With one stroke of a pen, Education Minister Yuli Tamir managed recently to restore to the public agenda the basic question that should not have been marginalized in the first place on the validity, significance and legitimacy of the Green Line. The decision is an ideological one, as was the decision to erase the 1949 cease-fire line from school textbooks. It is hard to understand why the line’s deletion was justified and its restoration deemed unacceptable by settlers and their supporters. It is true that there is no sanctity in the cease-fire line beyond the fact that turning it into an official border is the only possible basis for determining Israel’s final territorial arrangements and for ending the war both with the Palestinians and with the Arab countries. A country needs recognized and agreed-upon borders, and in their absence, it would be sentenced to generations of war. One of the sources of the disasters that befell Europe in the 20th century was the 100-year war for political and cultural reunification of Germany, which ended in the strongest country in the heart of the continent not having borders it considered final. Most of the recognized borders in the Western world are political constructions, for the most part arbitrary, a result of wars and struggles that at some point had to be put to an end. This is true not only of the eastern and western borders of Poland and Germany, but also of the lines separating Italy from Switzerland, France from all its neighbors and Belgium from Holland.
The same is true of the borders between the United States and Canada, and those between the US and Mexico. In Western Europe the borders cut across populations with the same culture, ethnic identity and language. These are artificial borders whose existence is justified because they serve the common good. Even these territories once saw wars. This is the point where the debate between the camps in Israel begins. It should immediately be said that the settlers are correct when they claim an absence of roots and a historical basis in the existence of the Green Line. But this is a double-edged sword: If Israel erases the 1949 line, the Arab world is not bound by it either.
If the Israelis are permitted to overturn the results of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, why should the Arabs and the rest of the world be obliged to recognize the facts established then? Is there an Israeli interest in destroying the legitimacy of the achievements from the time the Jewish national state was established? Therefore, we now have to raise awareness and secure the status of the cease-fire line among young Israelis, victims of brainwashing by right-wing governments, so that there will not be any backtracking from the outcome of the War of Independence. In other words, Israelis will not try to move the border east, while the Palestinians will stop dreaming of returning to the territory to its west. Peace is a package deal. Though the settlers’ camp is justified in saying there is no essential difference between a settlement in Kfar Sava and a settlement in Ariel, it is seriously mistaken in the other aspect of the problem: The conquest of the country until 1949 was vital, and therefore justified, because it meant the realization of the Jews’ right to independence and self-determination.
On the other hand, the post-1967 conquests are not legitimate, as they do not serve any vital national purpose. Historical rights in themselves do not justify incessant bloodshed. Moreover, the Palestinians also have historical and natural rights to freedom and independence. Trampling these rights will push Israel to the peripheries of the Western world and will endanger its genuine interests. Israel, more than many other countries, needs international support just as it needs air to breathe. From its inception, the Jewish nationalist movement was guided by the feeling that the earth was burning beneath its feet. In order to save as many people as possible it was necessary to conquer the land. Building a national home and establishing independence served this basic goal, and until June 1967 it was proved possible to achieve all the Zionist goals within borders that existed until then.
There was no need to move eastward: The territories are a burden, a moral, political and financial millstone around the neck of Israeli society. The disengagement from Gaza showed most Israelis shared this opinion. And in spite of the personal pain they felt over the expulsion of people from their homes, the majority understood that the occupation was unnecessary and unjust. Who knows this as well as the education minister?
She is working within her province to implement principles and policies for which she was elected. If only the same could be said of the entire government.
Zeev Sternhell is the Leon Blum professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service.