At its core, Zionism is all about Jewish self-determination.
While we all parrot those words, at the same time, we rarely fully act accordingly.
Yes, there are many reasons over the decades and acutely now, of why – Israel is at war, is too distracted, periods of disunity and many other valid considerations.
However, it is also precisely why defining what Jewish self-determination means, is a prime strategic conversation that needs to be had.
All else flows from that.
How Israel should look, what sort of constructive tension should exist between the Jewish and democratic parts of the paradigm, where its borders should be, how to ensure security and so on.
Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, understood the transformation in the Jewish condition from being a minority in the diaspora to being a majority in the only Jewish state, when he said: “It does not matter what the world thinks, but only what Jews do.”
That does not mean that Israel should ignore world opinion, or what matters to its allies. However, it does mean that Israel, in the first, second and third instance, should determine its own strategic aims and not leave a vacuum that others will fill with their own ideas of what is (or is not) good for Israel. Even friends of Israel.
It is Israel who must determine its own strategic goals in Gaza. The campaign, vis-à-vis the hostages. And the ‘day after.’
These goals need to be clearly defined and must be creditably achievable. Slogans are one thing—‘complete victory over Hamas’—but what does that look like? What achievements will make total victory declarable?
For Hamas, mere survival will be considered a triumph by the Palestinians.
Notwithstanding that President Biden has been an amazingly positive force for Israel during the war—and for many more weeks than could have been expected—some want to debate whether US behaviour towards Iran was a factor in 7 October. Maybe.
However, that is also a distraction and a convenient way of pushing direct responsibility away from Israel itself. Of blaming the situation on the actions of others.
Israel needs to look at the ramifications of its own policies and behaviour and to draw its own conclusions.
Facilitating the transfer of millions of dollars from Doha to Gaza for one.
For another, Yahyar Sinwar understands the Israeli mindset when it comes to hostages generally and at a very personal level, being one of the 1027 Palestinians, exchanged for Gilad Shalit in 2011.
Sinwar knows just how highly Israelis respect life and the desire to have all of the hostages returned, even at an extremely high cost.
It was hoped that these actions would be beneficial and of course, things are much clearer with hindsight.
What actually happened on 7 October in terms of how and the seemingly slow response?
The point is that blaming the policies on others is a ‘galut’ mentality.
Self-determination is all about Israel making decisions for the Jewish people.
The misnamed International Court of Justice farce taking place is an abomination.
Facing an enemy that does not want peace, that does not want any solution in which a Jewish state of any size remains, that carries out unimaginable atrocities and threatens to repeat them again and again, an enemy which publicly declares its genocidal intent—and yet it is Israel that is charged with genocide?
Ben Gurion was indeed right.
There is however, one Israeli decision in regards to the ICJ that put the interests of the country ahead of party political considerations.
The period leading up to the clumsy attempts at judicial reform, poorly managed because there was actually a consensus for reform to swing the pendulum back in some degree from the courts to the Knesset, were hallmarked by deep divisions and unrest.
The figure who represented more than anyone else the seeking and assuming of powers to the High Court was a previous chief justice, Aharon Barak. He was the bogeyman targeted by the government and pro-reform supporters.
Yet, when Netanyahu had the opportunity to nominate one of the judges in this ICJ case, he nominated the very same Barak.
A good appointment by Netanyahu and over the objections of some of his coalition partners.
Just as Israel needs to present a clear picture on the future of Gaza and internally on judicial reform, it also needs to have a vision vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
Let us be clear, the Americans are wrong to believe that a Palestinian state would solve all of the issues of the Middle East. Nor would it deal with Iran’s genocidal intent and actions.
Yet, a strategic plan re the Palestinians is important for Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has currently defined his premiership as of Thursday 18 January, as being about ensuring no Palestinian state comes into being.
“Whoever is talking about the ‘day after Netanyahu,’ is essentially talking about the establishment of a Palestinian state with the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
Netanyahu has had various positions over decades on this matter. Sometimes over the meaning of ‘state’ and sometimes over the ability to guarantee Israel’s security if one comes into being, especially under the Palestinian Authority, who like all Palestinian leadership combinations over the decades, have rejected any of the multiple two state offers made by Israel.
US President Donald Trump put forward a very detailed two entity plan in 2020 which required Israel to cede 70 per cent of Judea/Samaria/West Bank as part of the price of the Abraham Accords.
Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed.
He chose a Palestinian entity and separation from the Palestinians.
The Palestinians, as usual, rejected the proposal.
The problem for the Israelis, brought into stark focus once again by 7 October, is not so much whether to separate, but how to do so safely?
Israel has repeatedly been mugged by experience.
As President Herzog, previously also a head of the Israeli Labour Party, said in Davos,
“Nobody in his right mind is willing now to think about what will be the solution of the peace agreements because everybody wants to know: Can we be promised real safety in the future? Israel lost trust in the peace processes because they see that terror is glorified by our neighbours.”
The Israeli consensus on core issue is less about the actual question of a Palestinian entity and more about what it means for Israel’s security.
7 October has once again shown that it is only Israel that can and should make decisions for its future security.
Israel’s allies will better understand the security side of the equation and the reasonableness expressed by President Herzog.
The State of Israel has to determine what its security red lines are and follow Ben Gurion’s lead.
Self-determination means that after 2000 years of powerlessness, today the Jewish people have the ability to decide the Jewish future.
Sometimes they will be right and sometimes wrong—but they will be decisions of the Jewish state.
That is an both an awesome privilege and heavy responsibility.
Am Yisrael Chai
Dr Ron Weiser AM