Liberal Zionists believe that Israel committed injustices against the Palestinian people in 1948 (and its aftermath) and in 1967 (and its aftermath) – but they try to distinguish between the two, and to find some moral mitigation for the former. Right-winger and left-winger intellectuals like Yosef Ben-Shlomo and Yehuda Shenhav don't buy the distinction. For them, the West Bank settlements are no different from the post-1948 settlements within the Green Line – and it is hypocritical to attempt to make a distinction.
Tel-Aviv university professor Chaim Gans published an op-ed in Haaretz this week that tries to make a moral distinction between the two sets of injustices. His argument is based on the distinction in just war theory between jus ad bellam and jus in bello, between the questions whether a war is just, and whether its conduct is just. According to Gans, the declaration of the state in 1948 was just because the Jewish people needed a state to ensure its survival and its prospering after the Holocaust. But this does not mean that the decisions taken during that war were ipso facto just; on the contrary, a just war can be waged unjustly (e.g., the carpet bombing of Dresden by the Allies.) So although some injustice to the Palestinian was required for establishing a state, that injustice should be viewed as a necessary evil, the impact of which should be reduced. This does not, according to Gans, include the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes, which was a war crime and unjustified.
By contrast, argues Gans, the settlements created after 1967 have nothing to do with the survival and flourishing of the Jewish state, but only with claims of ownership and historical rights over the Land of Israel. Gans rejects all such claims as irrelevant to the justice of Zionism (although he admits that they may serve to help locate the Jewish state in Palestine). If Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state is based solely on the historical claim that the Jews owned the Land of Israel and never lost that sense of ownership, then the State of Israel has no right to exist, according to Gans.
The post-'67 settlements (in contrast to an Israeli military presence in the territories) cannot be justified on the basis of the needs of a persecuted nation. The settlements are the bases for the continuing injustices committed by a powerful state. These wrongs are being carried out many decades after the persecution of the Jews ended. They are in effect acts of persecution committed by Jews against Arabs with the backing of the Jewish state. So the Zionism in whose name they are carried out cannot be considered just.
Some have claimed that the West Bank is vital for Israel's security. Fine, says, Gans, but that only justifies military control, not settlement.
Gans' argument rests inter alia on the empirical premise that the Jewish people needed a state in order to survive and flourish, that their self-determination required a state. Or, to use the just-war theory language, the establishment of a Jewish state, with the inevitable injustice to the indigenous people, was historically a "last resort." But this premise is highly questionable, and for a Zionist to assume it begs the question. Many peoples anchored to a land failed to survive over the course of human history; ditto for the more recent phenomenon of nation states. Some have suggested that the Jewish people's survival was due, in part, at least, to its dispersion among other nations: or, to be precise, because it fostered a historical memory and common consciousness of being a nation, despite the development of different Jewish communities, bearing a family resemblance, on different soils. There are Jews who feel threatened by Israel's actions, and there are Jews who feel shame because of them. Herzl's utopian vision didn't take that into account. For the hardcore Zionist, of course, the Jew living in the Diaspora was like a comatose patient on life-support – barely surviving, with no autonomy, and with no dignity. But this is a debatable proposition (the annals of Zionism are full of such debates) as are the propositions that a Jewish state best enables Jewish culture to survive and flourish, or allows the Jewish people to be masters of their fate, or that it gives Jews outside that state a feeling of dignity and pride. So it seems to me that Gans' distinction assumes too much of the Zionist ideology as true to be helpful (Of course, this was only an op-ed, where space is at a premium.)
How do the Palestinians fit into all this? They are the innocent bystanders, the collateral damage of the Zionist project. The Zionists would have been happy for them to go away, and indeed, they ethnically cleansed Palestine of most of them for the sake of the Zionist project. They knew that the establishment of a Jewish state would involve injustice towards them, but both Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky argued that the injustice suffered by stateless Palestinian Arabs was considerably less than the injustice suffered by a stateless Jewish people, since the nationalist aspirations of the former could be fulfilled in one of many Arab states. (Neither of them recognized Palestinian Arabs as a people). Gans does not make this argument, but on the contrary, argues for the desirability of the Palestinian state, for limiting Jewish hegemony, in short for a smaller, "gentler" Zionism than proposed by the likes of Ben-Gurion. He does all of this in the book on the right of my blog, and in a forthcoming book in Hebrew.