Israel’s New Deputy FM: ‘This Land is Ours. All of It’

By Patrick Goodenough | May 21, 2015 | 9:15pm EDT
Tzipi Hotovely is Israel’s new deputy foreign minister. (Photo: Israeli Foreign Ministry)

( – Israel – all of it – belongs to the Jewish people, the country’s new deputy foreign minister declared Thursday, citing a religious text and saying it was time Israeli diplomats stop using smart arguments in explaining Israel’s case to the international community, and “tell the world that we’re right.”

In remarks certain to infuriate the Palestinians and their supporters, Tzipi Hotovely told foreign ministry employees, speaking in Hebrew, “It’s important to say this land is ours. All of it is ours. We didn’t come here to apologize for that.”

The 36 year-old Hotovely, a member of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, is a vocal supporter of the right of Jews to live in what observant Jews like her describe as Israel’s biblical heartland, Judea and Samaria – or what the world calls the West Bank, demanded by the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) for an independent state.

“We must return to the basic truth about our right to the land,” Israeli media quoted her as saying. “Of course the world understands Israel’s security needs, but arguments of ethics and justice will trump security arguments.”

Against the backdrop of today’s debates over rights to the land, Hotovely cited a Torah commentary by a medieval rabbi, Rashi (Shlomo Yitzhaki), who said that should Jews be challenged about having stolen the land from the Canaanites, they should reply that God, who created everything, was entitled to take land away from one people and give it to the Jews if he so desired.

During an English portion of her comments, Hotovely said the government expects the international community to back up Netanyahu’s demand that Israel be recognized as the Jewish national state.

“And moreover, we expect as a matter of principle the international community recognize Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in their homeland – everywhere,” she added, in a clear reference to communities in disputed territory widely regarded as “illegal settlements.”

Netanyahu’s new cabinet does not yet include a foreign minister – the prime minister has acting responsibility for the portfolio – which means Hotovely is effectively Israel’s top diplomat.

In Thursday’s speech she also accused the P.A. of focusing more on pressurizing Israel in the international community than on returning to negotiations leading to a resolution to the conflict.

“Unilateral steps by the Palestinians in the international arena will only impair a resolution and will not advance them in any way,” Hotovely said.

“This is maybe the biggest challenge of Israel, the fact that at the moment the legal arena is as important as the diplomatic arena, and the fact that the Palestinians are trying to convict Israel more than they would like to get to the negotiation table,” she added, in a likely reference to the International Criminal Court.

Israel’s left-wing Ha’aretz newspaper headlined Hotovely’s citing of a rabbi, and said diplomats present during the speech said “her remarks raised eyebrows among many in the audience.”

The paper quoted one unnamed diplomat as saying her listeners were “in shock,” never having been advised before to use a Torah commentary in their diplomatic efforts around the world.

Oval Office credibility

On the eve of his re-election in March, Netanyahu unsettled the Obama administration by appearing to rule out Palestinian statehood on his watch, saying that establishing a Palestinian state today would amount to yielding territory to the rising forces of radical Islam, which would use that territory as a launchpad for attacks against Israel.

In a lengthy interview with week with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, President Obama explained why his administration had responded to Netanyahu’s comment as it had.

“When something like that happens, that has foreign-policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues,” he said.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu told visiting European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini that he does support the “two-state solution,” but reiterated his long-stated conditions that a Palestinian state must be demilitarized, and must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The P.A. has repeatedly rejected both.

The French newspaper Le Figaro reported Wednesday that France is drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution that will set an 18-month timetable for a final status agreement between Israel and the P.A. resulting in Palestinian statehood.

A similar bid in 2014 drew U.S. opposition, although the administration did not in the end have to use its veto to defeat it, as the resolution did not receive the minimum support – nine of the council’s 15 members – for it to advance.

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