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How to Fight Jewish Maximalists at Home and Arab Maximalists Abroad

One state? Two states? What’s a Jew to do? What should a Jew in Israel or abroad do? What should any lover of Israel do? What should anyone who cares deeply about the remarkable achievement of renewed Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel and wants to protect it from those who would destroy it do? The answer to the perplexed is to fight Jewish maximalists at home and Arab maximalists abroad.

The future of the State of Israel is under attack from within and without. From within, Israel faces the danger of too much love. There are those who supposedly love the Land of Israel so much that they need to own all of it. These are the Jewish maximalists. It is not security that concerns them or the question of defensible borders. Instead, they are imbued with a messianic zeal that compels them to settle and eventually annex the territories between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea over which Israel is not sovereign: Judea and Samaria to them, the West Bank to the rest of the world.

For Jewish maximalists, Zionism is less about Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel than Jewish ownership of the entire Land of Israel. By spearheading a messianic “God will somehow solve it” approach to the large population of Arabs in the territories, they are willing to endanger the achievement of Jewish sovereignty for the cause of Jewish ownership. They say “all,” but risk leaving the Jews with nothing.

Unfortunately, the success of Jewish maximalists in advancing their cause is due to their dependable allies: Arab maximalists and their collaborators. Arab maximalists are those who, at every historical moment they could have received “some,” always repeated their mantra “all,” only to be left with nothing. They are the ones who for more than a century repeatedly refused to accept that the Jews have a right to self-determination in at least some part of their homeland. They are the ones who rejected partition in 1947, because they wanted to do away with a Jewish state more than they wanted a Palestinian one. They are the ones who went to war over partition only to lose the war. They are the ones who kept the war going only to lose more territory in 1967. They are the ones who today claim to support two states while insisting that their ”right of return” is “non-negotiable”—meaning they continue on their quest to destroy the Jewish state. They are the ones who use the language of “Palestinian rights” to deny that those “rights” are designed to deny the Jewish people their equal right to self-determination.

But Arab maximalists would not have had such success in advancing their cause had it not been for the Jewish maximalists. While the settlements are not the cause of the ongoing conflict—Arab maximalists have seen to that—they have obscured the foundational role of Arab maximalism in preventing a peace agreement that would acknowledge the permanence of the Jewish state. When messianic Jews repeatedly say, “it’s all ours and only ours,” it becomes much more difficult to name and shame the Palestinians for saying the same.

Unfortunately, Jewish and Arab maximalists have been successful at convincing those who could effectively do battle against them that to do so is impossible without serving the other side. As a result, those who feel that the survival of Israel and Zionism depends on defeating Jewish maximalists and their settlement project have, consciously or not, downplayed Arab maximalism. They have often been the first to hail Arabs “moderation” in denial of the facts on the ground. They have often excused Arab incitement, downplayed the Palestinians’ attachment to their demand of “return,” and treated persistent Arab maximalism and rejection of peace agreements as nothing more than a ruse used by Jewish maximalists to silence opposition.

Those who feel it necessary to defend Zionism by exposing Arab maximalism and defeating it have all too often found themselves pushed to unwillingly defend Jewish maximalism, noting how Arab maximalists and their collaborators use settlements as the thin end of the wedge in their campaign to demonize Zionism and single out Israel in international forums. Dismayed by the way those purporting to fight against Jewish maximalism often fail to take any action against Arab maximalist claims, they naturally have little interest in playing into Arab maximalist hands, no matter how opposed they are to the settlements. Jewish maximalists, on their part, have used such occasions to rope those seeking to fight Arab maximalism into defending Jewish maximalism. I myself often had to put my foot down when some elements in the Israeli government tried to use my work fighting Arab maximalist claims to promote their Jewish maximalist agenda, which I oppose.

Yet the survival of Zionism has always depended on waging and winning wars on no less than two fronts. Today, Israel’s survival depends on Jews and lovers of Israel doing the same: fighting Jewish maximalists at home and fighting Arab maximalists abroad with the same passion and vehemence. This should be the new standard for those who oppose both forms of maximalism. Jewish organizations that claim to promote a two-state solution should demonstrate that as much as they are fighting settlements, they are also fighting Arab maximalism. Jewish organizations that defend Israel and fight Arab maximalism shouldn’t be afraid to take a stand against Jewish maximalists, if they wish to do so. Those among us who believe that a Jewish people that wants it all risks being left with nothing shouldn’t have to choose their battles. We can save Zionism by defeating Jewish maximalists at home and Arab maximalists the world over.

Einat Wilf was chair of the Education Committee and member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the 18th Knesset, has a BA in government and fine arts from Harvard University, an MBA from INSEAD in France and a PhD in political science from the University of Cambridge. Previously, she served as a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a foreign policy advisor to then-vice prime minister Shimon Peres and a strategic consultant with McKinsey & Company. Wilf is the author of three books that explore key issues in Israeli society, including My Israel, Our Generation (BookSurge, 2007).

[Photo: Daniel Case / Wikimedia]