow the occupation to continue undisturbed. There is no doubt that there are Palestinians who benefit from these petitions, just as there are women, residents of Israel’s periphery, and other oppressed groups who have benefited from them over the years.

But one must also say a word about the role of these petitions. Israel’s High Court of Justice has never been a problem for the occupation. The opposite is true. The right to petition on behalf of Palestinians is a fundamental tenet of the occupation itself.

For the past five decades, the High Court has not handed down a single ruling that put a stop to the occupation’s fundamental practices (yes, all of them have been discussed by the High Court). It did not stop the settlements (it only established how to settle or expropriate land). It did not stop administrative detentions (it only ruled how to handle them), it did not stop targeted assassinations (it only established procedures for carrying them out). It did not stop home demolitions. It did not stop the establishment of the wall in Palestinian territory (rather than along the Green Line), but rather called for specific changes in its route. It even established how and when to torture.

In other words, the High Court legislated the legal foundations of the occupation.

It did so because the Knesset did not actually deal with the occupation for the past 50 years, but rather left it in the hands of the executive branch. Thus, someone had to legislate — and that’s precisely where the High Court came in, creating a legal infrastructure through which the executive branch could maneuver. More importantly, it also created both internal and international legitimacy for the occupation. Without these two elements — an organized infrastructure and legitimacy — the system would have a difficult time functioning.

More than anything, the Right’s initiative teaches us that the High Court’s present role has come to an end, and that the Knesset is ready to take on the...

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New entry law a reminder that Palestinians live in Israel's prison

The reality in the West Bank is one that resembles a prison, where the prisoners are held for as long as humanly possible. Their release will carry a price — and Israelis are not willing to pay it.

The Knesset passed a law Monday night denying entry visas or residency rights to foreign nationals who call for boycotts against Israel or the settlements. The law won’t have much of an affect on entry into Israel proper, but rather will mostly affect those trying to enter the West Bank — a solid reminder that the ban is yet another example of the way Israel holds Palestinians prisoners. After all, one can assume that most people who enter the Palestinian territories oppose the settlements or support some version of the boycott.

Because Israel controls every point of entry into areas under Palestinian control in the West Bank, Palestinians cannot leave (without a permit) or come back (without a permit). With the passage of the law, they are no longer allowed to have visitors. In other words: they are prisoners, and these restrictions are just the tip of the iceberg.

Like a prison commissary, Israel allows the majority of the prisoners to manage their own affairs through the Palestinian Authority. This arrangement is maintained as long as the prisoners don’t act up, and on the condition that they agree to security coordination with Israel. Even if it so desired, the Palestinian Authority could not actually grant Palestinians their rights. Security coordination is a small bonus that decreases the pressure on Palestinian society, given in exchange for Palestinians accepting their status as perpetual prisoners.

In the meanwhile, Israel exports the knowledge, skills, and technology it has acquired through the exerting of control over humans against their will to the rest of the world. These are the kind of goods every leader wants to have — especially with the direction the world is currently going.

This is the situation. There is no peace process, nor is there a real discussion over one state or two states. Even discussions on whether Israel is an apartheid state have become intellectual fodder for Jews and leftists. The reality is one that resembles a prison, and the prisoners will continue to be held by force for as long as possible. Their release, after all, will carry a price — and Israelis are not willing to pay it.

The Israeli Left has no role in this story. The proposals put forth by the majority of Israel’s leaders,...

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A prison sentence that tells the true story of the occupation

An 18-month prison sentence for Elor Azaria, who shot and killed a wounded Palestinian attacker last year, is a reminder that the occupation has no place for law and justice.

There was something about the Elor Azaria trial that felt scripted. I only spent three days in court last year, watching Azaria testify, but while there I spoke with many other journalists who had been there for the entire trial. Oddly, despite the in-depth interrogation of every detail, everyone with whom I spoke felt the same way — that the trial’s outcome felt predetermined. In an article I wrote for Haaretz at the time, I noted:

It turned out to be an accurate forecast: the judges struck a harsh tone when finding Azaria guilty last month, yet handed down a minimal 18-month jail sentence Tuesday morning. Azaria may well not end up serving the entirety of that prison term.

As it happens, it wasn’t necessary to attend the trial in order to see what was coming. The incident in Hebron, where Azaria executed a wounded and disarmed Palestinian attacker, was clear from the video footage, as was the fact that the army could not ignore the event once it had been publicly exposed. If it had not prosecuted Azaria, the message to every soldier would have been that they can behave however they see fit and get away with almost anything simply by citing “operational considerations.”

There is also a much more essential element at play here. Israel’s ability to avoid finding itself in the International Criminal Court over the actions of its security forces in the occupied territories largely depends on the military’s mechanisms for conducting internal investigations. If the army doesn’t occasionally discipline its soldiers for violating operational procedures, Israel’s politicians and generals could, eventually, face justice in The Hague.

On the other hand, the IDF has long failed to grasp its duties as an impartial sovereign entity in the occupied territories. The army’s role, aside from the obvious task of preventing terror attacks and protecting settlers, is to win a battle of consciousness — to make clear to Palestinians and Jews alike that Israel is able to maintain the occupation for as long as is required. When we take into account the general atmosphere surrounding Azaria’s trial — the massive public support for the soldier — it is clear why his punishment needed...

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The Right's new spin: Israel demolishes only Jewish homes

In their attempt to prove allegiance to the settlers, right-wing ministers are finding creative new ways of misleading the public.

The controversy over the slated evacuation of a West Bank outpost reached a fever pitch this past week, with government ministers trying to outdo each other to prove their allegiance to the 50 families living in Amona, located in the heart of the West Bank.

While the state promised it would evacuate Amona, built entirely on private Palestinian land, back in 2010, it has found every possible way to delay the inevitable. According to the latest High Court decision, the state must demolish the outpost by December of this year, a decision that has pushed the government into a crisis over Amona’s fate — and by extension the fate of the rest of the over 100 unauthorized illegal outposts spread across the hilltops of the West Bank.

Now as Amona’s evacuation nears, at least in theory, right-wing ministers are repeatedly making the misleading claim that the state destroys homes belonging to Jews, yet refrains from doing the same thing to Arabs.

Culture Minister Miri Regev wrote on her Facebook page that she did not see “similar treatment toward dozens of illegally-built homes in the Negev, Galilee, and Wadi Ara.” Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin says that he “expects the High Court justices to show diligence and decisiveness, similar to decisions made on illegal Arab building.” There are many other examples.

Of course Amona and Palestinian construction are totally unrelated, apart from the right-wing tendency to respond to every unfavorable development by yelling “But the Arabs!” or “But the leftists!” The state promised to evacuate Amona in 2010, such that talking about “diligence and decisiveness” when it comes to a process that has taken more than six years is a joke. But the big lie — or rather the truth — is that the state certainly does destroy Arab homes, and it does it diligently, decisively, and persistently.

In 2015 Israeli authorities demolished 982 homes belonging to Bedouin citizens in the Negev. A year before that authorities demolished 1,073 homes. The Bedouin have a real claim to the land that clashes with the state’s claim. In Amona, on the other hand, there is no controversy over the fact that the land on which the outpost was built belongs to Palestinians — only over the right of Jewish Israelis to...

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Trump’s victory leaves Obama with only one option on Israel-Palestine

When everyone believed Clinton was going to be the next president, Obama was rumored to be considering several last-minute options to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. All that went out the window on Tuesday.

The Obama administration is probably trying to figure out how to protect its two signature achievements – Obamacare and the Iranian nuclear deal – for the next two years, when the White House and both chambers of Congress will be under Republican control. But it will also need to revisit other issues, such as a widely discussed final move on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Specifically, the idea of laying out parameters for a final status agreement – either in the form of a major policy speech or via a UN Security Council resolution – might seem out of touch with the new political reality in Washington.

It is extremely difficult to predict what Donald Trump’s actual policies will be – common wisdom is that a weak and poorly informed president depends on the people around and below him – but it’s a pretty safe guess that Trump won’t continue efforts to broker a final agreement on a two-state solution. The GOP removed the very idea of Palestinian statehood from its platform ahead of the elections. Those around Trump have taken positions in favor of West Bank settlements and against previous efforts to push the Israeli government towards a deal with the Palestinians. Others in the president-elect’s circle – probably including Trump himself – have strong isolationist tendencies.

All that should cause the outgoing Obama administration to change its calculations. Much of its thinking on a final push on the peace process was clearly predicated on the assumption that Hillary Clinton would be the next president. The idea was not that a major policy speech or a UN Security Council resolution on parameters would generate an immediately response on the ground. It might, however, have laid solid groundwork for future negotiations, all while creating options for the next administration that relieved it of the need to spend actual political capital on the issue.

This thinking was problematic to begin with. The last attempt to set parameters, by Bill Clinton during his own lame duck period, did nothing to prevent violent escalations on the ground. The Clinton Parameters had little significance when talks did eventually resume in Annapolis, and the same was true in the most recent...

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The one newspaper in which Trump is still winning

By all accounts, Donald Trump’s election campaign is careening toward disaster. But according to Israel’s most-read newspaper, everything seems to be going just fine. 

The most prominent event in the United States over the past few days has been the implosion of Donald Trump’s campaign. Not only has Trump lost the slight advantage he held following the Republican National Convention, according to polls aggregated by Real Clear Politics, he is now trailing Hillary Clinton by five percent (Fox News’ latest poll is the least favorable).

There is still time until the elections and anything is possible. Right now, however, it looks like Trump has a big problem on his hands, which even the right-wing media and his biggest supporters cannot help but talk about. Other segments of the American mainstream are already speculating over the sanity of the Republican nominee, while some are discussing the possibility of replacing him before election day.

But if you read the most popular newspaper in Israel, Israel Hayom, the story of Trump’s troubles simply does not exist. At all. On Wednesday the paper merely hinted that Trump had become embroiled in controversy following his attacks on a Muslim American family whose son died in Iraq, while on Thursday it briefly mentioned the fact that he had kicked out a baby from one of his rallies.

But instead of reflecting the current turbulence, the headline of that piece is a quote by Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, about how her father will be an excellent president. The only poll cited in the piece is by the Los Angeles Times (which shows Trump up by one percent), and the piece briefly mentions an Israeli who opened up a pro-Trump Facebook page, which already has 8,000 “likes.” That page, by the way, includes Bernie Sanders photoshopped with the slogan “Vote Trump, the bitch (Hillary) is crazy.”

All this would be funny if it weren’t the reality that most Israelis consume on a regular basis. This alternative universe will one day collapse, and Israel Hayom will most likely blame the media, or the elites, or the Left, or Obama the Muslim. Israel Hayom can support Trump just as Haaretz and the New York Times can support Clinton, but to conceal information — not opinions — from the readers shows a total abandonment of the mission and principles of journalism for the sake of something else entirely. If only this problem existed solely when it came to coverage of...

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The Israeli Right still hasn't internalized that Palestinians exist

Arabs are more present than ever in the Israeli public sphere, but attempts to marginalize them are growing at an even faster pace. A new law aimed at pushing Arab representatives out of the political system could wind up changing the rules of the game — in the worst possible way.

The Knesset this week passed a law that will enable it to expel Arab MKs from their positions as elected representatives. The same day, a storm erupted over a program on Army Radio that examined a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Both events have one thing in common: they highlight Israeli right wing’s hopeless desire to make the country’s pesky Palestinian population simply disappear. That’s no easy task considering that proportionally speaking, there are more Arab citizens in Israel than African Americans or Hispanic Americans in the United States. And can anybody even imagine a U.S. without them?

Those on the right in Israel will tell you that they don’t oppose the Arabs themselves, just their ideas. That is, of course, feigned naïveté. As long as Israel is defined as a Jewish state, Arabs will always feel alienated from it. An Arab can become Israeli like he or she can become German or American, but he cannot become Jewish, which Israeli Jews wouldn’t want either. That’s the fundamental difference between the Israeli model and the Western democratic model, where even if there sometimes exist symbols of Christianity or some other nation, Western democracies are ultimately based on the idea of “a state of all its citizens.” In Israel, that idea is so terrifying to people that some want to criminalize even advocating for it.

And yet despite this unusual model, Israel has managed to maintain a mostly democratic system within its pre-1967 borders (though never a liberal one). It worked, somehow, because of the pragmatic attitude adopted by both the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority that survived 1948. For example, the unwritten compromise according to which Palestinians can vote and be elected, even if they oppose — quite naturally — the very idea of a Jewish state. Or that a Palestinian poet can be canonized even if, among other things, he wrote poems that portray Jews as the enemy, just as Israeli poets who saw Arabs as enemies enjoy an even more sacred stature.

What made it work was the separation that existed between the realm of...

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The female conscientious objector who just made Israeli history

Following her sixth trial, Tair Kaminer has become the longest-serving female conscientious objector in Israel’s history. This is her story.

IDF military “Prison 6” lies in one of the most picturesque spots in Israel, at the bottom of the Carmel Mountain, between green fields and banana plantations. The prisoners can see the mountains from the yard, but there is no view of the Mediterranean, less than a mile away.

The prison includes a separate unit for officers and, since 2011, a female unit as well. Prison life is boring and discipline is harsh. Most prisoners’ favorite days are those when they are taken to work at nearby factories. Following a mutiny in 1997, living conditions were improved a bit; among other changes, the cigarettes given to the prisoners were replaced by a better brand.

But 19-year-old Tair Kaminer doesn’t smoke. Last week, Kaminer made history: she was sentenced to her most recent stint in prison — 45 days for refusing to enlist in the IDF. This was her sixth trial, bringing her entire sentence to 170 days, more than any other female conscientious objector has received in Israeli history. Before sentencing her, Lieutenant Colonel Eran Shani complimented Kaminer for her bravery, but also told her that the consequences of her actions will be severe.

Kaminer could have avoided her long prison term. Many Israelis fake medical or psychological problems in order to avoid the draft. Religious women don’t serve either, so all it takes is a declaration that one observes in order to be released immediately. If you can convince the military that you are a pacifist — a challenging task, but not entirely impossible — you might be released as well. But Kaminer is neither religious nor a pacifist, and she is not ready to lie. She doesn’t oppose the military as a rule. Rather, she chose to refuse because of the IDF’s role in the occupation and in the systematic depravation of Palestinian civil and human rights.

In her public statement, Kaminer, who volunteered to do her year of national service with children in Sderot, writes: “The children I worked with grew up in the heart of the conflict, and went through traumatic experiences from a young age. In many of them, this has generated a terrible hatred — which is quite understandable, especially in young children. Like them, many of the children living in the Gaza Strip...

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Avigdor Liberman's new job: Control over four million Palestinians

Netanyahu may have found an opportunity to take revenge on the old IDF elites, but in doing so has put one of Israel’s most hawkish politicians in charge of the occupation.

Avigdor Liberman’s appointment as defense minister is, in my eyes, one of Netanyahu’s most surprising moves (in fact, on Wednesday I argued that it wouldn’t happen; two hours later I was proven wrong). Netanyahu is a careful politician that does not like big egos surrounding him, and Liberman is Liberman — a person who deliberately chooses to be unexpected and undisciplined — even when it doesn’t serve his interests — and who spews hawkish remarks in spades.

Liberman promised to take down Hamas and execute terrorists — and all this before we blow up Egypt’s Aswan Dam, as he once famously suggested. I do not think that anyone in Israel wants to fully re-occupy Gaza, but Liberman has too many promises to fill, and an electorate that runs the gamut from traditional right-wingers to Kahanists. This is disturbing. Even for Netanyahu it’s not an easy bet, since Liberman has serious political ambitions and can always leave the coalition right before the elections, claiming that Netanyahu prevented the IDF from going all the way, or by fueling smaller fires that may serve his interests.

So why did Bibi do it? In my opinion it has little to do with the recent comments made by Deputy Chief of the General Staff, General Yair Golan or the soldier in Hebron who shot a Palestinian in the head — two recent incidents in which the prime minister did not back Defense Minister Ya’alon. In fact these only provided Netanyahu the opportunity to get rid of Ya’alon, whose support from the Right has all but disappeared.

The great fracture between Netanyahu and the defense establishment stems from their disagreement over Iran, and the insubordination that occurred or did not occur during Gabi Ashkenazi and Ehud Barak’s tenure. The story is that former Director of the Mossad Meir Dagan and head of Shin Bet Yuval Diskin revealed that in 2010 the army and the Mossad were given orders to prepare for an attack in Iran, although it remains unclear whether it was an explicit command. Ashkenazi and Dagan either “opposed” or refused the order — depends who you ask. After that came the wars between Ashkenazi and Barak, and the torpedoing of...

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How the director of Peace Now saved Bibi and the peace process

Avi Buskila, the new director general of Peace Now, may come as an outsider to the world of peace organizations but there’s one unique item on his resume nobody else can lay claim to.

Twenty years ago I was a deputy company commander in the West Bank city of Hebron. The first Netanyahu government was about to transfer control of three-quarters of the city to the Palestinian Authority. The settlers were furious — the tension in the occupied city was palpable.

After Rabin’s assassination, the Hebron Agreement was seen as vital for demonstrating progress in the Oslo process under the new Israeli prime minister, who had so ardently opposed any withdrawals just a few months earlier. It was considered a significant achievement and if it were to fall apart, the world feared, so would the entire peace process.

One morning I was sent for some reason or another to Gross Square, known by Palestinians as Vegetable Market Square, which was still bustling and lively at the time — before the army shut down most of the Palestinian shops and banished the grocers and store owners.

We were standing near the entrance to one of the settler compounds when suddenly we heard a burst or two of automatic gunfire coming from another side of the square. I was able to see an Israeli soldier shooting (from a sitting position, no less) toward the crowds of Palestinians, and then I saw two other soldiers jumping on him.

It turned out that a setter (not a settler in the city of Hebron itself) who opposed the Hebron Agreement had decided to mimic Baruch Goldstein and commit a mass murder hoping to set the city alight and prevent the withdrawal of Israeli troops from it. His plan was foiled, however, by an officer from our battalion who happened to be standing behind the shooter, pounced on him, and arrested him without anybody getting seriously hurt — not the shooter and not any of the Palestinians in the square (six Palestinians were lightly wounded). The only thing left for us to do was to deal the crowd that had formed to see what happened.

The Goldstein Massacre (or the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre) sparked a series of Palestinian revenge attacks and irreparably challenged the Oslo peace process. The incident that I witnessed only held public significance for a few days at most. The officer who stopped...

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We don't have the privilege of being Islamophobic

Israelis tend to warn of the ‘Islamization’ of Europe in the wake of attacks like those in Brussels. But the fear of Muslims in a country where Jews and Muslims must live together is simply not an option.

After events like the terrorist attacks in Brussels or Paris, it has become common to hear Israelis say that “Europe is finished” or that it is being “conquered by Muslims.” In fact, people say these things even when there are no attacks. Regardless of inherent racism, I do not really understand the logic behind such statements. In France, seven percent of the population is Muslim. In Belgium it is six percent. In Britain — less than five percent.

In Israel, on the other hand, more than 20 percent of the population is Arab, the majority of whom are Muslim. Add to that 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank. Even if we don’t count Gaza, Jews and Arabs live side by side in every part of this country — in a way that doesn’t exist anywhere in Europe.

They say Israel may become a bi-national state sometime in the future, but the truth is we are already living in a bi-national reality — we are just in denial about it. If there are Israelis who believe we cannot live alongside Arabs or Muslims, then the only logical step for them is to run away from here as fast as they can. Any imaginable future scenario here will necessarily include more Arabs and Muslims in Israel than in those areas of Europe with large Arab populations.

Many years ago I saw Professor Aviezer Revitzki speak on a televised political discussion which devolved into generalizations about how Israel would spearhead a clash of civilizations. This was more or less the consensus in the study, from both left and right. “I don’t want to be the spearhead,” Revitzki announced (I am quoting from memory), “since that the part that is eroded and destroyed first.” Wise words.

If the world is moving toward all out war, Israel is probably the worst place to be. I’m happy to say that I don’t think that is the direction we’re headed. I do not have a simple solution to the current wave of nihilistic terrorism, and I don’t know anyone who does. Regardless, the numbers show that Jews and Arabs have to learn to live in this...

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