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Israel, the 'Accidental Empire'

The Six-Day War of 1967 left Israel with a dilemma: what to do with the land it had taken in the process of winning a conflict that also involved Egypt, Syria and Jordan. A new book, The Accidental Empire, looks at what came next.


Other segments from the episode on March 7, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 7, 2006: Interview with Gershom Gorenberg; Review of the television show "Sons and daughters."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Gershom Gorenberg discusses the creation of Israeli
settlements in the occupied territories and the controversies
surrounding it

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The future of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories continues to
be one of the most contentious issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians.
Even within Israel, there are strong disagreements about whether the
settlements have helped or hurt the country. Before his massive stroke,
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon led the unilateral withdrawal of settlers
from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Israel's acting prime minister, Ehud
Olmert says he will evacuate additional West Bank settlements if his Kadima
Party wins the election on March 28th. Any withdrawal would likely be
unilateral since Hamas, which now dominates the Palestinian government,
doesn't recognize Israel.

My guest Gershom Gorenberg has written a history of the Israeli settlements
and the controversies surrounding their creation. It's called "The Accidental
Empire." He's a former columnist for the Jerusalem Report and is now the
Jerusalem correspondent for The Forward in New York.

Gershom Gorenberg, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Why is there so much at stake
for every side now in the future of the settlements?

Mr. GERSHOM GORENBERG (Author, "The Accidental Empire"): Well, the
settlements were put in the occupied territories in order to stake an Israeli
claim to that land. They've also resulted in a situation where there's an
overlapping population of Israelis and Palestinians through the West Bank.
And that makes it much more difficult for Israel to pull out of that area.
Since the most commonly agreed and most realistic solution to the
Israeli/Palestinian conflict would be some sort of pullback, there's a
tremendous tension around the issue of how that could take place given that
the settlements are there.

GROSS: Now, when we think of many of the settlements as having their major
support from religious right in Israel, but the first settlement you say,
after the Six-Day War in 1967, the settlement was made up of supporters of
secular leftists.

Mr. GORENBERG: Yes. That's correct. The original impulse, I think, to
settle in the occupied territories really came out of the tradition of the
left. The so-called Labor Zionist movement was really built around the idea
of settling the land, of Jews returning to the soil. And that had been a
major part of its program for Israel's establishment in 1948. And for many of
the people who are now Israel's leaders, people in their middle age or older,
the results of the 1967 war, the conquest of new territory, presented to them
a vision of the possibility of returning to the heroic days of their youth, of
settling the land. And many of them were very excited about this possibility.
And that was one of the impulses that led to the establishment of the very
first settlements beyond the pre-'67 lines.

GROSS: Are you saying some of the first settlements weren't about claiming
land in the occupied territories as part of a greater Israel? It was about
returning to the land?

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, all these factors were involved. There was the allure
of settling the land as such. There was a sense that the pre-'67 boundaries
had left Israel very vulnerable. And for some of the people, including on the
left, there was an attachment to a larger homeland, a sense that the pre-'67
borders had truncated the land of Israel. A dream remained of larger land.
Every revolution ends up with less than its proponents dream of. In the case
of the establishment of Israel, for some people at least, the difference
between the dream and reality was marked on the map. And the '67 war gave
some of those people a sense that now they could realize some of the dreams
that had seemed to be lost in 1948.

GROSS: You reprint a memo that was written just after the '67 war by Theodor
Meron who was the legal counsel of the foreign ministry in Israel. And he
writes, "My conclusion is that civilian settlements in the administered
territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva
Convention." What did he mean, and what do you think of the significance of
this 1967 memo?

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, what he meant is that establishing Israeli civilian
settlements over the pre-'67 boundaries would be a violation of the Fourth
Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying party from settling its citizens,
its civilians, in occupied land. He came to the conclusion that that
prohibition applied not only to the Golan Heights but also to the West Bank,
and that Israel should not create civilian settlements in that territory. The
memo has a couple of implications. One implication is that he was asked for
it, which is to say that in early September of 1967, Prime Minister Levi
Eshkol was already considering approving settlement in the occupied
territories and he was explicitly looking for what the legal parameters were
in this case. The second implication is that after Meron wrote that memo and
gave it to the foreign minister and it was passed on to the prime minister,
that Israeli leaders were aware that their best expert on the subject believed
that creating civilian settlements in the occupied territories would violate
international law.

Now there was one loophole or implication of a loophole in the Meron memo, and
that was that military bases, clearly temporary in nature, could be
established under international law in occupied territory. So the first
officially approved settlements in West Bank and Golan Heights were labeled as
belonging to a branch of the army that set up paramilitary outposts, outposts
that were attached to the army, where the settlers belonged to the army, were
soldiers, but also farmed the land. And, officially, that was the framework
of the settlements, but in the case of the first settlement that the
government approved, that was a fiction. And so I would say that the use of
the fiction itself indicated that the government accepted this memo as valid
and was trying to exploit the loophole in it.

GROSS: How controversial were the first settlements in Israel, among

Mr. GORENBERG: At the beginning, I think that the controversy was really
minimal for one reason. The government tended at the start to be very quiet
about its settlement activities. There were a couple of reasons for that.
First of all, there was a lot of indecision in the government itself about
whether to settle in the occupied territories. The whole settlement
enterprise did not develop as a result of a single overarching decision that
Israel was going to keep these territories and put up settlements everywhere.
It was much more a result of not being able to reach an overall decision about
the future of the territories, not being certain what the diplomatic future
would hold, and therefore making tiny steps here and there.

A second reason that the government was quiet is that that was the political
tradition of the ruling party was to act quietly, not to make grand
declarations. And as things developed, also some of the people who were in
charge of the settlement effort were people who had a great love for secrecy.
So the establishment of new settlements was not normally trumpeted in public.
It also took place in areas in which most Israelis could agree that there was
an Israeli security interest in holding onto that land.

I think the first real controversy broke out about settlements nearly a year
after the 1967 war when settlers move into the West Bank city of Hebron on a
wild-cap basis, without government approval, and then after the fact, got
government approval to stay there. That upset people, or at least some people
in the country because it was done without government approval. It made the
settling of foreign policy a private initiative and because the idea of
settling within an Arab city seemed particularly provocative and particularly
likely to create conflict between Arabs and Jews. That's the first place I
pick up signs of any protests in the public.

GROSS: You mention that the first settlement was made up of secular leftists.
How did the settlement movement become primarily made up of religious

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, there was a generational gap when--right after the 1967
war. The people who were the aging founders of the state, who were trying to
go back to their youth, were very excited about setting up new settlements.
But you don't establish new farming, kibbutzim, communes with guys in their
50s. You do that with young people. And interestingly enough, their own
young people were mostly apathetic to the idea. It was very, very hard for
them to recruit young settlers either from the kibbutz movement or from the
city socialist youth movements that you normally drew settlers from. And so
there was always a lack of manpower. And a new theology had caught on among
young religious Israelis, a theology that said that the establishment of the
state and the 1967 war were proof that the process of final redemption was
taking place, that God was returning the holy land to the Jewish people. And
so people felt that by settling in the occupied territories, they were
becoming part of this divine pattern. And so young religious Israelis jumped
into the vacuum that was left by the lack or the dirth of secular settlers.

GROSS: Would you describe a little bit more what the religious philosophy was
behind those early settlements?

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, this was a theology which had essentially taken secular
nationalism and made it really religious. Secular nationalism makes the
ultimate value, a nation, our religion, our land, our people. In its origins,
it's really a challenge to religion. It says that instead of God being the
most important thing, the nation is. What had happened was that people who
wanted to be part of both, who wanted to be religious and part of the
nationalist mainstream, took nationalism and made it into a religious value
again. And part of the way that they did that was they said what God wants is
for His people to return to their land.

That's why this is happening. The secular Zionists were coming back and
settling the land, don't realize it but they're really doing God's work. And
we, who are aware of the real pattern, we can do it even better. And so we
can go and settle the land and we'll be, so they were saying to themselves, so
these religious settlers were saying to themselves, we can be the ideal
settlers because we'll have the consciousness of what it's really about.
We'll understand that we're doing God's work, and we will be bringing the
redemption closer, the final conclusion of history closer by settling the
land. Because that's what God wants us to do.

GROSS: Did part of this have to do with the belief that the territories that
were being settled were part of what was defined as Israel in Biblical times,
and therefore it should remain part of Israel?

Mr. GORENBERG: There was very much a sense that the land that was conquered
in 1967, particularly the West Bank, but the rest of the land as well was part
of the land promised to the Jewish people, to the people of Israel by God in
the Bible. Many of the places that were conquered were ones where central
events took place in the Bible. A classic example of this is the city of
Hebron in the West Bank, which was the city where traditionally it's believed
that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried. And there's a tomb there that is
supposed to be their tomb. And it's the city where King David began his first
rule as king. And many, many other places in the occupied territories were
places that you read about in the Bible.

This was a feeling, by the way, that went beyond simply the religious public
eye. Friends of mine who were children at the time have told me of parents
taking them through the West Bank the first summer after the conquest, the
summer of 1967, Bible in hand, and reading out verses about the events that
took place at whatever spot they were visiting. In secular Israel, the Bible
is very much regarded at the national epic, the connection between Jews and
their land. So there was a love affair based upon the Bible with much of the
land that was conquered. The question which confronted all of Israel at that
time was the balance between those romantic feelings toward the land and the
practical consideration.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Gershom Gorenberg, author of the new book, "The
Accidental Empire." We'll talk more about the history of the Israeli
settlements after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is journalist Gershom Gorenberg. His new book, "The
Accidental Empire," is about the creation of the Israeli settlements in the
occupied territories.

After the Six-Day War of 1967, did the religious and the secular settlers get
along with each other, even though their motivations were different?

Mr. GORENBERG: Oh, yes. At the beginning, I don't think that the conflict
arose. There's accounts of secular and religious settlers meeting each other,
feeling that they have a common purpose, even though they had really grown up
in different communities and weren't terribly familiar with each other. I
don't think that they had a full sense yet of the difference between their
ideologies. It was at a later stage, really after the Yom Kippur War of 1973
when the religious settlers began pressing to settle in areas of the West Bank
that the government had kept out of bounds, that the conflict between the
religious settlers and the secular leadership of the country and even other
settlement groups became much more pronounced. The government was trying to
balance between the desire to improve Israel's borders from a security point
of view, the basic sense of connection to this land as being part of the
Jewish homeland, those things on one side, and on the other side, the
recognition that there were hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in
those territories.

The government policy did not want to see those areas, the heavily populated
areas of the West Bank and next to Israel because the result would be to turn
Israel into a bi-national state. And repeatedly, politicians within the
ruling parties warned that if you annex the West Bank, you would end up with
actually the end of the Zionist enterprise. You would create a bi-national
state instead of a Jewish state. So the de facto policy that the government
worked out was to put up settlements in areas where there was very little Arab
population and to leave the parts of the West Bank that were heavily populated
free of settlements. The religious settlers did not accept these

After 1973, when the government first began negotiating with Arab countries
over possible peace arrangements, it became clear that some territory might be
given back. That scared the religious settlers, that they might lose the
chance to hold on to that territory. At the same time, the government had
really been weakened by the 1973 war, which was a total surprise to Israel.
It really damaged the credibility of the government, so it was a good
opportunity for a protest movement to assert itself, to claim to be more
patriotic, to be the real protector of the nation. And in that situation, the
religious settlers began pressing to settle in the parts of the West Bank that
the government had kept out of bounds. That's when the confrontation

GROSS: Your book begins with a confrontation at a train station near a
settlement, and this is members of the Gousemineme settlement in confrontation
with the government. Let's start with what Gousemineme represents in the
settlement movement.

Mr. GORENBERG: OK, Gousemineme was a protest movement which arose after the
Yom Kippur War of 1973. It was composed mainly of young religious Israelis
who believed very deeply in a theology which said that Israel had to hold on
to all of the territory that it had conquered, that doing so was part of the
process of final redemption. It saw the government as being weak, as not
sufficiently standing up for Jewish rights, and it saw itself, the young
religious Jews, as being the vanguard of the Jewish nation, the people who
would press the national goals, who would succeed in the national goals the
best. And very quickly, it adopted as its main tactic in confronting the
government the attempt to establish settlements in the northern West Bank in
areas where there was a very large Palestinian population, as a statement that
Israel would not give up this land.

And a series of confrontations developed between the summer of 1974 and the
winter of 1975, where time and again, sometimes dozens, sometimes thousands of
young protesters would show up at a particular spot in the West Bank and
declare that they were establishing a settlement there. And time and time
again, the soldiers were sent in and the would-be settlers were dragged out
and put on buses and pulled out of the settlement site. And sometimes secular
politicians would show up to support them. And one of the most famous
incidents, the freshman Knesset member, parliament member Ariel Sharon, who
was a famous general, showed up at one of the settlement attempts and ran
running from soldier to soldier telling them that their orders to evacuate the
settlers were illegal and that they should disobey those orders. And time and
again, despite that, the settlers were removed.

Finally, in December of 1975, one major attempt was made by Gousemineme to
establish a settlement. And one of the reasons that Gousemineme felt that it
could succeed this time is that the United Nations had recently passed the
resolution equating Zionism with racism. And there was tremendous anger in
Israel, really at the world, a sense of isolation, a sense of defiance. And
Gousemineme picked up on this and felt that it would have a large amount of
public support beyond the religious community for settling and for showing
that Israel wasn't giving into international pressure. In that way, the Arab
diplomatic victory at the UN really contributed to Gousemineme's push in 1975.

Gershom Gorenberg will continue the story in the second half of the show.
He's the author of a new book about the creation of the Israeli settlement
called "The Accidental Empire."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Coming up, more with journalist Gershom Gorenberg on the history of
the Israeli settlements. And TV critic David Bianculli reviews "Sons and
Daughters," a new ABC comedy premiering tonight.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Gershom Gorenberg,
author of the new book, "The Accidental Empire," about the history of the
Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and the controversies
surrounding their creation. Gorenberg is a former columnist for the Jerusalem
Report and is now Jerusalem corespondent for The Forward New York. When we
left off, he was discussing what he describes as a turning point in the
history of the settlements when members of Gousemineme made a major push to
establish an illegal settlement in the West Bank in December 1975.

Mr. GORENBERG: Thousands of young people gathered at this abandoned train
station near the city of Nablus. It was Hanukkah vacation, winter vacation
from school, which meant that there were lots and lots of teenagers available
as protesters. And they showed up in droves, and the government began to get
very afraid of the confrontation that would be involved in dragging these
protesters away.

GROSS: So would you describe what the confrontation was like and how it

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, what happened was that the settlers started to try to
drive in from Israel proper to this train station in the hills of the West
Bank. Soldiers had been told in advance to set up roadblocks to stop them.
When the cars were stopped at the roadblocks, the people got out of the cars
and continued marching on foot. There was a festival atmosphere among the
protesters. That kind of euphoria that can develop when there's a large crowd
of young people who feel that all their friends are there, that everybody is
there. They marched to the site, they set up tents. The soldiers were sent
in to surround them, but the government was very afraid of the confrontation
of removing them.

And the confrontation dragged on for day after day until the would-be settlers
had been there for a week. There were several thousands of them, and the
government was at its wit's end what to do about the situation. It didn't
want to let the settlers stay, and it didn't want the violent confrontation
with them. And at that point, the defense minister, who was Shimon Peres, was
sent to negotiate with the settlers. Peres was sent because he was defense
minister. As defense minister, he was responsible for the occupied
territories. So it was in his bailiwick. Part of the problem was that within
the government, Peres was actually one of the main supporters of settlement in
that area. In those days, Peres was perhaps the most hawkish member of the
ruling Labor Party and had a tremendous rivalry with Yitzhak Rabin who was the
prime minister. The two men actually despised each other passionately. So
Peres went up there to talk to the settlers.

In the midst of his conversations with them, he told them that they would have
to leave, that the government had said that they would have to leave. There
was great tension in the room, and then a compromise was proposed that 30 of
the settlers would be allowed to stay in a military base nearby while the
government had time to consider its policy on settling in this area. And to
avoid the confrontation, the government adopted that compromise. The settlers
actually met one more time with Peres who expanded the compromise to be 30
families. And that they would be given the opportunity to earn a livelihood
through the army. The changes in the compromise actually made the settlers
presence in the army base much more of a real settlement. And the government,
which was supposed to debate this within two to three months, actually put the
debate off for five months, and when it finally did debate what to do with
those settlers, it said, `Well, they'll have to move to another spot.' But it
didn't say what would happen if they didn't. Again the government was very
afraid of confrontation with the settlers. And...

GROSS: Why was the government so afraid of confrontation with the settlers?

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, the government was afraid of confronting people who
seemed to stand for patriotism, who seemed to stand for the national ideals.
Idealism was standing up to pragmatism, and the government was nervous that it
would look like it was left committed to the national ideals. That was one
reason. A second reason was that within Israel, it was very difficult to send
Israeli troops to confront other Jews. It was a young country. The sense of
being one group of people together was very strong, and the sense of the
government as protecting the law was weaker. So that particularly affected
the mass demonstrations, but it even affected the situation afterwards. And
the Rabin government itself was extremely weak. It was divided. There were
people of very different political perspectives within it. Rabin and Shimon
Peres were constantly in conflict, and that made it much more difficult for
the government to make a decision.

GROSS: Why do you see this confrontation between the Israeli government and
Gousemineme as being a turning point in the history of the settlements and of
Israeli policy towards the settlements?

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, first of all, the government lost control of its own
settlement policy at that point. The activists had shown that they could
determine where settlement would take place. One of the key defining
characteristics of the state had disappeared. The elected government wasn't
determining foreign policy any more. Secondly, the religious settlement
movement with its ideological commitment to not giving up a single inch was
now in the forefront. If beforehand there had been a secular leadership that
had been in conflict with itself that could be best known by its own
contradictions, its pull towards the romantic appeal of the land vs. its
practical fear of a bi-national state, now the people leading the settlement
movement were the ones who had no doubts, who knew exactly what the truth was
and who could push forward.

GROSS: How would you compare the confrontation between the Gousemineme and
the Israeli government in the mid-'70s with the confrontations this past
summer as soldiers tried to remove settlers from the West Bank?

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, what we saw this last summer when soldiers were
removing settlers both from the West Bank and from the Gaza Strip is that,
first of all, it was a much larger operation. This is something the settlers
had been there for many years. The crisis involved was actually much greater.
By not having dealt with the problem 20 years before, Israel was confronted
with a much larger problem. People who'd lived for years and years in the
territories who saw that as their home, who thought that the government had
allowed them to stay there, the crisis actually was much greater. Of course,
there was a tremendous irony that Sharon, the man who had called for
disobeying orders 20 years before was now the man calling for the evacuation,
who'd finally come to the conclusion himself that some of the settlements, at
least, was unsupportable and was leading Israel in the wrong direction.

GROSS: Shortly after Ariel Sharon reversed his policy and had the military
remove settlers from areas of the occupied territories, he had his stroke. He
remains in a coma. And he'll never again lead the government. What is the
policy now of Ehud Olmert who's the acting prime minister and who's now at the
top of the Kadima Party which Ariel Sharon co-founded? What is his policy
towards the settlement?

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, Olmert says that he's going to set the final borders of
Israel in such a manner that he will guarantee that there's a Jewish majority
in Israel. That is to say Olmert, a longtime lifetime member of the Israeli
right, somebody born and bred in the tradition of keeping what's called the
whole land of Israel, which means keeping the occupied territories, has now
accepted one of the classic arguments of the dovish side of Israeli, which is
that Israel must give up land in order to preserve its Jewish majority. It's
clear that Olmert intends to evacuate at least some settlements. He still
believes that he can hold on to many others.

In a certain very basic way, Olmert has now arrived at the map that some
people in the Labor Party were proposing in the mid-'70s. The basic problem
with that map remains that there is no Arab partner for such a deal. A
further problem that Olmert has is that the Palestinian elections have brought
to power within the Palestinian Authority a very hard-line party, the Hamas
Party, which refuses to recognize Israel, which increases the feeling that
there's no partner for peace negotiations. Under those circumstances, in the
last week, the talk has been, again, that Israel may, after the elections,
carry out some sort of unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.
That would inevitably mean removing some of the settlements, including some of
the very hard-line settlements. So even under that very partial plan for
withdrawal from the territories that Olmert's party is talking about, we can
expect some extremely serious confrontations between the government and the
hard-line settlers in the months or years ahead.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Gershom Gorenberg, author of the new book, "The
Accidental Empire." We'll talk more about the history of the Israeli
settlements after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is journalist Gershom Gorenberg. His new book, "The
Accidental Empire," is about the creation of the Israeli settlements in the
occupied territory. Before Prime Minster Ariel Sharon had his stroke, he led
a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza as well as from some settlements in the West
Bank. The leadership of Fatah was opposed to unilateral withdrawal, but Hamas
says it doesn't care because it's unwilling to negotiate with Israel anyway.
I asked Gorenberg to explain the position of Hamas.

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, I think that Hamas still sticks to an older Palestinian
position that negates the existence of the state of Israel entirely and which
places it beyond the pail as a negotiating partner. There's really a terrible
process going on here which is that the two sides come closer to the
recognition that the only solution is a partition of the shared--of the
contested homeland, and then on one side or the other, there's a pulling away
from that recognition.

Ultimately, the basic problem is that there are two national groups. They
both historically see the same piece of land as their homeland, and the only
way to achieve peace between them is for each group to settle for less than
its entire dream. Hamas has now gone back to saying we can't settle for less
than the whole dream. We might be willing to make a cease-fire with Israel if
it pulls back to the 1967 boundaries, but that cease-fire is framed as being
temporary. It implies that they really want to take the rest. And,
obviously, that does not create any great desire within Israel to negotiate
with them.

GROSS: How many settlers would you say there are now in the West Bank and
Gaza? And who are they? What do they represent politically?

Mr. GORENBERG: OK. There are no more settlers in the Gaza Strip as of last
summer. The latest Israeli government figures place the settler population in
the West Bank at approximately a quarter million. I would say that the best
estimates that I've seen--very, very rough estimates--are that about a quarter
of those settlers belong to the hard-line ideological settlement group, the
successors of Gousemineme. Gousemineme, as an organization, has ceased to
exist, but about a quarter of the settlers probably are part of that
tradition. A much-larger proportion of them are people who were attracted to
settlements over the years essentially for the suburban dream, particularly
under the years of Likud, right wing rule in Israel. Settlements were built
very, very heavily subsidized, particularly close to the old borders, and for
many Israelis, moving to a settlement was the first chance to get a private
house with a backyard or simply a larger apartment under better terms. And
that probably still represents the majority of the settler population.

GROSS: How much of the support behind the settlements in the occupied
territories has to do with security questions? With the feeling that Israel
is more secure with settlements in a territory?

Mr. GORENBERG: I think that there's a very wide feeling among a large part
of the Israeli public that Israel cannot afford to give up all of the
territories for security reasons. On the other hand, over recent years,
there's been a growing awareness in the public that the settlements, as such,
having civilians living in those territories, particularly in the scattered
settlements deep in the West Bank, has become more and more of a security
burden. People don't like the fact that their sons are having to go out and
defend these settlements. I think that if we look at the current election
campaign, what we can see is that decisively, the Israeli mainstream,
including the center right, has fallen out of love with the vision of holding
on to all of the territories.

The question now has become how much to give up? The relationship to the
territories has become much more one of a quagmire where you're trying to
figure out `how can I safely get out of this and protect my security' rather
than one of an ideal of `how can I keep this?'

GROSS: Ariel Sharon in the '70s contributed to the design of a settlement. I
mean, he had this philosophy of fingers of settlements. Would you explain
what that vision was that he contributed?

Mr. GORENBERG: Yes. Actually, Sharon's idea was to create fingers of
Israeli settlement running through originally the Gaza Strip and the West
Bank, breaking up Palestinian territory so that there would be no possibility
of viable Palestinian state. What would be left would be fragmented
Palestinian enclaves which would achieve some sort of low level version of
self-rule but there would be no possibility of a Palestinian state, which he
saw as a threat to Israel. And so the high-controlling ground of the West
Bank would be settled. There would be settlements between each of the major
Palestinian cities, and in that way, Palestinian independence would be

GROSS: I guess that's the ultimate paradox in Sharon's career, that he helped
design the settlements so that the Palestinians couldn't achieve their own
state, and then he was in the position later of thinking he had to pull back
the settlements, and it was very difficult to do.

Mr. GORENBERG: Yes. Although, of course, the mystery of Ariel Sharon is how
much he really intended to pull back, how much of the viable state to the
Palestinians he really looked forward to. In a sense, that's a question we
won't answer, and it doesn't really matter anymore. The major question today
is what does Ehud Olmert who's the person most likely to become the next prime
minster, what does he think Israel should do in terms of the settlements? How
much is he willing to pull back? How much of a Palestinian state is he
willing to countenance? And on the other side, will he have a peace partner
who is willing to meet the essential conditions for making peace, which is
recognize the state of Israel and declaring willingness to live in peace with
it. Those are the questions we confront.

GROSS: If I may ask you one personal political question, are your politics
being challenged at all?

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, I certainly feel that the situation has become much
more difficult. As I see it, the two-state solution is really the only way
out of this. And negotiating with Hamas is very, very difficult unless they
accept a two-state solution. I would say, however, that I would think that
the best thing for Israel to do in this situation is alongside of insisting
that Hamas meet basic conditions for negotiating, that Israel also declare its
willingness to give up territory and to see the creation of a viable
Palestinian state, if there's a Palestinian partner for that because I believe
that that would create popular pressure on the Palestinian side, popular
pressure on the Hamas leadership to make concessions or simply to decide that
they can't rule under those circumstances. Israel has some ability to create
political momentum on the other side, just as the Palestinians have shown that
they can affect the Israeli political situation.

GROSS: The Bush administration wants to withhold financial aid from Hamas,
from the Palestinian government, until Hamas agrees to recognize Israel. What
are the different points of view within Israel about that position?

Mr. GORENBERG: Well, I think that most people in Israel would agree that
they don't want to see money flowing directly to a Hamas-led government for
the fear that some of that money may go into terror activities. However, from
close-up, the situation is much more complicated than it appears from a
distance. I would say that the Bush administration has a habit of responding
more with a club than with a scalpel to difficult situations. In Israel,
there is an awareness of opposite problems. If the Palestinian Authority
collapses, will Israel have to take over civilian administration of the
Palestinian towns again. That's a concern. If Israel has no communication
with the Palestinian Authority, what happens if bird flu breaks out on the
Palestinian Authority? Will our veterinarians not speak to their
veterinarians? Who will take care of humanitarian needs? So I think a lot of
these issues have to be finessed, fine-tuned, very delicately.

I would also say that the element which is missing from the Bush
administration's policy here is the alternative. We're being told about the
stick. We're not being told about the carrot. The polls of the Palestinian
population continue to show majority support for a two-state solution. I
think that if the Bush administration were clearly stating its position in
favor of a two-state solution, that they would be presenting the Palestinian
public with an alternative that it could embrace. And that would put pressure
on the Palestinian Authority government, on Hamas, to accept a more moderate
position. I think that the carrot has to be there, as well as the stick.

GROSS: I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. GORENBERG: It's been my pleasure.

Mr. GORENBERG: Gershom Gorenberg is the author of the new book, "The
Accidental Empire." He's the Jerusalem correspondent for the Forward in New

Coming up, TV critic David Bianculli reviews the sitcom "Sons and Daughters"
which premieres tonight. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: TV critic David Bianculli reviews new ABC sitcom "Sons and

Tonight is the premiere of a new ABC sitcom, produced by the company run by
Lorne Michaels, the creator of "Saturday Night Live." It's called "Sons and
Daughters," and our TV critic, David Bianculli, finds it to be a prime-time

Mr. DAVID BIANCULLI: One of the dirty truths of being a professional
critic--don't worry, I won't tell you all of them--is that a critic never
comes to the table with no expectations or without preconceived notions. Not
if you've done your homework or even remembered what you've seen before.
Depending upon the people behind the project and starring in it, you slide in
the preview DVD, hoping for the best, expecting the worst or something
in-between. That doesn't mean there aren't surprises in store, good and bad.
Tonight, for example, CBS premieres a new drama series called "The Unit" about
a top secret military strike force and their wives back home. It's by
playwright David Mamet, who wrote "Glengarry Glen Ross," and TV
writer-producer Shawn Ryan who created the gritty cop show, "The Shield." With
those credentials and that pairing, expectations for "The Unit" are high. But
the show itself is much more involving and convincing on the home front than
during the military sequences. At best, it's an average show. Surprisingly

On the other hand, there's the case of Gregory Thomas Garcia. He's the comedy
writer who created, "Yes, Dear," a sitcom that for some inexplicable reason
remains on the air. I disliked everything about "Yes, Dear," so the fact that
he had a new sitcom coming out at the start of his TV season filled me with
nothing but dread, until I saw it and absolutely loved it. Somehow the same
guy who made "Yes, Dear" found it in himself to produce "My Name is Earl," my
favorite new comedy of the season.

Well, here comes another surprise, as pleasant as that one. Tonight ABC
premieres a new comedy, "Sons and Daughters," heavily promoted as the new show
from "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels. It's true that Michaels is
its executive producer. But "Sons and Daughters," a sprawling comedy about
three generations of an Ohio family, actually is the baby of a guy named Fred
Goss. He's the co-creator and co-writer, he directs and stars in it, too. He
plays Cameron, a man on his second marriage dealing as best he can with a
somewhat eccentric assortment of siblings, parents, children and in-laws. Now
here's where the game of not-so-great expectations plays a part.

Fred Goss was one of the stars of "Significant Others," the Showtime comedy in
which married people vented their frustrations in couples therapy. That show
was improvised by the cast, and it was barely watchable. So when the news
arrived that Goss has structured in film "Sons and Daughters" the way Larry
David does "Curb Your Enthusiasm," outlining plot points very specifically,
then letting actors improvise their own dialogue, I wasn't expecting much.
When improv actors go bad, it can be a terrible thing to see. Just think of
HBO's "K Street."

But "Sons and Daughters" is delightful. It's shot like "Curb" with no
audience and no laugh track and has the same rapid pace as "Arrested
Development." This extended family, though, is less exaggerated, more grounded
and the cast is wonderful. The standouts for me are not only Fred Goss as
Cameron, but Dee Wallace-Stone and Max Gail as Cameron's parents, mother
Colleen and stepfather Wendal. Gail from "Barney Miller" is great here. On
the day of his 25th wedding anniversary, Wendal is helping Cameron and his son
work on a merit badge project in the garage, and he pulls Cameron aside to
whisper some particularly ill-timed news.

(Soundbite from "Sons and Daughters")

Mr. MAX GAIL: I'm thinking about leaving your mom.

Mr. FRED GOSS: What?

Mr. GAIL: And I...

Mr. GOSS: Why? What--what are--what are you talking about?

Mr. GAIL: Well, I'm talking about--I'm talking about, you know this--can you
see that nest up there, the henpecked warbler lives up there? You know, in
that nest, which is...

Mr. GOSS: Oh, I see.

Mr. GAIL: ...related to--to...

Mr. GOSS: We're talking--we're talking in bird code.

Mr. GAIL: ...the Getmeoutofherus Immedisus.

Mr. GOSS: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mr. GAIL: Yeah.

Mr. GOSS: Uninterruptus.

Mr. GAIL: Here's what it's like. Here's--I got a better way of describing
this. You know, you create this really wonderful box you're stuck inside of.

Mr. GOSS: Sometimes I feel like I'm in a box. I do. I do. And I love Liz.
And I love the kids.

Mr. GAIL: Yeah.

Mr. GOSS: But you stay, you work it out.

Mr. GAIL: I can take the old van. I got it all worked out. I got the
whole--I can have that thing outfitted in a heartbeat.

Mr. GOSS: What are you, Ken Casey?

(End of soundbite)

Mr. BIANCULLI: Scenes such as these are very funny, but they aren't played
just for laughs. When word of Wendal's unhappiness spreads through the family
and finally gets to his wife at their silver anniversary party, her reaction
is crushingly serious. There's a depth here to the characters and to the show
that makes "Sons and Daughters" another of this year's delightful prime-time

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sign-off: Fresh Air


I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with music by Grammy award-winner Ali Farka Toure, a guitarist
from Mali who introduced the style known as desert blues to international
audiences. He had bone cancer and died in his sleep today. He was in his
late '60s.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ALI FARKA TOURE: (Singing, foreign language spoken)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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