Netanyahu Should Learn From Pinchas Sapir

Pinchas Sapir uttered his famous words shortly after the war between Israel and its Arab neighbors in June 1967: “If Israel keeps holding the territories, in the end the territories will hold Israel.”

pinchas-sapirIn 1906 Pinchas Koslowski was born in Suwalski in the former Great Russian Tsar-empire. Later on in his life he immigrated to the British controlled area of Mandate Palestine. He then later rose to become one of the leaders of the Zionist movement in the struggle for a Jewish State.

He changed his name to Pinchas Sapir, something which was very common among the Israeli leaders, who all tried to accommodate and embrace the Hebrew language. They all looked upon to David Ben Gurion, whom himself had done the same. Sapir was known as a hard-working Secretary of the Treasury in numerous Labour governments in the first decades of Israeli statehood. He died in his beloved Israeli hometown of Kfar Saba in 1975, the same place he had resided since he came to the country in 1936.

Why do I choose to write about this particular Israeli politician, who died more than 35 years ago? It is plain and simple, as Pinchas Sapir uttered his famous words shortly after the war between Israel and its Arab neighbors in June 1967: “If Israel keeps holding the territories, in the end the territories will hold Israel.”

Sapir rightly predicted permanent control of the West Bank would pose grave challenges

Ever since the Six Day War in 1967, a debate has taken place on whether Israel should build in the conquered area captured in the war against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Since then Israel made peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994. In exchange for peace, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Sadat in 1979 and demarcated its border with Jordan. Israel, Egypt and Jordan terminated their state of belligerency and achieved diplomatic relations.

In 2005, Israel evacuated its military, civilians and settlements from the Gaza Strip. Yet Israel continues to control large parts of the West Bank, including the Eastern part of Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights taken from Syria in the north.

Control of the West Bank and large parts of the settlements has deeply affected Israeli politics. One can mention the organization called “Breaking the Silence” which comprises former Israeli soldiers who speak about their often difficult experiences while on serving in the West Bank. Former premiers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert have both stated that Israel is risking the chance of ending up like an apartheid state with first and second-class citizens.

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In the fall of 2012, the former Israeli government led by Benyamin Netanyahu announced 1,500 new housing-units would be built in eastern Jerusalem. This was announced shortly after Netanyahu responded to the Palestinian upgrade at the UN with announcing 3,000 new housing-units in the West bank, while plans to expand the disputed E-1 highway.

Ever since US Vice President Joe Biden visited Israel in 2010, there has been a reluctance to build new settlements in the West Bank. The newest verified numbers show that roughly 305,000 Israelis have a permanent address on the West Bank. This is a very large number, which is something to remember when the peace talks hopefully see the light of day once more.

In 2009 Netanyahu publicly stated that he supports a two-state solution. Yet his policies have not lived up to this claim. The new Israeli government elected in January 2013 has done nothing to alter this fact. Settlements are definitely not the only hindrance toward a peace between Israel and the Palestinians. However every time an Israeli government launches new projects on the West Bank, it makes it even harder to believe that a final agreement can be reached between the struggling parties.

I thought that the presence of Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, two dovish peace-politicians which replaced Netanyahu’s former religious coalition partners, would make a peace deal more imminent. Yet the last part of the new Israeli government is the former head of the settlement movement, Naftali Bennet. So far he has dictated the course of the new government towards the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has an office in Jerusalem filled with books about Word History. He allegedly inherited the collection from his father, who died last year and was a famous historian. I tend to think though, that Netanyahu has forgotten to read the part of history about Pinchas Sapir.

David Jano earned his Master’s degree in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Southern Denmark. He is an expert on Israeli politics, society and culture, and has contributed to Danish television, radio and various written Danish Media. Read other articles by David.