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Is Annexing the West Bank a ‘Moral Right’?

A mainstream polemic shows how far some will go to justify Israel's grip on the Palestinians—if not their outright removal.
west bank checkpoint

Last week The Federalist published an opinion piece by Jason D. Hill, professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago. As I read this commentary, I had to wonder whether it was some kind of spoof. It seems to have been written to poke fun at over-the-top Zionists; and this may indeed be the case—or so one can hope.

In his essay, Hill insisted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should faithfully keep his campaign promise to incorporate West Bank settlements. In fact, according to Hill, the Israeli leader has a “moral right to annex all of the West Bank…for a plethora of reasons.”   

This “plethora of reasons” comes down basically to four. First, the Israelis were too “altruistic” in dealing with the Palestinians whom they conquered in 1967. It would been better if the Israelis had regarded the Palestinians as “enemies of the state: supporters of the Fatah (Palestinian Liberation Organization) Charter, which basically calls for the end of Jewry in the region.” Jewish conquerors should have immediately annexed the land and made “the people there [who should have been expelled] the responsibility of their original homeland: Jordan.”

Second, he implies that Palestinian authority doesn’t deserve any better, in part because it fails to recognize the inherent inferiority of their people in relation to the Jewish masters of the West Bank: “Jewish exceptionalism and the exceptionalist nature of Jewish civilization require an unconditional space for the continued evolution of their civilization. What’s good for Jewish civilization is good for humanity at large. Jewish civilization is an international treasure trove that must be protected.”

Third, Israel has “every moral right to wage a ruthless and unrelenting war against Hamas and to re-settle the land if it ever so desires.” On top of that, the United States is morally obligated to pay “political and financial reparations” to Israel, supplying it with “more advanced military capabilities” so that it can maintain its “unrivaled military status in the Middle East.”

Finally, Hill solemnly arrives at his last point. The Palestinians have no moral authority “because they have never explicitly held a philosophy that can support freedom, the basic principles of individual rights, and a free market economy.” Additionally, they vote for terrorist organizations like Hamas to represent them. In short, they are a “security threat to Israel because a core feature of their identity is a commitment to destroying Israel as a Jewish state.” It is therefore immoral to accept “anti-Semitics devoted to the destruction of Israel into the domain of Jewish civilization.”

Hill does make two serious points: one, that Israelis face an immense security problem and two, that the Palestinians on the West Bank (and let’s not forget Gaza) are angry because of both the cramped conditions and military control/occupation they’ve had to endure for decades. Right and wrong can be found on both sides of this protracted conflict: Palestinians were defeated and expelled from what is now Israel, while Israelis are being threatened by violence from the descendants of those whom they defeated and their terrorist allies.

But Hill’s extravagant description of “Jewish civilization” in language that recalls the extreme, belligerent nationalists of an earlier age does nothing to help his cause, nor for that matter, the credibility of The Federalist. And why exactly should I suppose that every Palestinian is a terrorist or theocratic fanatic? Understandably, desperate people vote for extremist parties. I too wish that West Bank Palestinians were more reasonable and more compromising but I can understand their frustration as an occupied population.

Finally, I’m wondering whether any government that Hill judges to be “better” than another one has a moral right to overthrow the offending regime and then expel its inhabitants. Or is this a one-time deal only for Israelis? By the way, “reparations” are the things that the Germans paid Nazi victims, not the support a nation gives to a weaker ally. Perhaps Hill is telling us more about what should be the servile U.S. relationship to Israel than he intends.

But the most childish piece of advice Hill offers, which the Israelis fortunately never took, is sending West Bank Palestinians to neighboring Jordan. Is Hill aware that Jordan has over two million Palestinians, some of whom have been there since 1948, and has taken in a total of 657,628 Syrian refugees as of early 2018? King Abdullah of Jordan has maintained generally friendly relations with both the United States and Israel, and the last thing he needs is the turmoil and political unrest that would result from sticking more irate Palestinians, who had been kicked out of their homes, into his country.

This commentary has made me think of an unpleasant experience in my own life. In 1987 I lost the chance for a graduate professorship at a large university in Washington, D.C. after several noted neoconservatives called my prospective employer and insisted passionately that “I was not quite reliable on Israel.” If Professor Hill has established the standard of who is “reliable on Israel,” then perhaps my accusers were correct.

Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.