by Martin Sherman

In his recent column, Isi Leibler was spot on with his analysis regarding what Netanyahu has not done; but way off with his conclusions regarding what he should do. It is vital to understand why.

airport as seen from palestine
(Photo: Courtest Hagai Nativ/Martin Sherman)

To avert disaster, Netanyahu must... seize the moment to develop a coherent and consistent government policy… to commit to intensifying construction in those areas over the Green Line which would unquestionably be retained by Israel. But in isolated settlements primarily located in the disputed territories… a status quo in relation to expansion should be maintained. – Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, December 21, 2013

Any territory evacuated by the IDF will become a base for terrorist assault on Israel’s civilian population. Israel’s mistake has always been its willingness to return land acquired in wars of self-defense “for peace,” rather than put forward our national right… to live in the land of Israel. – Steve of Mevaseret, in a Talkback to Leibler, December 21, 2013.

Isi Leibler is a columnist of considerable talent. His analyses are perceptive and penetrating, and as a rule I find myself largely in agreement with his assessments of the political events in the Middle East and beyond.

Common misperceptions & misunderstandings

Yet despite my esteem for him and his work – or perhaps, because of it – I feel compelled to take issue with him over his recent column (“It is crucial Netanyahu creates a coherent settlement policy,” December 21).

Let me underscore that I am taking up this matter because the points in dispute are of general relevance for the debate on what Israel’s policy should be with regard to the Palestinian issue, particularly in light of Israel’s tarnished international image.

With all due respect to Leibler, several of the policy prescriptions that he urges Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to adopt reflect misperceptions/misunderstandings prevalent among those who deem themselves “right of center,” i.e. those who reject the Left’s unmitigated concessions but still feel that some durable agreement might be hammered out that will leave certain portions of Judea-Samaria (such as the large settlement blocs) and east Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.

These misconceptions and misunderstandings are highly detrimental because they perpetuate the illusion that continued efforts will somehow bear fruit and a reasonable pact can be forged to end the conflict with “two states living side-by-side in peace and prosperity.”

Ignoring realities prolongs conflict

But these efforts ignore the realities on the ground and the lessons that should have been learned from the experience of the past two decades. As such they generate two harmful effects: (a) They communicate, whether explicitly or implicitly, that the Palestinians’ claims have a measure of merit and that there is potentially some value in complying with them, whether because of political pragmatism or moral principle; (b) They result in an ongoing process of Israeli concessions in the vain hope that further “goodwill gestures” or “confidence-building measures” will somehow coax the Palestinians into a negotiated resolution of the conflict.

These two elements operate to validate – indeed, stiffen – Palestinian intransigence and hence, prolong the conflict, and promote pressures for even more Israeli concessions.

Regrettably, and probably unwittingly, Leibler reinforces these unfortunate propensities by suggesting that, in the territories across the pre-1967 lines, a distinction should be drawn between areas such as “major settlement blocs and east Jerusalem,” which he – wistfully – deems “will always remain part of Israel,” and other areas which he concedes are “disputed” – but, in effect acknowledges, will not always remain a part of Israel.

But more on the far-reaching implications of this unwarranted distinction later.

Correct diagnosis of Netanyahu’s policy defects

Leibler correctly diagnoses the defects in Netanyahu’s settlement policy.

He acknowledges that Netanyahu faces daunting difficulties in this regard, noting that “heading a coalition government comprised of conflicting groups ranging from Tzipi Livni’s dovish Hatnua to Naftali Bennett’s hawkish Bayit Yehudi… has made it extraordinarily difficult to develop a coherent strategy.”

This is undoubtedly true. But Leibler fails to mention that this conflicting composition of the coalition is largely a result of the atrociously dysfunctional electoral campaign Netanyahu ran, almost snatching disastrous defeat from the jaws of certain victory.

This same ineptness is reflected in Leibler’s censure of the prime minister’s performance hitherto: “Netanyahu faces ceaseless pressure from the Americans and Europeans, and is often intimidated by a rabidly hostile media and unduly influenced by fickle public opinion polls. These combined elements… result in paralysis, zigzagging and the implementation of contradictory policies… that benefit our adversaries and confuse our friends.”

He adeptly identifies the counter-productive contradictions in Israel’s Palestinian policy, chastising: “Netanyahu condemns Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority for their intransigence… Yet, in order to placate the Americans and the dovish elements of his coalition, he frequently praises Abbas as a ‘genuine peace partner.’” He adds, again with considerable justification: “the prime minister’s inconsistencies have been a major contributing factor towards alienating our allies… This erratic approach and repeated contradictory, ill-timed statements have heightened divisiveness within the country and enabled our adversaries to depict us as duplicitous.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Incorrect prescription for remedy

But, while Leibler’s diagnosis of the malaise afflicting Netanyahu’s settlement policy and the difficulties facing the PM, is impeccably accurate, his prescription for its remedy is completely off target. He is demonstrably wrong in suggesting that it was the “blurr[ing of the] distinction between construction in the major settlement blocs and east Jerusalem,” and elsewhere in Judea-Samaria, which has led to “[v]irtually the entire world [being] deluded into believing that settlements represent the principal obstacle to peace.”

ramat gan as seen from palestine

Quite the opposite. The real reason for much of the international misunderstanding – and hence enmity – towards Israel with regard to the Palestinian-cum-settlement issue is the abysmal performance of Israel’s public diplomacy over the past several decades, and its utter failure to convey to the world the imperative of applying Jewish (I stress “Jewish”) sovereignty over the entire Land of Israel, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

In this regard, Leibler’s designation of this imperative as reflecting “maximalist positions” or “extreme-right” ideology are extremely unhelpful, to say the least.

The demand for Jewish sovereignty over the entire area across the pre-1967 Green Line is no more than the clear duty of any prudent, responsible government of Israel. For as one perceptive talk-backer, cited in the introductory excerpts, correctly notes: “Any territory evacuated by the IDF will become a base for terrorist assault on Israel’s civilian population.”

There is nothing “maximalist” or “extreme-right in advocating a policy designed to preclude such an eventuality – especially in light of the precedents. To refrain from doing so would be extreme recklessness, reflecting inexcusable disregard for the lives and limbs of Israelis.

Incorrect prescription (continued)

Leibler is right in warning that urgent action is required and that to “avert disaster, Netanyahu must now seize the moment to develop a coherent and consistent government policy,” and that if “our leaders... do not succeed in achieving minimum long-term security and… defensible borders, their failure will haunt future Israeli generations.” But the parameters of such a coherent, consistent policy are very different from those that Leibler suggests.

For focusing on large settlement blocs will not deliver defensible borders or long-term security. The strategic importance of a given location is more a function of its location and topographic features, rather than of the population resident on it.

Control of the entire western slopes of the Judean-Samarian highlands, from the approaches to the southern port city of Ashdod, via the urban sprawl of greater Tel Aviv to the fringes of Haifa in the North, is necessary to secure the heavily populated Coastal Plain, in which over 80 percent of the country’s civilian population reside and 80% of its commercial activity is conducted. Control of the areas on the crest of the highlands around Jerusalem are necessary for securing the capital; and control of the eastern slopes are imperative to secure the Jordan Valley – which as Yitzhak Rabin stipulated, even after signature of the Oslo II Accords in September 1995 – must remain Israel’s security border.

So even if some pedantic geo-strategist can demonstrate that some of the designated areas are not absolutely crucial in terms of Israel’s national security, these would never aggregate into a territorial entity that could be seriously offered to the Palestinians in a proposal that would even remotely address their demands.

Less defensible than pre-’67 ‘Auschwitz borders’

To grasp just how irrelevant “the large settlement blocs” are to the creation of “defensible borders,” all one has to do is glance at a map detailing proposals for land swaps with the Palestinians that would enable all – or some – of “the large settlement blocs” to remain under Israeli sovereignty.

Whether it is the Washington Institute’s “Imagining the Border: Options for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Issue”; or Ehud Olmert’s purported “Peace Plan” (as per Haaretz, December 17, 2009); or the Geneva Initiative’s proposal for “Israel-Palestine Permanent Borders,” they each prove to be more hair-raising and harebrained then the next.

Not only do they all leave most to the indefeasible pre- 1967 Green Line as the permanent frontier, they propose linking the “large settlement blocs” to the Israeli “mainland” by long, tenuous fingers, entirely immersed in surrounding Palestinian territory. This not only makes them even less defensible than the indefensible “Green Line” but greatly increases the length of the country’s borders, which the IDF would have to patrol and secure – at enormous cost, in terms of both manpower and money.

But as chilling as these proposals are, they are now being discarded by obsessive two-staters in favor of even more extreme measures, which underscores the irrelevance of “large settlement blocs” for the attainment of defensible borders.

Abandon rather than evict

As I pointed out in last week’s column, a new, egregious concept is beginning to insert itself into the public debate on settlements and frontiers.

Apparently despairing of any government being able to evacuate the Jewish residents from “large settlement blocs,” two-staters are beginning to tout the idea of abandoning them – whether in autonomous enclaves, or as private individuals under Arab sovereignty. I have – as promised – still to discuss the full iniquity of this invidious idea. But it should be noted that, in different forms, it is being promoted by influential and well-funded institutes such as the Hartman Institute and the INSS, and dispenses with the need for connecting “fingers” between the settlements and the rest of Israel.

Thus in the INSS paper (“Jewish Enclaves in a Palestinian State,” April 8) by Gideon Biger and Gilead Sher, we read – with disbelief: “Creation of the enclaves will reduce the need for territorial ‘fingers’ in the direction of Kiryat Arba, Ariel and Emanuel, which will reduce the amount of land needed for land swaps...

So much for the relevance of increased construction in the “large settlement blocs” for ensuring defensible borders.

The real challenge of leadership

The real challenge of leadership is not – as Leibler suggests – to seek consensus around prevailing perceptions of coalition partners, but to generate consensus around Israel’s immutable security imperatives.

One cannot really gauge Israel’s political options, or the international constraints on it, given the current feeble and often counterproductive efforts in the field of public diplomacy. For while I fully agree with Leibler’s assessment that “when negotiations collapse, we [could] face devastating repercussions,” the answer does not lie in forsaking the areas outside “large settlement blocs.” Rather it lies in what I have been advocating repeatedly in the past – a massive $1 billion (1% of the state budget) assault on international (and domestic) opinion.

The overriding objective of such an enterprise must be to delegitimize the Palestinian narrative and expose it as the bogus historical fabrication it is. It must discredit any notion of land-for-peace and Palestinian statehood.

It must drive home that between the river and the sea there can only – and eventually will – prevail either total Jewish sovereignty or total Muslim sovereignty. That is not maximalist right-wing extremism – merely sound political science.

The challenge of Israeli leadership is to convey this to the nation and the world.


Some of the comments that added useful information.

Vivienne Leijonhufvud

No foreign US policy, negotiation of land for peace or coalition will solve the Palestinian problem. Ten years from now as a consequence of school curricular further Jihads against Israel will arise. Israel's borders include River Jordan, Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea plus Golan Heights, all land as far as the Med and including the Sinai Peninsular was and is Israel. Israeli Arabs are represented proportionately in the Knesset therefore voices are heard. Disgruntled Arabs, terrorists and Abbas need to be repatriated to any other Arab nation of their choice (in the case of Abbas where ever his fraudulent bank accounts are, as in the case of Arafat). No cohesive infrastructure has been provided by the PA including welfare, health and public housing for the less well off despite huge sums of aid. Most residents of the Arab occupied states work in Israel this in itself highlights the incompetence of the PA areas.

Eliyahu Konn

"Israel’s mistake has always been its willingness to return land acquired in wars of self-defense “for peace,” rather than put forward our national right… to live in the land of Israel."

This should be pasted in every column of every media outlet.

Steve of Mevaseret

The 3000 year historical connection of the Jewish nation to the Land of Israel can be summarized as follows: The Bible describes God’s promise of the Land of Israel to Abraham and his descendents. No nation has ever existed as an independent nation in this land other then the Jewish nation described in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Cyrus of Persia recognized the Jews as a nation living in exile and provided them support to return to the Land of Israel and rebuild their Temple. After the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire was divided into the Seleucid (Syrian) and the Ptolmy (Egyptian) spheres of influence. The Maccabees defeated the Seleucid army and re-established a free Jewish nation in the Land of Israel.

Josephus describes the Jewish War against the Roman Empire in the opening lines of his account as “the greatest war every fought between city or nation”. The historian Cassius Dio reports in his “History of Rome” that 580,000 Jewish soldiers were killed in the Bar Kochva Rebellion that occurred 60 years later. Cassius Dio indicates that Roman losses were so heavy that the Emperor Hadrian fails to begin his account of the battles with the customary opening statement “I and my legions are well”. Cassius Dio reports that Judea was made desolate. Jews were either killed or fled. This is the origin of the Jewish Diaspora. Rome changes the name of the Land of Israel to “Palestine”. There were no Palestinians.

The Arabs conquered the land in the 7th century. Palestine was never an independent nation during Arab rule. It was a neglected province governed from distant capitals (Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad) during the Arab Caliphates or during the Ottoman empire.

In the 19th century, Herzl envisioned the return of the Jewish people to live in the Jewish nation of Israel after 2,000 years of neglect. Visitors to Palestine described a “desolate wasteland” sparsely populated with no roads or other infrastructure. The Zionists rebuilt their nation through hard labor, draining swamps to eradicate malaria, building a national water carrier and an electric grid. The Jews purchased land from the Turkish Sultan, but their immigration was restricted. Arabs from neighboring countries walked across the border into Israel in search of employment and their population swelled. After the defeat of the Ottoman empire, the British received a mandate to establish a Jewish national Home in Palestine. They closed the gates to Jewish immigration with a “White Paper” issued in 1939 as Hitler threatened to annihilate the Jews of Europe. Their naval blockade of Israel’s coast to prevent “illegal immigration” persisted even after the horrors of the Holocaust were known. The Jewish nation of Israel is victorious in its war of independence and is admitted to the United Nations in 1949.

It was refreshing for me to learn that intelligent people actually read blogs that accompany articles. I find that many blogs are written by people with extremist views and I usually avoid reading any of them. Because I too highly value the commentary of Isi Leibler, I was drawn to writing the blog that I did. I must confess that the arguments that I put forward were ones that I learned in the 1970’s from fellow MIT students Bibi Netanyahu and Uzi Landau. In sharp contrast, mainstream Israeli politicians and scholars considered it essential for Israel to withdraw from the administered territories for “peace.” At that time, the demographic threat of an impending Arab majority in the land of Israel seemed inevitable and the race to abandon territory won in war was blocked only by Arab intransigence (“no peace, no recognition and no negotiation”). The demographic threat touted in 1967 has since been thoroughly debunked as doomsday predictions of an Arab majority in the land west of the Jordan River never materialized. Instead, careful population analyses have demonstrated a rising Jewish population as a percentage of the total population which contradict the wildly exaggerated population numbers by the Palestinian Authority in their bid for increased water rights and political recognition (See Yoram Ettinger, in Israel Hayom). The Jewish nation’s historic claim to sovereignty as the indigenous population of the land west of the Jordan River will be summarized in my next blog.


Il keep on saying posting this until the Israeli Government starts using this argument to defend Israel.

Settlements are legal Eugene W. Rostow assistant secretary of state for the United States in 1967 who wrote UN resolution 242 wrote in several articles New Republic in 1991 that resolution 242 never meant for Israel to go back to the 67 borders. He also wrote that settlements were legal in the West Bank based on the fact that the British mandate in 1922 could not be rescinded. There is nothing in his writings in any agreements that say Israel had to go back to 67, and nothing was ever mentioned about land swaps.Read also what the other authors wrote about Resolution 242 in the January 15 2007 article in Camera titled. "Security Council Resolution 242 According to its Drafters"

Lord Caradon: Quotes Res 242 "Much play has been made of the fact that we didn’t say “the” territories or “all the” territories. But that was deliberate. I myself knew very well the 1967 boundaries and if we had put in the “the” or “all the” that could only have meant that we wished to see the 1967 boundaries perpetuated in the form of a permanent frontier. This I was certainly not prepared to recommend."

"We could have said: well, you go back to the 1967 line. But I know the 1967 line, and it’s a rotten line" "Had we said that you must go back to the 1967 line, which would have resulted if we had specified a retreat from all the occupied territories, we would have been wrong."

Dr. Jacques Gauthier, a Canadian lawyer who specializes in international law says that the San Remo Conference was the “final hearing” of a “world court,” the council of the five leading nations and victors of World War I. The “case” before the “court” began at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, where both the Jews and the Arabs of the Middle East submitted claims to the council to obtain independence and control of various territories. Gauthier calls April 24-25 in San Remo the “key defining moment in history” on the issue of title to Jerusalem and says that Chaim Weizmann called the decision the “most important moment for the Jewish people since the exile.”

The legal machinery that set in motion the rebirth of Israel was the 1917 Belfour Declaration British Mandate etc which was formalised by the League of Nations at the San Remo Conference of 1920-22. This conference was intended to break up the old Ottoman Empire into individual nation states. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, the Allied powers literally created the nation states as we know them today. It was at this time that the borders of mandated Israel were created.

The legal foundation that formalised the state of Israel formalised the states of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait as well as the other 21 states of the Middle East. The area mandated for the state of Israel included all of the area that is now disputed, namely Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and all of the territory of Jordan. If Israel is illegitimate, so are the other Arab states created at the same time by the same mandate. When the United Nations succeeded the League of Nations, it ascended all of the former’s mandates, without modification.

Please see the 5 or so YouTube video lectures on Jerusalem judea and Samaria international law by famed non Jewish international lawyer Dr. Jacques Gauthier. Unfortunately can't post links in this forum. I only say "non Jewish" because to some bigots might use the excuse that he is Jewish for his Pro Israeli legal opinion

The British Mandate was recognized by the league of nations in 1923. As per wiki "In June 1922 the League of Nations approved the Palestine Mandate with effect from September 1923. The Palestine Mandate was an explicit document regarding Britain's responsibilities and powers of administration in Palestine including 'securing the establishment of the Jewish national home', and 'safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine"

This is my opinion. If Israel was to go back to the 67 borders with millions of Palestinians within walking distance of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea. Demographics of Open Borders will destroy Israel as the homeland for the Jewish People in 5 years. No more compromise. ANNEX AREA C and low populated areas of Area B. The security barrier borders are just as bad as the 67 borders."


Where Israel ever even mentions land swaps, it already concedes that the Arabs have a valid, maybe even superior, claim to the Land. Any such attempt by Israel to seem reasonable in the eyes of the international community turns out to be crucially damaging to Israel's claims and legitimacy.

The Arabs-and you have to give them credit-never make such a grievous error. They never concede-anything.

Which is one reason why any attempt by even well meaning people such as Isi Leibler to imagine a scenario where there might be a possible peace, i.e. that "some durable agreement might be hammered out that will leave certain portions of Judea-Samaria (such as the large settlement blocs) and east Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty" is wishful thinking.

The Arabs have been conditioned to believe by both the World and consecutive Israeli Governments, that they never need concede anything-not any area nor "East" Jerusalem. Israel would be wise to adopt their unbudging insistence of maximalist demands. If that leaves the status quo in place, so much the better then the alternative.


Build everywhere as fast as possible, stop enforcing the laws against Jewish "settlements". J.F.C. Fuller already proved conclusively, in the 1950s, that Israel needs to contain inside its borders all those territories, and possibly more. Excellent article, by the way.


Permit me to be even more blunt: those who still maintain - after countless dead and maimed Jews due to Israel's "peace process" obsession - that we can live "side by side" as long as we concede "this and that" are patently delusional.

Moreover, by their acquiescence to the so called "inevitable" division of our historical land, they have, in effect, validated ! PA claims as "righteous", as opposed to outright thievery via terror. Moreover, they completely dismiss the most salient aspect of the conflict - Islam's religious "holy" war against Israel/Jews, at least until we all submit to their will!

Therefore, under what rational paradigm does giving into ANY of their demands make sense, regardless of Washington's and other dictates? Mind you, every tinpot dictator gives Washington the finger and they just do what they want. So, kal v'chomer, our leaders could too, but they have their own agenda, a decidedly post Zionist one. That's the truth.

Martin Sherman ( served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli Defense establishment. He was a ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir's government and lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations and Strategic Studies. He holds several university degrees: a B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), an MBA (Finance), and a PhD in political science and international relations. He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and is the author of two books and numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. He is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies ( This article appeared December 26, 2013 in the Jerusalem Post and is archived at

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