Purim is upon us – it will be celebrated after Shabbat, except for Jerusalem, a walled city, which celebrates Shushan Purim a day later. I do not expect to write again until some time after Shushan Purim.
And so I want to now wish everyone a Purim Sameach!
With a spirited reading of Megillat Esther, children galore (and some adults) parading about in costumes, hamentashen, gifts of food for friends, and a Purim seuda (meal), Purim is a delightful holiday – lighthearted in many ways.
But at its core, the Purim story delivers some weighty messages.
We are reminded that in every generation there arises someone who seeks to kill the Jews – a lesson never to be forgotten. The irony: the Purim story took place in Persia, which is modern-day Iran, where the mullahs (who are now promoting ballistic missile tests) boast about their ability to destroy Israel. Their story will end much as Haman’s story did.
Although it is not stated explicitly in the Megillah, it is understood by traditional commentators that the Jewish people were saved by the hidden hand of God. Another lesson never to be forgotten: He is with us.
Before going on to share news and commentary, I want to jump ahead for just a moment from Purim to preparation for Pesach, a month hence.
Yaakov Kirschen, the marvelous creator of Dry Bones, has done a Dry Bones Passover Haggadah, and now a companion “Plague of Frogs” activity workbook. Really neat.
Here in Israel there has been much debate over the last several days with regard to Trump’s position on Israel’s rights in the land. The debate has centered on the degree to which we adhere to Trump’s requests – I won’t say “dictates” because he’s not dictating, he is “suggesting.” And it came to the fore because of statements by Defense Minister Lieberman.
Speaking at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, Lieberman said that:
“…we received a message directly — not indirectly, not a hint — from the US, that Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank means an immediate crisis with the new administration.”
Lieberman gave no indication as to the precise source of the message he was conveying. Caroline Glick, however, says it was likely US Secretary of Defense Mattis, Leiberman’s American counterpart, who is no friend of Israel. (More on Mattis below.)
What Lieberman also indicated is that he personally is opposed to application of sovereignty in Judaea and Samaria:
“Let me make my view perfectly clear: We need to separate from the Palestinians, not absorb them into our territory.”
I would not suggest that he didn’t receive the US message as he reported it to the committee, but one gets the impression that it didn’t much distress him.
There have been several proposals of late with regard to application of sovereignty – everything from sovereignty of Ma’aleh Adumim to sovereignty for all of Judaea and Samaria, the latter currently being promoted by MK Micki Zohar (Likud).
Criticism of Lieberman’s position came swiftly then from MK Zohar, co-chairs of the Land of Israel Knesset Lobby Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) and Yoav Kish (Likud) and others. Accusing Lieberman of “intimidation” and “scare-mongering” they declared their intent to follow in the footsteps of Zionists who expanded Israel proper in the past (e.g., applying Israeli law to the Golan).
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely observed that (emphasis added):
“Minister Lieberman is attempting to create a reality that does not exist yet in Washington. The political dialogue with the Americans hasn’t started yet, the current administration hasn’t put together any strategic plan for the region yet. The American government is open to considering new policies and all of the options are still on the table.”
And I think she is absolutely on the mark.
According to a Haaretz report on Monday, a US official has said that (emphasis added):
“The administration needs to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward. We are just getting that process started. As the president has said, he would like to see a ‘level of reasonableness of both parties.’”
And so, no, Trump is not saying, Go forward, Israel, I’m with you in whatever you do. And, indeed, application of Israeli sovereignty across all of Judaea and Samaria would not be well received by him now.
But neither is he Obama, egregiously biased against Israel. This is a man who says he doesn’t want any daylight between the US and Israel, a man who some years ago donated thousands to a yeshiva in Beit El in the Shomron.
In the end, Israel must conduct herself as a sovereign nation, making decisions that are best for Israel. But first, I would suggest, Israeli leaders have an obligation to make Israel’s case, so that there can be a maximum appreciation of our position in the White House, and friction can be minimized.
Making our case – legally, historically and with regard to security – is precisely what Israel has not done sufficiently. Certainly not during the Obama years, when there was no one to hear that case. I am greatly uneasy as to whether this will happen now. If it does not, it will be an enormous lost opportunity.
Part of the problem now is that there is no consensus here on how to move forward. I’m not talking about those who would gladly pull back to the no-longer extant armistice line of 1949 (Heaven forbid!). I’m speaking of those who recognize that we have rights to the land. Do we allow the Palestinian Arabs to establish an autonomy, while retaining Israeli sovereignty over the land? Do we establish one state and make all Arabs citizens? Do we apply sovereignty piece-meal or all at once?
IF Trump is sincere, I must hope that, were the picture – especially in legal terms – made clear to him, and were he to fully perceive the multiple ways in which the Palestinian Authority will continue indefinitely to constitute a stumbling block to peace, he would be amenable to a good deal of what we seek to do.
At least, we must give it our best shot. This is a process. I do not agree with those who say that we have a window of opportunity now to apply full sovereignty before Trump hardens his positions.
What we have a window of opportunity for now is presenting our case boldly, cogently and unapologetically, before the president hardens his positions. And that case must reach the president himself and those supportive of Israel in his administration.
All of this said, there is a significant difference between not pressing now for sovereignty over all of Judaea and Samaria, and not honoring commitments to build that have already been made.
It is troublesome when this is the case, and here is that fine line. I have two instances in mind:
The first is with regard to establishment of a new community for the people of Amona, who have been left stranded. The prime minister promised them. We cannot allow this to pass as just empty words that were pre-empted by other circumstances. He must produce.
And now this news has broken:
“Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant to freeze thousands of housing units which Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman had recently approved for construction in Judaea and Samaria, it was reported Wednesday.
“Netanyahu and Liberman had issued two announcements that a total of 5,500 housing units would be constructed in Jewish communities in Judaea and Samaria shortly after US President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January…
”The Defense Ministry said in a statement at the time of the second announcement that ‘The decision comes as part of the resumption of normal life in Judaea and Samaria and in order to provide a real answer to living and housing needs in the region.’ (Emphasis added here and following)
“’We are in a new time period in which life in Judaea and Samaria is returning to normal, and we will provide an appropriate response to the needs of the residents of the region,’ said Lieberman”…
“President Trump asked Netanyahu to ‘hold back on settlements for a little bit’ when the Prime Minister visited him last month.”
What would have happened if Netanyahu had told the president that he hopes he will understand that it is important for a head of state to honor commitments already made to the people and intended to address real needs? Here’s a place where it would have been possible for him to make Israel’s case.
Isn’t Trump the one who bragged after coming into office that he keeps his promises? Would he have respected Netanyahu for taking a similar position?
Netanyahu might have reassured Trump that he would “hold back a bit” on any further building beyond what had already been promised.
But our prime minister does not play it that way. He is ever eager to please. That is his MO.
Again, that fine line: It is important to minimize friction with the Trump administration because Israeli sovereignty over all of the land is not the only issue at hand. There is also the matter, alluded to above, of making certain that the mullahs succeed no more than Haman did. The greatest risk to Israel is Iran, directly, and with regard to the terrorism it funds and fosters.
On Monday, during a program at the Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister Netanyahu said:
“Iran is the greatest generator of terrorism in the world in the world and we need to fight this terror because it is just one arm of Iranian aggression, which also seeks nuclear weapons and advances its ballistic missiles program.”
He estimated that more than 80% of Israel’s security problems emanate from Iran.
On Tuesday, following Iran’s ballistic missiles tests, Trump called Netanyahu to discuss Iranian aggression. According to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office, the two spoke “at length” about the “dangers emanating from Iran and Iranian aggression in the region and the need to work together to deal with these threats.”
How gratifying this must have been to Netanyahu, after years of being ignored with regard to the dangers of Iran, and after watching Obama cave to Iran in a horrendous deal.
The freeze on the new building was not announced right after Netanyahu came back from his visit with Trump. It was announced the day after Trump called our prime minister about Iran.
Now as to Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis:
Lieberman met with him at the Pentagon on Tuesday, where he was welcomed with an honor guard.
Reports are that the meeting between the two was held in a “warm and friendly” atmosphere. They agreed that moderate forces are needed in our area. Lieberman told the general:
“We need an active America in the region,” he stressed.
“The strategic cooperation between Israel and the U.S. is vital and crucial not only for the security of Israel, but for security and stability throughout the Middle East and this also has implications [for] global security.” (Emphasis added here and above)
True, true, and true. Let there be vital cooperation between allies who mutually respect each other.