President Barack Obama received a lot of flack from the Israeli right (and from nobody else in the world), when he said that the Jews' claim to a state rested on their suffering, which culminated in the Holocaust. Did Zionism start with the Holocaust, asked the critics? Wasn't it as old as Abraham? Shouldn't the right of the Jews to the the Land of Israel derive from historical rights?
Not so, according to Barack Obama.
And guess what ideological founder of the Israeli right agrees with him?
In a highly interesting op-ed in today's Haaretz, Israeli philosopher Chaim Gans points out that Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky, before the Peel Commission, argued the Jewish claim to settlement on both banks of the Jordan River not by appealing to historical rights, but by arguing that Jews needed to be rescued from extermination.
The U.S. president and his administration are convinced that settlements are illegitimate, and they are right.
Moshe Arens and the right wing in general believe that the settlements are legitimate because the Jews' historic right to the Land of Israel serves as the basis for the right to exercise sovereignty over all the land. Yet even Arens' ideological forefather, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, did not think so. As Prof. Gideon Shimoni has noted, Jabotinsky wrote that if the Jews felt they had enough land, they wouldn't need to rely on historic rights.
During his testimony to the Peel Commission, Jabotinsky rationalized the necessity for a Jewish homeland on both banks of the Jordan River not by citing historic rights, but by the need to rescue Europe's Jews from extermination (while taking into account the population density that would have resulted in the late 1930s in relation to the number of Jews in Europe).
The Jews' historic right justified their choice of the Land of Israel as the place to realize their self-determination. But that right has never justified Jewish sovereignty over all the Land of Israel. The Zionist movement accepted this truth at every important stage of its history. After the persecution of the Jews reached its peak in the 1940s, Zionism had the justification to actualize its right to self-determination immediately. It is no wonder then that Israel's attempt to turn this historic right into the basis for demands more than 60 years after the persecution of the Jews - all while continuing its cruelty and abuse of the Palestinians - endangers both world peace and Israel's moral standing.
Arens' claim that "the right of Jews to live in Judea and Samaria is a basic principle not subject to negotiations" has only managed to persuade the Israeli right, which has also misinterpreted the views of its spiritual leader. But it fails to convince other Israelis, Obama and the world. From Israel's standpoint, this view not only endangers the future, but also the past.