Ben-Gurion's Unfinished Work

When on  May 12, 1948 David Ben-Gurion pressed members of the People's Administration to support his intention to declare Israel’s independence, many questions had to be answered. One of the most important of those was: Will President Truman extend his support? That was and is the power of the head of the executive branch of American government. No other institution, no other human being serving the American people, matters that much. It is a one-man show when it comes to dramatic foreign-policy decisions the United States must make. Israel’s Declaration of Independence proclaimed Jewish sovereignty after 2000 years of exile. Yet it did not set the borders. The ensuing more than half a century of wars, peace overtures and treaties have failed to demarcate the country’s borders as well. Exile does not require borders, but a state does. The time has finally arrived to put the “canvas” on the Declaration of Independence. The people of Israel are ready and, what perhaps is not least important, the sitting president of the United States shares that sentiment. As in 1948, this unprecedented opportunity must not be missed. for history is an air-headed capricious teenager. 

The main argument against setting of the borders now, or the “annexation” as the detractors of the move tend to frame the action, is the negative sentiment among the American public, specifically the Democrats, who may, as the argument goes, as the result of Israel’s unilateral move become even more alienated from the Jewish state. Ironically, that is exactly the argument used in 1948 against the original Declaration of Independence. Back then everyone was against it: the leadership of both parties, the entire State Department and Department of Defense, most of the Jewish-American leadership. There was only one person with a handful of supporters who stood for the idea: President Truman. The doomsday prophecies of the critics did not materialize. However, assuming history never repeats itself and now is different from then, may Israel’s unilateral actions lead to its worsening standing among its friends and foes?

The friends, the overwhelming majority of the GOP, the Independents, and the remaining old-style Democrats, will definitely support the move. The Left wing of the Democratic Party will protest and denounce. But these are the people who have found nothing positive to say about Israel in the last 25 years. The last time we heard them praising the Jewish State was for its “sacrifices for peace” in the midst of suicide bombing in the mid-90s. The only action to appease those folks is for Israel to give up self-defense and cease to exist as the Jewish State. In their view, even Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza was a passive-aggressive move. The progressives are in perpetual mode of criticizing Israel, so it does not really matter if the reason is real or imaginary. In any case the leadership of the Democratic Party would prefer, though obviously never admitting so, that Israel make its move under Trump’s watch so, in case Democrats win come November, they are presented with a fait accompli. 

There is another aspect of the very same argument and it is related to the reaction of the EU and neighboring Arab countries, specifically Jordan. The EU does not have a unified stance on the subject. A number of Central European countries, particularly Hungary and Austria, are leading the charge against possible sanctions. But even if the threat of sanctions materializes, Israel will easily swallow that poison pill. These sanctions will be of superficial nature and of limited duration as the economic relationship between the EU and Israel is of mutual benefit and in some areas, such as defense and intelligence, are more in the interests of the EU. 

Jordan abdicated its responsibility over the West Bank more than three decades ago. Its relationship with Israel and the U.S. are the only reason why the Jordanian monarchy is still around. In the last few years, we have heard too many warnings of impending disasters over the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. None of them came to fruition and passed through the Middle East like a caravan through the desert. King Abdullah will find a way to accommodate himself to the new reality. He needs Israel as much, if not even more, than Israel needs stable Jordan. However, if the New York Times keeps repeating the mantra of Jordan’s refusal to accept Israel’s unilateral moves, the king may have no choice but to oblige. No Arab leader wants to look less Arab than the “newspaper of record,” which has a “perfect” record of predicting the second Holocaust (including on the eve of the Declaration of Independence) every time the Jewish state acts in self-interest. 

And the final remaining argument concerns future peace. Since the Oslo Accords set the “peace process” in motion in the early 90s, Israel has put forward a number of real proposals for settling the border dispute with the West Bank and Gaza Arabs. Some of them were not answered at all, but some got a violent response costing thousands of lives on both sides. And that was the case when the Palestinian Authority could actually, at least in theory, respect a possible agreement. Now with the West Bank and Gaza representing two separate entities and the Palestinian Authority on its deathbed having very little real power over its subjects, the prospect of any agreement is nonexistent. Israel cannot continue its borderless existence and must move forward on its own initiative. Knowing, based on the previous attempts, that the most Israel can offer is not sufficient for the other side, Israel must create its own secure and defensible borders. That by no means precludes an agreement that may or may not happen in the distant future. Most of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip are going to be waiting for a responsible Arab leader to lead its people to a statehood or whatever they wish. As in 1948, without a real partner for negotiated agreement, the destiny of the Jewish State must be decided by its people with the support of the only other person who matters the most: the president of the United States. Benjamin Netanyahu realizes this historical opportunity and its newly formed government seems to be united around the idea of settling Israel’s borders. The final chapter in the Declaration of Independence, the unfinished work of David Ben-Gurion, is about to be written.

When on  May 12, 1948 David Ben-Gurion pressed members of the People's Administration to support his intention to declare Israel’s independence, many questions had to be answered. One of the most important of those was: Will President Truman extend his support? That was and is the power of the head of the executive branch of American government. No other institution, no other human being serving the American people, matters that much. It is a one-man show when it comes to dramatic foreign-policy decisions the United States must make. Israel’s Declaration of Independence proclaimed Jewish sovereignty after 2000 years of exile. Yet it did not set the borders. The ensuing more than half a century of wars, peace overtures and treaties have failed to demarcate the country’s borders as well. Exile does not require borders, but a state does. The time has finally arrived to put the “canvas” on the Declaration of Independence. The people of Israel are ready and, what perhaps is not least important, the sitting president of the United States shares that sentiment. As in 1948, this unprecedented opportunity must not be missed. for history is an air-headed capricious teenager. 

The main argument against setting of the borders now, or the “annexation” as the detractors of the move tend to frame the action, is the negative sentiment among the American public, specifically the Democrats, who may, as the argument goes, as the result of Israel’s unilateral move become even more alienated from the Jewish state. Ironically, that is exactly the argument used in 1948 against the original Declaration of Independence. Back then everyone was against it: the leadership of both parties, the entire State Department and Department of Defense, most of the Jewish-American leadership. There was only one person with a handful of supporters who stood for the idea: President Truman. The doomsday prophecies of the critics did not materialize. However, assuming history never repeats itself and now is different from then, may Israel’s unilateral actions lead to its worsening standing among its friends and foes?

The friends, the overwhelming majority of the GOP, the Independents, and the remaining old-style Democrats, will definitely support the move. The Left wing of the Democratic Party will protest and denounce. But these are the people who have found nothing positive to say about Israel in the last 25 years. The last time we heard them praising the Jewish State was for its “sacrifices for peace” in the midst of suicide bombing in the mid-90s. The only action to appease those folks is for Israel to give up self-defense and cease to exist as the Jewish State. In their view, even Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza was a passive-aggressive move. The progressives are in perpetual mode of criticizing Israel, so it does not really matter if the reason is real or imaginary. In any case the leadership of the Democratic Party would prefer, though obviously never admitting so, that Israel make its move under Trump’s watch so, in case Democrats win come November, they are presented with a fait accompli. 

There is another aspect of the very same argument and it is related to the reaction of the EU and neighboring Arab countries, specifically Jordan. The EU does not have a unified stance on the subject. A number of Central European countries, particularly Hungary and Austria, are leading the charge against possible sanctions. But even if the threat of sanctions materializes, Israel will easily swallow that poison pill. These sanctions will be of superficial nature and of limited duration as the economic relationship between the EU and Israel is of mutual benefit and in some areas, such as defense and intelligence, are more in the interests of the EU. 

Jordan abdicated its responsibility over the West Bank more than three decades ago. Its relationship with Israel and the U.S. are the only reason why the Jordanian monarchy is still around. In the last few years, we have heard too many warnings of impending disasters over the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. None of them came to fruition and passed through the Middle East like a caravan through the desert. King Abdullah will find a way to accommodate himself to the new reality. He needs Israel as much, if not even more, than Israel needs stable Jordan. However, if the New York Times keeps repeating the mantra of Jordan’s refusal to accept Israel’s unilateral moves, the king may have no choice but to oblige. No Arab leader wants to look less Arab than the “newspaper of record,” which has a “perfect” record of predicting the second Holocaust (including on the eve of the Declaration of Independence) every time the Jewish state acts in self-interest. 

And the final remaining argument concerns future peace. Since the Oslo Accords set the “peace process” in motion in the early 90s, Israel has put forward a number of real proposals for settling the border dispute with the West Bank and Gaza Arabs. Some of them were not answered at all, but some got a violent response costing thousands of lives on both sides. And that was the case when the Palestinian Authority could actually, at least in theory, respect a possible agreement. Now with the West Bank and Gaza representing two separate entities and the Palestinian Authority on its deathbed having very little real power over its subjects, the prospect of any agreement is nonexistent. Israel cannot continue its borderless existence and must move forward on its own initiative. Knowing, based on the previous attempts, that the most Israel can offer is not sufficient for the other side, Israel must create its own secure and defensible borders. That by no means precludes an agreement that may or may not happen in the distant future. Most of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip are going to be waiting for a responsible Arab leader to lead its people to a statehood or whatever they wish. As in 1948, without a real partner for negotiated agreement, the destiny of the Jewish State must be decided by its people with the support of the only other person who matters the most: the president of the United States. Benjamin Netanyahu realizes this historical opportunity and its newly formed government seems to be united around the idea of settling Israel’s borders. The final chapter in the Declaration of Independence, the unfinished work of David Ben-Gurion, is about to be written.