In her discussions with professional ministry staff, Hotovely, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, envisioned a large permanent exhibition that would stress Israel’s connection to the West Bank, under the headline of “Coming home,” or “Returning to the Jewish homeland.”
Countering Israel’s detractors who consider the settlements an illegal land grab — and can thus be expected to mark 50 years since the beginning of “the occupation” — Hotovely wants to celebrate the settlements as the Jewish people’s legitimate return to its indigenous land.
“We’re often seen as a country without roots, a new country that represents an ancient people but whose roots in this land are very short. The idea is to bring us back to the bigger picture,” Hotovely said. “There is a terribly beautiful story of a nation that all these years remained connected to this land and we want to tell it with innovative visual means and open it for the greater public.”
Who did we ‘occupy’ the West Bank from?
As for whether diplomats in the Foreign Ministry, many of whom are more dovish than the deputy minister, will be happy with the plan, Hotovely doesn’t really care — she’s their boss.
“The question is not whether the officials agree with me. Their job is to carry out the policies that I determine,” she said. “I don’t need to convince them. I was elected to represent a policy that views the settlement enterprise a moral, just and legitimate project, and I was elected to protect it.”
An ardent opponent of Palestinian statehood who favors an Israeli annexation of the West Bank, Hotovely said that in the new year, the Foreign Ministry should combat the internationally accepted notion that Israel is occupying Palestinian territories.
The term “occupation” is legally incorrect, she argued. “What is occupation? Who did we occupy [the West Bank] from? It was not under Palestinian sovereignty. It is in no way possible to say it is a occupation in the regular sense of one country occupying another country.”
Last month’s UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which declared Israeli settlement outside the pre-1967 lines as having “no legal validity” and constituting “a flagrant violation under international law,” did nothing to change her mind.
“The more the world says the settlements aren’t legal, the more we say them to that, yes, they’re indeed legal,” she said Wednesday.
Since the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, Israeli diplomats have made no efforts to talk about Israel’s historic, legal and moral rights to the West Bank, she lamented.
“For many years, instead of arguing that the term is erroneous, we said that the two sides will resolve the issue in negotiations. This is not something that helps you declare that this [land] is mine, I belong here, that this is a place that I have rights to,” she said.
But in the current climate, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are not likely to be renewed, let alone produce a lasting peace agreement, Hotovely added. The Palestinians are not interested in bilateral talks because they can reach their objectives by appealing to the international community to force Israel into concessions, she posited.
Therefore, she said, the only response to this Palestinian tactic is to create “a new paradigm” — innovative ideas that, according to her, no longer include a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
‘Just because it’s a difficult mission doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tackle it’
Given the regional turmoil, “more and more people in the world” understand that no Palestinian state will come into being anytime soon, she said. “This includes people who were involved in the Oslo Accords. What happened in the Middle East over the last five years challenges their basic understanding of the peace process.”
Foreign dignitaries she meets in her capacity as deputy foreign minister are “embarrassed” when she asks them what would replace Israeli settlements — Islamic State or Hamas? — Hotovely said. “They don’t have a good answer to give me.”
But in order to change their position, prevalent in the international community, that the settlements are illegal, Israeli diplomats have to be ready to defend their legitimacy and not merely say they are an issue to be dealt with in future negotiations, she said.
“Just because it’s a difficult mission doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tackle it.”
Sooner or later, the world will start believing in the settlements’ legitimacy, Hotovely vowed. Europe saw decades of bloody conflicts before peace was achieved, and so Europeans should not seek a “Band-aid solution” for the Middle East, where Jews are indigenous, she argued.
“European colonial powers went abroad to expand their territory and to rule over other nations. We didn’t come here as colonialists; this is the Jews’ only country. I don’t think they have the moral right to come and complain to us. All we do is settle our land.”
Apologizing for the comparison, she said that during World War II the free world also needed “time to understand” what the Nazis were up to and to starting fighting them. “Europe’s enlightened countries were conquered one after the other by the Nazis. They raised a white flag and didn’t even try to fight for their rights,” she said.
“With all due respect, the fact that the world collectively thinks a certain way doesn’t make it right, or smart. History shows us time and again that it’s OK to have independent views.”